ENVIRONMENTALLY-friendly Kingston University students have carried off a prestigious award for their efforts encouraging organisations in the borough to do their bit to help save the planet. Their Positive Environment Kingston (PEK) project, a partnership that has seen volunteers from the Students’ Union work closely with officials from Kingston Council, has picked up an Outstanding Project Award from the Higher Education Active Community Fund.
A scheme which sees students serve as environmental mentors carrying out green audits of companies in the surrounding area, PEK got underway early in 2006. A total of 13 students attended a training programme organised by Kingston Council where they learned how to assess employers’ green credentials, checking whether employees were recycling paper, switching lights off and saving energy. The enterprising mentors then devised tips to improve each organisation’s performance.
The Student Union’s volunteering co-ordinator, Lynette Phillips, said the project had proven the perfect way for students to support the environment and give something back to the community. “They gained a considerable amount of knowledge and enhanced their own skills while at the same time helping companies pinpoint ways they could make a difference and make their workplace more sustainable,” she said. The project’s pilot was so successful that the programme is now being rolled out again this year.
Student Daniel Czako, 24, said he had signed up to the PEK scheme to help him put some of the knowledge from his degree in Environmental Science into practice. “It was really rewarding for me because I had always wanted to do something to improve the planet,” he said. The Hungarian national has been working with Kingston Chamber of Commerce identifying ways to improve its waste management. “The chamber really wanted to change its ways but, like most organisations, the biggest problem it faced was finding someone with the time to look into how this could be done efficiently,” he said. “I was able to make a difference by sourcing the best value recycled paper from a local supplier to reduce unnecessary transport and pollution.” The volunteering work has also helped Daniel gain skills to impress future employers. “My presenting skills are much more professional now and I have learned how to express myself more clearly,” he said.
MeWe Arts and Education, which works with five to 18 year olds developing performing arts productions, is another group to have benefited from the PEK scheme. Thanks to support from 23-year-old volunteer Hannah Smith, it now has a comprehensive environment policy in place. “Being a small organisation, the prospect of finding information about recycling services, ecologically-conscious contractors and learning about best practice seemed really daunting,” Werner van Staden, deputy chief executive of MeWe, said. “The PEK mentor came to our rescue, willingly taking on the task of advising members of staff about achievable steps that we could take towards supporting the environment.” English literature and drama graduate Hannah credits her stint with the organisation with helping her to land her first job as an assistant with Kingston University’s sustainability team. “I’ve always been passionate about protecting the planet and by taking part in PEK I’ve learned more about how businesses work,” Hannah, who grew up in Hatfield, said. “Now I’ve got better communications skills and good contacts across the business community. I’ve kept in touch with MeWe so I’m always on hand to offer them advice.”
Kingston Council’s community and environmental officer Carlos Queremel puts PEK’s success down to the students’ enthusiasm and the ongoing support they are able to offer. “It’s not just about providing information,” he said. “The students are there to boost managers’ morale and knowledge by going back to organisations to see which changes have made a big difference and which suggestions need more work. By providing a mix of encouragement and practical solutions, the Council and Students’ Union have proven that by working together it really is possible to change attitudes and encourage the community to adopt more sustainable practices.”