A more sustainable 'new normal'

At over 125 years, Oxford University’s Careers Service has grown from a team offering 1:1 careers support and advertising vacancies to Oxford students into an innovative department that is introducing new experiential programmes and initiatives into the Oxford University environment and beyond, year-on-year.

The Careers Service’s aim is to provide impartial, relevant careers information and services to Oxford students, researchers and alumni, as well as attract and enable organisations to promote opportunities effectively and connect with students and graduates, so that all concerned can make informed decisions.

Embracing change

Although 2020 has been a challenging year for the Service, it has also provided an opportunity to focus on sustainability issues in greater depth. These extraordinary last few months led the Service to adapt to a new way of doing things, make more concrete plans for changes across the department by expanding on our existing initiatives as well as introducing new ones, and contribute towards a more sustainable ‘new normal’.

We have made a commitment to consider sustainable issues as much as possible in the way that we run our Oxford offices, and integrate them in our support to students, as well as in our engagement with recruiting organisations.

Looking inward

We are always looking for ways to improve our sustainability practices within the department.

Since 2015, the Careers Service has taken on the challenge of the Oxford University Environmental Sustainability’s Green Impact programme. Green Impact is an environmental engagement scheme in which staff and students work in teams to make their workplaces more sustainable.

The Service has actively improved on its sustainability initiatives, receiving the Bronze award in 2016-17, the Silver award in 2018-19, and finally being awarded the Gold Award in 2019-20.


Green Impact Days: The Careers Service runs staff-led Green Impact Days, focusing on supporting and leading change from within. We analyse our use of energy, water, food, materials and waste, sustainable travel, and supporting biodiversity in our office gardens; all to open up the conversation at a departmental level and enact change from within.

Biodiversity: The Careers Service has participated in two main citizen science projects, both relating to wildlife. Since 2018, we have hosted a bee hotel provided by the Oxford Plan bee scheme. And, in 2020, we took part in the RSPB Garden birdwatch having put out birdfeeders.

Energy: The majority of our electrical items use relatively low amounts of electric being mostly IT equipment. Regular servicing of the heating and air conditioning systems ensure they run at optimal efficiency. The same process is used to identify inefficient energy use and in 2020, a project was initiated to review the building heating system. Busy office areas have also seen lighting replaced with energy efficient LED lighting.

Water: In Autumn 2019, a staff suggestion box was installed and a number of suggestions came forward for consideration, including the idea of no longer supplying bottled water to exhibitors at our in-person Careers Fairs; this has been taken forward and attendees are encouraged to bring their own refillable bottles saving both on plastic but also a considerable quantity of wasted water poured away at the end of the day.

Food: The Careers Service uses a number of caterers for our in-person event catering. Our main caterer sources products from sustainable sources, with a growing emphasis on increasing the vegan/vegetarian options.

Printed materials

As interest in the Careers Service and its events and programmes has grown over the years, so has the number of promotional materials and printed hand-outs given to students or put into their pigeonholes.

Over the last three years, we have been on a mission to reduce the number of promotional and informational materials printed in favour of a move to digital resources and online communications.

We started by minimising the number of individual event fliers created and compiling them into a term planner, reducing the number of total fair booklets printed, and cutting down on the number of pages of our annual Oxford Guide to Careers, from 300 pages to just over 140.

The restrictions of the past year have pushed this initiative further, with the Careers Service moving all of its operations online and eliminating printing completely.

Information packs for our numerous development programmes have been developed and published online, the term planners are now digital and interactive. In 2020, we made the decision to publish our 2021 Oxford Guide to Careers in digital format only, for the first time ever, removing the 10,000 hard copies previously offered as handouts from circulation and significantly reducing our carbon footprint.

This is something that we are looking to carry on in the future and reconsider most, if not all, of our printing.

Working remotely

Covid-19 disruption has meant that that we have had to cancel some of our regular in-person skills development programmes for students. However, after a successful pilot we are pleased to offer an alternative remote working programme, The Oxford Strategy Challenge.

The move to digital extended to many of our UK-based and international opportunities offered though our Summer and Micro-Internship Programme.

These demonstrate that we can run very successful programmes remotely in partnership with a diverse range of businesses, charities, community organisations, Council departments, arts and cultural institutions, that benefit both the host organisation and the students, whilst not being limited by a physical location.

These are developments that we will continue to consider when running our programmes and sourcing internships post-Covid.

Net-Zero by 2050: Working with recruiting organisations

We are actively exploring ways to help students learn about recruiting organisations’ approaches to sustainability.

Drawing on the Oxford Martin Principles for Climate-Conscious Investment, the Careers Service introduced a set of questions for recruiters in 2020 that allow Oxford students, researchers and alumni to learn more about employers’ sustainability credentials.

Students are able to easily access an organisation’s stance on the climate crisis, its plan on how it will achieve Net-Zero by 2050 and remain profitable, and other relevant credentials in the area of sustainability.

All of the information provided by recruiters is available in the individual organisation profiles in CareerConnect, the internal careers and employability digital platform at Oxford University.

Since we have introduced this initiative in February 2020, more than 2,000 recruiters have logged in to the CareerConnect system and answered our 4 questions on sustainability.

Moving forward

We are looking to integrate the answers further into our systems, so that students will be able to search on those employers who have answered sustainability questions in specific ways.

The Careers Service is planning use the available data to highlight recruiters who tick ‘yes’ to specific questions, in careers fairs’ and vacancy information.

Sustainable employers will feature the Careers Service badge, ‘We are working towards Net-Zero by 2050’. The Service hopes that those students for whom sustainability in the current climate crisis is an important factor in their decision making, will be better informed.

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