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Green Summit 2023

On Monday 2 October, a delegation of Connell students attended the GMCA Green Summit at the Lowry in Salford Quays. The group comprised the Sygnature Enrichment cohort, a group of geography and business studies students who have volunteered to take part in a programme to learn more about real-world sustainability issues and what is being done to solve these by authorities and industry. Following the event, students reflected on what they had heard and seen in the following blog. 

What we knew before attending

Before attending, we all knew very little about the Green Summit. We all seemed to have a very basic understanding of what went on at these kinds of events (discussions about sustainability, eco-friendly living and carbon emissions) but we were not sure as to how this could fit in with our day-to-day lives or the current cost of living crisis many of us are experiencing. Most of us seemed to think it was a choice between being environmentally friendly or saving money. Due to all the questions we had, we decided to start a small group at college, as we were all really concerned about the environment, especially around threats such as climate change. We wanted to find out more about it and what role we could play in order to help. A few of us had heard or seen a few things going on in and around Manchester, such as the BEE Network buses, but weren’t entirely aware of their purpose. 

What we wanted to find out

Further education, jobs and employment: We had previously discussed our pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2038 but weren't sure of what businesses were doing in order to help us achieve this. We decided to attend Andy Burnham’s keynote panel discussion during which he and major businesses in Greater Manchester talked about what they are doing to help us achieve this goal. We decided to dig a little deeper and speak to two businesses about things we could do in college or at home to help reduce our cost as well as being more efficient. 

United Utilities: They recommended that we could look at installing water-saving devices, such as water flush bags in toilets. These help save around 1.3 litres of water per flush, and they don’t require any installation, you just need to drop them in the cistern. Another suggestion they made was for us to install water butts; these collect rainwater which can then be used to water plants and flowers. If we did this, the collective impact of not using the same volume of mains water would help reduce depletion of a stressed supply and reduce energy used in cleaning and pumping the water. They also talked about how they were re-training and recruiting within the business to fill skills gaps regarding water sustainability. 

British Gas: The staff suggested that we look at installing electric charging points for both teachers and students to charge their vehicles while at college and that these charging points could run off solar panels, which they also recommended would be a good solution to help reduce our carbon footprint. Schools and colleges have large surface areas (roofs, land on school site) which could be used for solar panels. This would allow direct charging of vehicles during the day without demand from the grid and also reduce the demand at homes during the evening. Again, they need a new army of engineers and managers who can help supply the demand for these solutions. 

There are several of us who are very keen to be in green jobs in the future and are currently applying for universities or apprenticeships to study subjects like geography, marketing, healthcare and many others. Many of us hadn’t realised that any job could be a green job and are now looking at things we hadn’t previously thought of. When we discussed this after the talk we were all in shock at the amount of job opportunities that are available in this field, and soon realised that it is the fastest growing job industry alongside research and development. The majority of us attending the summit had never even heard of some of the jobs talked about on the day and have now researched further into these for future employment opportunities and can’t wait to see what other jobs are created for us, between now and us leaving college. 

Transport: Recently, many of us had noticed that there were yellow buses appearing on the roads around Manchester called the BEE Network. We weren’t really sure what they were but the mayor explained that the aim of creating the BEE Network was to tackle several issues at once - the cost of living and greener modes of transport. Currently, bus tariffs are set within a £2 cap for a one-way ride depending on the age of the rider. These low fares are scheduled to run until September 2024. They have recently released 50 new electric, zero-carbon emitting buses all of which are under local control with the aim that all buses will be under Greater Manchester local control by 2025.

Manchester's next mission will be tackling other modes of transport such as trains, which should be under full local control by 2030. When all of these travel options are under local control, you will be able to purchase a multi-day transport pass that will allow you to travel on both bus and tram around the city at a reduced cost. There will also be greener modes of transport, including more buses, trams and individual modes such as the ‘Bee Bikes’ and scooters. 

Since being in high school, several of us had learnt about HS2 connecting the south (London) with the north (Manchester) and were very disappointed to hear on the day of the summit that the government is no longer supporting these plans and will only take the train up to Birmingham. The development of HS2 would have impacted on the local environment, it would’ve reduced carbon footprint and allowed Manchester to help spread its sustainability strategies throughout the UK as well as increasing financial productivity of Manchester and the rest of the North. This will further impact on future investments too, as a significant number of businesses are likely to locate down south as it will be easier to travel between areas quickly and Andy Burnham stated that “this will leave the North as a second class citizen.” 

Cost of living: One of our biggest questions around sustainability is being able to afford products that we are told will help the environment. Although it wasn’t a major focus of the event, this situation still needed to be addressed along with steps businesses can take to be more sustainable without an additional cost. Students at Reddish Vale secondary school attended the event and shared with us their recent achievement of securing a grant from the local council to help produce sanitary products that require less plastic than others. Although this seems like a small change, it helps the environment as it reduces the amount of single use plastics while keeping the cost of these products low, so lots of people can still access them.

Similarly some young adults from our college recently attended an ecological futures camp with Black Mountains College, where they learnt about the importance of organic food and food production. On this camp they discussed several issues around agriculture and sustainability and made suggestions as to how you could reduce costs within your household. They recommend that you could look at growing some of your own food and potentially starting food co-operatives to help reduce food waste. In terms of energy efficiency, installing LED lights instead of iridescent bulbs is energy efficient as they use at least 75% less energy and can last up 25 times longer, which could save thousands of pounds a year. We could also look at installing these in offices, schools and homes; money that would normally be spent on replacing light bulbs could then be invested in other areas that need development. 

Manchester's pledge: We were encouraged to hear that Manchester still believes we can achieve our 2038 goal to be carbon-neutral despite central government relaxing the targets. Mayor Burnham was clear that we will do it because it is the right thing to do and our residents, businesses and wider society need it.

What we took away: As for final feedback regarding the event, overall all the speakers seemed incredibly passionate and well-informed, the room hung on every word, and we had very few complaints around them. However, we wished that some topics were addressed further and in greater detail. For instance, the Reddish Vale High School project seemed incredibly important and interesting but the actual logistics and long term plans around it were not fully addressed. In addition to this, when regarding plans for future additions to the curriculum and education around sustainability, it seemed like there were a lot of plans, but it did not seem like anything was truly being developed or put in place. We would have loved to see a detailed plan of how these changes could be implemented. We do understand there was a timeline in place, so there was limited time to talk about all the topics we felt should’ve been included and that maybe sustainability education could have featured more in the seminar programme or marketplace. 

Overall, as a group we felt our biggest takeaway from the day would be to continue to encourage and promote the people around us to be as green as they can be, and we must continue to look further into these issues as they are constantly changing, so we must learn to be adaptable. No person can do this alone; everyone must help in order to save our Earth, as there is no second planet. 

Finally, we just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who helped, supported or ran the event and on behalf of the younger generations in Manchester, thank you for listening to and supporting our voices as it is often hard for us to be heard especially in larger cities. We all took away a newfound hope for the future and feeling truly heard and for that we want to give everyone involved our sincerest thank you. 

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