Unipol ‘Sustainable You’ Model

Unipol Recreation team saw the need to re-establish how we feel, act, and play during New Zealand’s pandemic lockdown, when taking on the challenge of adapting to enable staff, students and our wider community to remain active and look after their well-being. With limited resources, budget, and time, Unipol sparked wide-spread praise for quickly pivoting online.

Then, recognising lockdown seemed to reconnect people with nature and each other, Unipol designed Sustainable You to channel that. Sustainable You now embeds sustainable practices and Māori values in our every-day living, while weaving in movement and well-being throughout.

Our Unipol team not only models the Sustainable You culture and values, but it also empowers everyone by supplying a model to follow, limiting the need for additional resources, time, and budget.

Sustainable You brings social sustainability to the forefront of health and well-being, while also being easy to adapt for other organisations and the future.

>  The initiative

Sustainable You – creating impact through culture change
Our Unipol Recreation team plays a vital role for our University of Otago students and staff, while also connecting to our wider community.  When COVID-19 hit and disrupted virtually everything we knew, our Unipol Recreation proactively took its familiar energy and connection online. Initiatives such as Bubble Activities and Let’s Stay Connected supported staff and students to remain active and look after their well-being while locked down in residential colleges, flats and homes.

Unipol sparked praise across our University community for quickly adapting to the new challenges lockdown presented.
The impact Unipol was able to have during lockdown with constrained resources, budget, and time encouraged our Unipol team to look consider how to harness the lockdown culture that saw people reconnecting with nature and seemingly valuing each other more than ever. Using key learnings from the successful lockdown changes, Unipol reset the culture – how we feel, act, play, and work together – to establish Sustainable You.

Sustainable You is based on a basketball full-court press to capture how sustainability fits in the recreation space. A full court press is a defensive tactic that involves team members covering their opponents across the entire court – not just near their own basket – so takes a great deal of effort but can be very effective. Our Sustainable You model aims to embed sustainable practices and Māori values in our daily lives, while weaving in movement and well-being as the foundation.


Sustainability cannot be achieved without recognising movement is good for you. To be whiti is to choose a balanced lifestyle by making an effort to schedule active recreation to offset an inactive lifestyle. For Example, Unipol’s facilities on campus include courts, functional training zones, weight/cardio, stretching, games, and table tennis. This caters to members’ needs and requirements while also introducing them to new ways of keeping active.


Engaging in any form of play – including competitive, recreational, individual, team, games, cultural and sporting – develops lasting relationships and new social skills in a unique Otago setting. For example, Unipol’s Inter-College Competition Tauwhāinga Kāreti (for our students in residential accommodation) supports this by endorsing whakawhānaukataka (creating connections and a sense of belonging/community).


Having an environment where all students are recognised on an equal playing field, so equal status is given regardless of differences. Unipol specialises in never turning anyone away – play it as we see it in a conscious effort to overcome the barriers of participation. For example, Unipol enables this by not only offering its facility to students but by also offering discounted rates to staff, and a whanau and youth pass for wider community access.


Being the guardians of recreation. Placing the mahi (work) upstream by protecting, caring for, and restoring valuable recreational areas. For example, Unipol supports this value by maintaining the popular Trotters Gorge Hut and having it as part of Unipol’s outdoor rental service that enables staff and students to explore, protect and enjoy our local natural environment.


Recreation has very powerful kinship ingredients. Relationships strengthen in less formal and fun environments. Bringing flatmates to group fitness classes increases their sense of belonging and reduces heating costs. Social interactions can be promoted by getting the flatting whānau (family) to hit the dance floor.


To celebrate and encourage others is central to recreation. This drives energy towards recognition and teamwork. For example, Unipol champions this by hosting the annual Inter-College Competition, College Colours Gala Award Dinner. It celebrates the creative, active, and cultural events and competitions which about 2,100 students can do during their first year at our University. [Evidence Link]

>  Environmental and social benefits

Proactive investment
Unipol believes it plays a key role in ensuring well-being and health are a proactive investment rather than reactive. Unipol aims to avoid its services being used as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, instead Unipol wants to be a maintenance tool people use to protect their health and well-being.

Limited resources supporting the change
Sustainable You is self-sustaining because the culture is being championed by the Unipol team and filtering through to students, University staff, members and others using the facilities and services. This has created impact without requiring ongoing cost, time, and resources – sustainability has been reset internally and can be actioned through the behaviour of each of us.

Team being utilised to full potential
The Unipol team refers to itself as a swiss army knife. Unipol uses its team’s full potential by nourishing members’ individual passions and offering opportunities to work to their strengths. While supporting one-another, Unipol designed Sustainable You, then its diverse team collaboratively implemented the framework, offering a model that organically fits because it started at the flax (NZ grass) roots.

Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainable You has established a successful working model of how Sustainable Development Goals can play a vital role in achieving sustainable change. The diversity of the SDGs encouraged the team to establish strong connections across Māori values, social and environmental sustainability, and well-being through the Sustainable You model. Furthermore, because the Unipol team can directly support enabling these values, team members can ensure this overarching culture is fully embedded in their day-to-day operations, while connecting to a wider impact through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

>  Leadership and engagement

Sustainable You is designed to reflect well-being at its core, with no single indicator demonstrating success or where resources should go. The variety of indicators enables well-being to stretch across sustainability and bi-cultural inclusion, as part of a culture switch.

Resetting a community culture involves being active in that community in the first place. Unipol is renowned for the qualities and standards it champions not only on campus but to other New Zealand university recreation services. Unipol’s hands-on methods, vibrant energy and creative approaches to increasing involvement means it plays a huge role in Otago’s student experience.
Sustainable You is embedding because our community has a good rapport with the Unipol team and trusts it. That is why the team can successfully connect with our University staff and students, along with the wider community through several initiatives:

Free access
Both University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic students get access to the Unipol facilities for free. This is made possible through the student services levy, that students contribute to each year of their study. This enables access for individuals from all backgrounds.

Building the community
Unipol offers discounted rates to University staff and has a whanau and youth pass to enable access for the wider Dunedin community. This helps our Sustainable You champions engage across our wider community and with prospective students before they arrive at our University.

COVID-19 adaptability
Unipol’s ability to continue to meet its community’s expectations was evident over lockdown. Unipol’s mental health model of “how can we do this differently” was mostly showcased through: Functional training zones, Bubble workouts, Unipol Online (online fitness classes) , Let’s Stay Connected – The Inter-College Competitions through social media instead. [Evidence Link]

Casual staff and intern opportunities
Unipol continues to offer internship opportunities and casual roles to students to offer hands-on learning and real experience in their field of study. This also supplies the Unipol team with student engagement for internal planning and progressing Unipol facilities, events, and programmes, while enabling students to design their own experience.

Celebrate diversity and inclusion
Unipol prides itself on the promise it would never turn people away based on how they choose to represent themselves. Unipol provides a safe space for inclusion and diversity and ensures people using the facilities feel comfortable while they are there. Unipol also constantly work towards bi-cultural inclusion by including te reo (the Māori language) in everything it does.

Staff inclusion
Although Unipol’s work outputs are predominately focused on providing services to students, Unipol constantly pushes this out to capture our University staff community as much as possible. One of the most popular ways of getting staff involved is Unipol’s Summer Social Sport programme where staff get teams together across campus and spend their lunchtimes competing against other social staff teams. Each year the sports of choice change, to enable staff to learn new skills and find a love for a new sport.

>  Wider societal impact

The wider societal impact of Sustainable You can be seen across Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4 and 10.

Good health and well-being: Sustainable You teaches students, staff, and the wider community to care outside of themselves while looking after themselves. This is a social and personal good as they build resilience and capacity for lifelong well-being and connections to our environment.

Quality Education: Our Unipol team’s presence and energy on campus helps align learning and teaching to the facilities and services Unipol offer. This means students’ experiences on campus not only includes learning in the classroom but also on stage, on the field and in the gym.

Reduced Inequalities: Unipol has fronted Sustainable You with the bicultural inclusion of Māori values and practices. Unipol also remains determined to provide a safe and inviting space when hosting events and classes and providing facilities.

Top 3 learnings
  • A successful culture change can happen from the grass roots when championed correctly.

  • Bi-cultural values and sustainability play an important role in well-being.

  • Creating impact is possible with limited resources and an empowered team.

SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being
SDG 4 – Quality Education
SDG 10 – Reduced Inequality
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