Getting Started

The information on this page has been developed by NESSE members who have successfully started sustainable science groups within their communities. These groups consist of both discipline-specific and interdisciplinary teams of scientists who, by working together, have been able to change the local conversation about green science and engineering – significantly impacting the way research and education is carried out at their universities. While this page is primarily focused on student-run sustainable science groups at educational institutions, it is by no means limited to that purpose – we are happy to help anyone promote sustainable science within their community! For more info and advice contact groups@sustainablescientists.org.

Scroll through to read step by step, or click through to what you’d like to learn about:

Taking the First Steps
Ideas for Group Activities, Events, and Educational Outreach
Working Within a University Community
Frequently Asked Questions

Taking the First Steps

Because every institution is different, there is no single “right” way to get started. Below are some general guidelines that have proven to be effective for NESSE members:

Step-1-cartoon-d

step-1-number-d2Start talking to people

The best way to engage with your community is to find out what people are interested in. Start by having informal discussions with people at your institution about sustainable science and engineering to get an idea of what type of information or interaction would be valuable.

Assemble a team and decide what you want to achieve

Step-2-cartoonOnce you have an idea of what would be of interest to your community, send out a mass invite (via departmental email, university listserv, Facebook, word of mouth, etc.) to an open meeting to see who would be willing to start the group with you. Together with your new team, decide what you want to achieve and clearly state your short term and longer term goals. Figure out what role each team member will play in the group and decide on a strategy to engage with your community.

step-3-number-dStart engaging with you community and spreading your message

Step-3-cartoonOnce you know what you want to achieve you need to plan an inaugural or launch event to make sure more people know about your group. Especially for new groups that have limited or no funding, working with your department/institution to schedule promotional or educational awareness events either at the same time or before/after an already well-attended event is a good way to reach a large audience – just make sure you ask the main event-holders for permission first!

When you want to promote your event, short, to-the-point messages sent out via email listservs and social media channels are pretty effective, but  face-to-face discussions are even more powerful – people are much more likely to listen to someone they know, so keep talking to people about your group and your events!

You can try creative approaches as well. For example, the Green Chemistry Initiative at the University of Toronto started out by blanketing the Chemistry building with hand-written questions about green chemistry. The following week, they posted the answers underneath the questions with a promotion for their first green chemistry seminar. Because their target audience, chemists, is a naturally inquisitive bunch, this generated a fair amount of buzz before the inaugural event.

 

Ideas for Group Activities, Events, and Educational Outreach

Once you’ve got your group going you need to start planning some events and activities. Below are some ideas that have come from sustainable science groups across the world. If you have any other ideas to add please send them to us!

Engage your university community

Start a Green Seminar Series – If you aren’t an expert in the topic you would like to learn about, don’t worry, just invite someone who is an expert to come and teach you! Ask your department or university for funding to bring in speakers on a variety of topics – the more diverse the better (public policy, industrial processes, academic research, etc.).  The idea is to expose your community to different viewpoints and ways green science and engineering can be applied. Even if you don’t have funding, you can invite speakers from within your institution or local community. Hosting a seminar series is a great way to network and make contacts with companies, labs, or organizations that might be interested in giving you a job someday.

Organize a Journal Club – Especially for researchers, reading the scientific literature is a crucial part of daily work. Highlighting relevant scholarly green research can be a good way to foster a discussion about best practices or new innovations. It also helps to have some free food so people view it as a time to take a break and chat.

Host a Green Science Workshop – This could be a single day or multi-day event and can be discipline-specific or multi-disciplinary. A large event such as this can bring together many people from different backgrounds and give people a chance to network and broaden their knowledge base. Like the seminar series, it’s a great way to make contacts with companies, labs, or organizations that might be interested in giving you a job someday. For an example, check out the annual workshop hosted by the Green Chemistry Initiative at the University of Toronto.

Run Trivia Events – Nothing fosters conversation better than a good question. If there is a space where people typically congregate (e.g. a café, a lunch room, a regular departmental or university-sponsored event) ask the organizers if you can pass out ballots with a question related to some aspect of green science. Each correct answer serves as an entry for a drawing for prizes (e.g. a coffee card, etc.). Not only does this foster discussion about green science at the event, but afterward, when you reveal the answer (in person, via email, etc.) you can point people to relevant resources where they can learn more.

Be interdisciplinary

Set-up your sustainable science group to be interdisciplinary right from the start – Recruit people from other disciplines such as Biology, Engineering, Chemistry, etc. and see if there are other people within those departments working on areas related to green technology such as green chemistry, process intensification, fermentation, etc. Ask them if they’d be interested in being part of a group to promote greener science on campus.

Make contacts with organizations in other disciplines – e.g. Engineers for a Sustainable World, Engineers Without Borders, Early Career Ecologists, etc. and see if you can plan occasional speakers together or cross-promote activities.

Run a full interdisciplinary symposium around a particular theme – e.g. energy, climate change, etc. and invite people from across the campus and other universities nearby.

Coordinate an interdisciplinary research exchange – See if your university is interested in putting a little bit of funding towards developing interdisciplinary research on campus. With or without the financial support, organize a research exchange for early-career researchers to do flash presentations, exchange ideas and potentially develop new research ideas. (example)

Be sociable

Set up a Facebook group, blog, or similar – Use it to help people to share ideas, relevant news, and events.

Organize green drinks for scientists on your campus – Socialize in a pub or bar with like-minded people from across the disciplines – this could include a formal talk or simply just a chance for people to network and build connections.

Start a video campaign – Create short, informative YouTube videos about the different aspects of green science or green engineering. Make sure to be clear about who is your intended audience and have fun with it! Here is an example of a video series about green chemistry created by the University of Toronto Green Chemistry Initiative.

Reach out to existing networks at your institution

Work with groups on campus already making a difference – See if your university has a sustainability department or is involved in a national sustainability program. Figure out which departments are involved or if there are sustainability champions. Do you have an environmental officer in the students’ union or student organizing body? See if you can work with them to get events promoted across campus.

Green your university – Another option could be to campaign together to green the university; e.g. to increase the usage of renewable energy, have a system to look into labs across campus to measure energy use, waste production, etc.

Engage the public

Host seminars with a sustainable science theme in a relaxed environment – Get early-career researchers to come and speak about their work or invite established researchers whose work you admire. Especially for early-career researchers, this could be a great chance to practice communicating your work to a different audience. Some good examples of these kinds of events include Pint of Science and Cafe Scientifique.

Run a coffee and careers event – Get scientists from across the disciplines together to hear about possible future careers, perhaps with a green twist. You could include working in government, creating a start-up, non-profits, etc.

 

Working Within a University Community

When promoting sustainable science and engineering, it can be challenging to get people to listen to your message. It’s unfortunate, but sometime you have to overcome the stigmas associated with the labels “green” and “sustainable.” There are several strategies that you can employ to get past this.

Reaching beyond the ‘usual suspects':
  • Constantly reach out to people to see what they are interested in and make them feel involved in what you are doing – ask them to suggest a speaker for your seminar series, or to present their recent publication at your journal club.
  • Avoid being too overt with your “green” or “sustainable” branding. For example, to promote a seminar, simply state the date, time, and title in the subject of the email, and leave the fact that it is a “green” seminar for the body of the email. Great events and resources will easily be able to stand on their own.
  • Make sure to be as inclusive as possible. If people feel judged, they will just stop listening to your messages. By reaching out to people and showing them how some of what they are already doing is “green,” you are more likely to keep them interested and engaged in opportunities for future improvement.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t see your question here, or have other problems or concerns, please contact us at groups@sustainablescientists.org! We have probably experienced the same situation already, or can put you in touch with someone who can help you.

What are some tips for discussing green principles with more skeptical peers?
      • Talk about real world examples. There are so many examples of green principles being used in industry at massive scales and people often have the misconception that green is anti-business, which is not true at all! You will not be able to convince everyone, which is okay. You just need to plant some seeds of interest in their mind so they will be more likely to listen to you the next time you mention something “green.”
      • Within a skeptical research environment, try bringing up good examples of how green technology has already worked in the research world. Be sympathetic to the difficulties of launching new projects, and identify small, simple changes that might be made within the current system. It’s unrealistic to change the way research is done in a lab all at once, but early thoughts about green principles can be implemented more in later stages of project design.
      • Also it’s worth mentioning that the importance of green science will only continue to grow; there is increasingly more funding being given to projects highlighting sustainability, and increasingly more importance being given to green “buzzwords” in publications.
How can I balance incorporating green practices with meeting strict expectations (yields, results) from a superior?

As graduate students/post-docs, the unfortunate reality is that we are not always in control of what we work on. No process is ever perfect, so we should just try to be as green as possible within the constraints that we have. The best way to incorporate green principles into your research is in the planning stage. If there are several options to get to a desired outcome, choose the greenest one you can without sacrificing cost or efficiency. You don’t have to rigorously “green-ify” your entire project; recognize what is feasible and what will have the biggest impact (i.e. a commonly used reaction, or a particularly hazardous step of your design). Know exactly why you’re doing it and be able to defend it from an efficiency or safety perspective to your superior. It is also important to remember that simply learning about green science will help you be able to make good choices once you are the one in charge, so even if it’s not feasible to be very green right now, it won’t always be the case. As your project evolves over the years and your independence grows, you can start applying more green principles to your design, or choose more sustainable side project to pursue.

How can I utilize NESSE within an existing organization? (i.e. what does it mean to be a “member” of NESSE?)

NESSE is here to provide you with resources, connections, and communication with the broader sustainable science community. Look around the website, engage with other members on the Facebook group, ask for help with a science problem you’re having, etc. If you feel like we are missing out on something, let us know!

What are some good ways to regularly get people’s attention about news in green technology?

Facebook posts, Twitter, and literature blogs are all simple and effective ways to publicize news in green technology. Try to identify what’s interesting to specific people (know your demographic) and then cater to their interests when choosing which green technology to advertise. It’s an incredibly broad field, and there’s definitely something of interest for everyone! Send news in a way that’s personal and shows that there’s something in it for the other person; sending a personal e-mail saying something like “Hey, I thought you might find this interesting” is a great way to keep someone personally involved.

How should I approach someone about speaking at an interdisciplinary event? Specifically, a professor? An industry employee?

Refer to the seminar section in engaging your community. Generally, getting a professor’s attention is pretty easy. They are frequently asked to come and give lectures, they find it really hard to say no to student invitations, and typically have publicly posted contact information.  Simply send them an email stating that you are a student group who is interested in their work and invite them to come and teach you about what they do. Industry contacts are more difficult because they typically do not publicly post employee’s contact information. If you are able to get a contact, the invitation strategy is the same as for faculty members. The best way to get in touch with people at companies is through mutual connections; companies rarely respond to general inquiries. NESSE can help you get in contact with companies of interest, so reach out to us at groups@sustainablescientists.org if you’re having trouble.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>