The University of Manchester is the first UK university to make social responsibility a core strategic goal. To demonstrate what social responsibility means, we identified a set of distinctive signature programmes to address a series of social challenges where we could make the greatest impact.

In November 2016, we launched 10,000 Actions, the biggest environmental sustainability initiative in the UK higher education sector. 10,000 Actions helps every member of staff take positive action on environmental sustainability and has resulted in the University being hailed as the first ‘Carbon Literate’ university in the world. It challenges all 10,000+ staff to perform at least one action on sustainability.

Every organisation will have a range of contributions their staff can make to enhance sustainability. As the UK’s biggest university, 10,000 Actions demonstrates that in-depth staff learning and engagement is possible across any large-scale organisation, yet in a way that is simplified and tailored to different types of staff in different roles. 

The concept of 10,000 Actions was first conceived as a response to the city of Manchester’s aspirations for everyone who lives, works or studies in Manchester to receive ‘carbon literacy' training. We decided to build on this by going beyond carbon literacy towards a fuller notion of ‘natural resource literacy’. As we have such a large and diverse workforce, we needed to develop a campaign that could reach all members of staff and appeal to the wide variety of job roles that we have. We didn’t want to just teach our staff about sustainability but also wanted to encourage them to take action. 

We developed an online system to both educate and encourage action. Videos were produced featuring academic and professional staff speaking about issues and actions on sustainability, alongside quizzes, discussion boards and further information. Each video features a variety of different staff sharing the actions they are taking.

The overall goal of the communication involved was to ensure that every member of staff took at least one action for sustainability. Combined, this would create more than 10,000 actions which has a massive impact. 

Communications and media staff worked with our academics to ensure complex messages were communicated in ways that were accessible to anyone, no matter their job at the University. An extensive communications plan was developed with communications colleagues, leading to some innovative ideas, including: 

  • An annual £10,000 fund is available for staff to apply for funding for sustainability projects up to £2,500. 
  • We commissioned a local artist to illustrate and animate the actions our staff were sharing on social media, leading to our hashtags trending several times. 
  • A local willow sculptor erected a 6 foot high ‘10,000’ in the middle of the campus to raise awareness of the programme. 
  • Whiteboards in the shape of speech bubbles were made so staff could write their actions on them and share on social media. 
  • A celebration and launch event for our sustainability champions, senior management and key external stakeholders. 
  • A series of face-to-face sessions for the 10% of our staff who do not have access to a computer so they could hear more about the programme and commit to their own actions. 
  • A managers’ pack was developed for all managers including a presentation, a FAQ guide and copy. 
  • Donation of £1 to a local tree planting charity, City of Trees, for every person who made an action plan in the first three months to encourage early adoption of the programme.
  • Senior managers, including the University’s President, were engaged to champion and trail-blaze the initiative in videos and to share the actions they had committed to and taken. 

An action planning tool was developed using specific staff profiles (e.g. laboratory-based, staff who fly for business etc.) to generate tailored pledges for action.  We rolled out completely new software in February 2019 which enables staff to easily update their actions and for everyone across the University to see real-time data. This increased functionality has been very well received and has moved the perception of 10,000 Actions from being a one-off activity to an ongoing engagement programme.  By the end of the year we will have added the functionality for teams across the University to log their actions as well as individuals.

While it is a voluntary initiative, an impressive 55% of staff have so far engaged with the initiative (previous staff engagement on environmental sustainability programmes reached only 3% of staff). We’ve also highlighted financial savings:

  • People who cycle to work have on average one less sick day per year which is worth £188.  Currently 385 people have indicated they cycle to work through 10,000 Actions which is a saving to the University of £72,380 per annum.
  • ‘FuelGood’ driver training provides participants with driving techniques to help them reduce carbon emissions. A typical driver will maintain savings of up to £110 a year. Currently 373 members of staff committed to this action saving £41,030 per annum.

We are exploring how we can roll out 10,000 Actions to our 40,000+ students, aiming to deliver this from September 2020.

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the individual contributing member, and are not necessarily representative of  the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated

About the Author

Lucy Millard is a Chartered Environmentalist, Full Member of IEMA and the Environmental Sustainability Manager at The University of Manchester, where she leads the sustainability engagement activities for over 40,000 students and more than 12,000 staff. Lucy has over 14 years experience in environmental management, an MSc in Environmental Governance and a BSc in Environmental Management.