Green activists’ Valentine gesture

Oxford’s Vice Chancellor, John Hood, has received at least a thousand cards this Valentine’s Day, as students and University employees petitioned him to improve the University’s green credentials.

The campaigners presented Hood with a giant, heart-shaped, “Go Green” card made out of a thousand Valentine’s Day cards, which they draped across the entrance to the University offices.

One card read, “Dear VC, please listen to me, and hire a head of sustainability, To ensure this prestigious uni, Goes greener than a block of mouldy cheese! Loving thee.”

The Valentine’s Day cards, made from recycled paper and printed with vegetable based ink, were delivered to his office by the campaign committee, although the Vice-Chancellor declined to attend in person.

A spokesperson on behalf of the VC said, “the university has offered a meeting with the group at a mutually beneficial time to discuss what it will be doing.”

Campaigners have declared the occasion a success. The day before the cards were presented, the University announced it was planning to “make 2010 a greener year” by recruiting a Head of Sustainability and announcing that it is working towards a “comprehensive waste management strategy.”

The campaign urged the University to appoint a senior environmental manager, adopt a comprehensive waste management system, and implement an external environmental management system.

Sophie Lewis, campaign manager, said the committee were “very happy with the outcome.” But she expressed shock and dismay at seeing the “beautiful array of cards, festoon and petitions” removed from the office head quarters.

She commented, “the VC’s secretary has yet to explain where they went, and why.”

The spokesperson said, “I don’t know if the cards will be kept in storage, but even if they are not kept, the university offices recycle all of its card and paper. They won’t go to landfill.”

Some students have also expressed concern that the gesture itself was not environmentally friendly.

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Trinity’s JCR environmental representative described the event as “publicly wasteful.” She commented, “while I admire the aims of the campaign, at the same time I think it’s important not to lose sight of the everyday things we can all do to help the environment, such as saving paper or turning off light.”

But Daniel Lowe, OUSU environmental and ethics officer, called the event “an incredibly effective way to get our message across.”

He said, “it involved 1,000 student, raising the profile of environmental concerns with them. If we continue to press for more efforts to be made, the university will become a more sustainable place.”

JCR environment reps have praised the University’s green efforts, but some stressed that individual colleges as well as the University as a whole need to do much more to help protect the environment.

Mae Penner, Magdalen’s Environment rep accused Oxford colleges of using words such as “tradition” and “prestige” to “justify actions which frivolously disregard the financial and ethical benefits of increased sustainability.”

Stephen Bush, Balliol’s Environment rep added that the “behaviour of some colleges is letting the university down. Some colleges won’t have paper recycling in students’ rooms, for example.”

He said the University should “think about its indirect effect upon the environment too; to look again at the impact of its investments upon the environment and the world generally.”

Environment JCR reps have also criticised OUSU for not doing enough to support and promote awareness of environmental issues among students.

One Environment rep accused the elected Environment and Ethics officials as being “often unresponsive to appeals for information or guidance”, which hindered students who are passionate about the environment from getting involved. She said, “in my experience, they often feel as if they are operating in a vacuum, without any effective Oxford-wide support.”