Green Ambassador Program

Run for students, by students, UQ’s unique Green Ambassador Program has built a community of almost 700 students and staff committed to sustainability education and action. Since launching at the end of 2019, the Green Ambassador Program has delivered more than 10 new sustainability initiatives across the University and beyond. Transitioning seamlessly to an online project during 2020’s COVID lockdowns, the Green Ambassador Program provided vital community connections throughout the pandemic.

The program embraced technology to deliver a suite of digital events, games and watch parties that fostered sustainability awareness and discussion. A strong online network also reduced barriers for external and overseas students to participate, nurturing a truly diverse and multicultural community. In just 18 months, the Green Ambassador Program has created an impressive track record of supporting and cultivating student-led sustainability initiatives, while providing invaluable development opportunities through program leadership experiences and career-related activities.

>  The initiative

The UQ Green Ambassador Program empowers students, supported by staff, to bring to life diverse sustainability ideas. It is a unique digital and real-world network, with a student council at its centre, that facilitates projects and provides resources to nurture as many different grassroots initiatives as possible. Staff contribute expertise and lend a guiding hand as requested; however, the Green Ambassador Program is run by students, for students. The program exists because students recognised the importance of sustainability action and advocacy to their own futures. Students stood up and said: we want to be part of the solution.

The Green Ambassador Program aims to embed sustainable thinking into every level of the UQ student community. It strives to ensure the leaders of tomorrow leave university with a solid understanding of sustainability principles, and the ability and ingenuity to apply those principles innovatively and impactfully – regardless of industry, sector or profession. The program encourages everyone interested in sustainability to become involved at their preferred level, whether that is nominating for one of six leadership positions on the Sustainability Council, volunteering at working bees or UQ events, or simply joining the 600+ followers the program has amassed on social media to observe and learn.

The program seeks to further the goals of the UQ Sustainability Strategy and improve sustainability performance using the STARS framework. With one of the council’s leadership roles dedicated to managing alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the program also works to increase general awareness of the SDGs. As part of the Green Ambassador Program, the student Sustainability Council has also become an advisory body to the UQ Sustainability office. The council are tasked with gathering and reporting on the priorities of their peers, formally giving students a voice in the University’s sustainability action plan. After just 18 months in operation, the Green Ambassador Program has implemented more than 10 new sustainability initiatives across the University and beyond. Having launched just months before the first COVID lockdown in 2020, the program impressively maintained momentum throughout even the strictest of restrictions.

Students committed to creating an online community that would offer support and connection during the pandemic, while achieving its goals of education and advocacy from the get-go. Initiatives implemented so far through the Green Ambassador Program include:

  1. online elections held for the inaugural student Sustainability Council (and ongoing leadership structure determined);
  2. student council meetings x 23 hosted by end-May 2021 – the first eight of which were held via Zoom;
  3. a virtual trivia night to educate participants around the UN SDGs;
  4. social media campaign to also educate on the SDGs;
  5. social media campaign ‘Wildlife Wednesdays’ to profile wildlife found on UQ campuses (including competitions for student-contributed photos);
  6. online Pictionary event as part of UQ Sustainability Week 2020;
  7. the first ever UQ Environment Forum for students, hosted online with a keynote address from UQ academic Dr Nina Lansbury Hall + guest speakers from the UQ Sustainability office;
  8. in-person movie night in the UQ Great Court, showing the environmental documentary, 2040;
  9. coordinated community volunteering activity with local bush care group, weeding and planting;
  10. implemented a new recycling station on campus for staff and students to drop off their ‘difficult recyclables’ such as laptops, phones, batteries and more; and
  11. organised volunteers to assist with international student tours of UQ’s flagship Warwick Solar Farm. This initiative was partly about energy education and partly about providing outreach to UQ’s international students who were ‘stuck’ here in Australia without their families when COVID first struck.

The breadth and depth of all the initiatives completed even in the first year demonstrate the power and potential of the student-led Green Ambassador Program, which continues to go from strength to strength in the second half of 2021. Read the 2020 program summary. Read about the program’s inception in 2019.

To see the depth and diversity of the program, and to truly appreciate its potential for wider societal impact, please do visit the Green Ambassador Program Facebook page, which is a lively and active online community that any member of the public can join here.

>  Environmental and social benefits

The Green Ambassador Program acts as an umbrella program to support and nurture numerous grassroots ideas and activities. Its environmental benefits are therefore as diverse as the many student-led initiatives it has inspired. Last year, as restrictions curbed possibilities for physical projects, environmental outcomes were largely focused on education. Examples include a social media project with regular posts profiling wildlife present on UQ campuses. The outcome was increased awareness of these animals among the student UQ community, with a series of posts offering fun facts and information about respectfully sharing space with these animals. As lockdowns lifted, hands-on projects ramped up, and the Green Ambassador Program promoted and coordinated environmental student volunteering opportunities including weeding, planting and rubbish clearing.

The Green Ambassador Program also partnered with the UQ Sustainability office to host a new recycling station. The station provides a location for all UQ staff and students to drop off their ‘difficult recyclabes’ like laptops, phones, batteries, toothbrushes and so on, which they can’t dispose of via their home recycling bins. Meanwhile, the social benefits of forming such a strong online network during the pandemic have been multifarious. The Green Ambassador Program hosted digital events including games, watch parties and live discussions during lockdown periods, creating a network of local and international students committed to sustainability outcomes – and connected, despite physical barriers and challenges. These games and watch parties cleverly combined social outcomes with education. For example, UN SDG trivia, written by the students, tested participants’ knowledge of the goals themselves, as well as general sustainability facts. And the online Pictionary event helped students to discuss their understanding of the purpose of the SDGs and how everyone can work towards them in their daily lives. [Read about the new recycling station] [See wildlife post examples] and [here].

>  Leadership and engagement

The Green Ambassador Program is run for students, by students. And the driving force behind the Green Ambassador Program is the student-led Sustainability Council, which has created six fantastic leadership roles for UQ students. The council comprises student volunteers who have been voted in by their peers, alongside four staff members, who guide the students with their expertise. Each council representative has a select portfolio, which range from a council secretary to a social media manager, a student engagement officer, a Sustainable Development Goals manager, and more. In the category of student engagement, the Green Ambassador Program is a role model for establishing a student-led, staff-supported network that delivers genuine advocacy and action. The model works particularly well because it adopts a ‘place for everyone’ approach, allowing people to get as involved in sustainability as they would like. For some, this will be full immersion in the Council and volunteering opportunities, while for others, their participation is more passive as they receive and engage with information and education posted on the program’s social media channels. [See the Sustainability Council student leadership structure]

>  Wider societal impact

The Green Ambassador Program is about creating change that lasts by educating and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow, while enabling them to gain practical, hands-on sustainability experience. Events organised and/or co-hosted by the Green Ambassador Program include community outreach activities and partnering with local bushcare groups to support activities, share learnings and improve bushland biodiversity. Since November 2020, Green Ambassador students have coordinated and participated in five bushcare volunteer events. Each event has had 25 people attending, with hundreds of plantings taking place at each event, as well as weeding and bushland regeneration.

The program structure is effective because it empowers students to take responsibility for their own and their peers’ learning. Students vote in Sustainability Council representatives from among their own contingent, students provide all the project ideas and decide which projects will be prioritised, and students plan and design their implementation. Staff support is always available and guidance is offered where appropriate; however, the students generally determine what support they need and seek it out. An underlying philosophy of the program is that as students develop a solid understanding of sustainability principles, they will start to apply these principles to their everyday projects, study and work – regardless of sector, industry or profession.

The success of the Green Ambassador Program warrants national and international recognition, as it shows the scope and scale of what students can achieve when their passion and energy is supported by the right resources and expertise. As a model, the Green Ambassador Program demonstrates how students can create their own community from scratch with a common purpose and a commitment to act. Further, because of the diverse nature of the student community, the sustainability initiatives implemented through the program have a depth, breadth and variety that isn’t always seen in other sustainability programs, where the focus is narrower. The Green Ambassador Program encourages its community to think about sustainability in every aspect of life, to dream up solutions both big and small, and to confidently use the resources and expertise at the network’s disposal to make an impact.

Top 3 learnings
  • Our students’ incredible passion and energy can deliver amazing results with just a little support.

  • The more people we welcomed into the program, the more diverse our sustainability initiatives became.

  • Creativity flourishes in adversity. Our students proved technology can build strong communities with shared purpose.

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SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG 17 – Partnerships to achieve the Goal
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