Waste, water and workwear

Careers and Placements at the University of York provides information, guidance, advice, events and experiential learning activities to University of York students and alumni.

Having been an active participant at the University in the NUS’ Green Impact initiative since 2014 (and winners of the Gold Award for the last four years), the Careers and Placements team have integrated many sustainable actions into its processes and procedures.

Everything from procurement to sustainable transport and energy-saving measures to environmentally positive actions and charity fundraising have been absorbed into the everyday running of the service. However, we’ve also turned our attention to other aspects to further enhance the sustainability of our operations.

Printed material

The reduction in both in-house produced and externally-provided printed materials has been an on-going action for the last few years. The current pandemic has naturally accelerated this reduction further.

Despite our physical service being open on-campus to students for the whole of Autumn Term 2020 (meaning we could stock printed materials), we chose not to order or receive any bulk publications. We are likely to continue this practice (or, at least, greatly reduce any future orders) in future years, encouraging students to access e-versions of these materials instead.

Events of the future

On-campus careers fairs are often a great source of waste. By the end of the event, there are always lots of partially-used plastic bottles of water, half-eaten packed lunches, discarded brochures and flyers, and a LOT of packaging. Not only is this a lot of waste, it’s also time-consuming for the Careers and Placements team to tidy up and recycle items, where it can.

While we still continue to look at different ways of reducing the waste, we did introduce a change to the distribution of drinking water for our employer visitors. Rather than providing a limitless number of bottles of water, we gave employers one per member of staff and then directed them to water fountains for top-ups. Our student helpers were also on hand to fetch top-ups, when employers were too busy to leave their stands.

Universities have become used to offering a blended approach with teaching and learning, which is likely to be an option beyond Covid. Similarly, there’s a strong likelihood that other areas of a University (like Careers), will continue to provide both virtual and actual events, as this offers benefits to both employers and students (e.g. more convenient, less time-consuming, etc.).

Student input

Twenty-eight of our students helped three York charities and four SMEs to assess their environmental sustainability, research actions to reduce their organisation’s carbon footprint, and draw up sustainability plans. This has helped contribute to the City of York Council’s goal to be net zero for carbon emissions by 2030.

We are in the process of arranging similar assistance to another four organisations (with the help of 20 more students) later this Spring Term.

Work wardrobe

In 2019, Careers and Placements collaborated with York Cares (a partnership of the city of York’s leading employers that encourages employee-volunteering) to deliver an initiative around recycling smart work clothes by making them available to students, who may not have the funds to buy new interview outfits.

Having collected professional-appropriate workwear, donated from local companies’ employees through York Cares’ partner organisations, we sorted and sized the donations. Unsuitable clothing went to charity shops or rag recycling, whichever was most appropriate, ensuring no items went to landfill.

We then ran a stall at two of our Autumn Term careers fairs, with students being able to choose up to three items. Monetary donations were encouraged on a voluntary basis in exchange for the chosen items. Information about fast fashion was also available to help inform people as to its negative environmental impact.

£193.17 was raised through donations, which we, in turn, donated to a local youth homeless charity, SASH. After the events, left-over clothing was made available to young people leaving care (again through York Cares’ charity contacts). Remaining items were then donated to a number of local charity shops.

The success and sustainability of this initiative has ensured its continuation for future on-campus fairs (whenever they are again possible).

Supporting employers

Careers and Placements have pledged to encourage and support our employer partners to work towards making their recruitment practices as sustainable as possible. Our support will also include:

  • encouraging our students to engage with employers via electronic means (online events, accessing electronic recruitment materials, etc.)
  • equipping students with the knowledge and experience of remote working, virtual assessment centre preparation, video interviewing and other innovations used in company selection and recruitment processes.


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