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Sustainathon: Sustainable Consumption on Our Campus

Dr Gabriela Gliga
Department of Enterprise & Technology, ATU Galway City

The Sustainable Consumption on Our Campus. For Students by Students was a learning intervention which took place in February 2023 with the support of NTUTORR and SATLE funding. The project aimed to facilitate the 3rd year Bachelor of Business in Marketing & Sales students at ATU Galway engaging with the idea of sustainable consumption on campus. The event was part of the Consumer Behaviour Module, which integrates the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the curriculum, with a focus on the UN Goal #12: Responsible/Sustainable Consumption.

The Themed Hackathon format was a challenge-based learning experience which required students to immerse in the topic for a day and collaborate in groups to identify and creatively solve sustainable consumption issues on campus. 51 students participated in the event.

Prior to the Sustainathon workshop, the SDGs were introduced in class and the students also engaged in self-directed learning by exploring several resources on sustainability and specific 2030 targets in Ireland on food waste and waste generation. As well as that, students were asked to complete two pre-workshop activities:

  • conduct short interviews with ATU students, ATU staff and someone outside of campus around the topics of food waste and waste generation on campus. 
  • walk around/use the facilities on campus with a critical eye to identify and take note of issues/opportunities for us to become more sustainable on campus.

A few days later, the Sustainathon day experience began with an introduction to design thinking. From mid-morning to mid-afternoon students worked in groups on defining problems, brainstorming solutions, voting/selecting the most promising ideas and prototyping. These colourful activities (involving post-its, flipcharts, stickers, markers etc.) were facilitated by a design thinking/sustainability expert. The second part of the afternoon was the most exciting, with each group pitching/presenting their ideas. A panel of judges selected the 3 best presentations and the day concluded with an Award Ceremony.

Overall, the event was a success. All the participants agreed/strongly agreed that the experience contributed to their learning around sustainability. Favourite moments comprised the hands-on group work, applying the design thinking process and seeing their colleagues present their ideas. The main takeaways from the experience included the belief that ‘we can all reduce food waste’, that ‘there are many ways to be more sustainable and making changes in your daily life can have a large effect’, and that ‘young people can make a difference for sustainability’.

The Sustainathon event and the pre-workshop activities were a unique and different learning experience. By adopting a student-centred problem-based approach, the project encouraged a high level of engagement and creativity, and helped students recognise and fulfil their potential to contribute to society. The group format also stimulated a level of competition among students and provided a rich platform for peer learning.

The Sustainathon project was aligned to the government’s National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development as it moved beyond just ‘teaching facts on sustainability’ into involving the students in developing innovative solutions to sustainability challenges that affect them directly. Learning interventions, such as the Sustainathon, can help students become more empowered to be community engaged, ethically conscious, professionally competent, and ultimately lifelong sustainability advocates.

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