Sophie Marriott is a third year History and Economics student who, besides being Head Opinion Editor for The Mancunion, is also an integral part of one of the university’s greenest societies, People and Planet. I met up with her to chat about their latest work.
Sophie initially got involved with People and Planet in her first year of university, after spying them at the freshers’ fair. She quickly got stuck in and is now an active member of their campaigns, as well as being their Publicity Officer.
So, who are People and Planet? They’re a group of like-minded individuals concerned with both national and local issues to do with sustainability, falling under an umbrella organisation that has various branches at universities all over the country.
“The great thing about this,” Sophie explains, “is that this allows each university’s organisation to target the issues they find the most important”. There are no set areas, and so each university’s People and Planet will have different campaigns based on the problems that their area is currently facing.
For Manchester, this area is fossil fuel investment. According to a Freedom of Information request by the Mancunion, the university has around £7m invested in fossil fuel companies like BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil. People and Planet think this really needs to change.
Fossil Free is a national movement that they’re supporting, which encourages divestment from fossil fuel companies by businesses and institutions, and urges them to reinvest their money in something much more sustainable and ethical. Student-led organisations at universities such as King’s College London, Liverpool, and Loughborough have persuaded their institutions to divest, most notably at King’s, where students took part in a two-week hunger strike to help their cause.
So far, Sophie says, The University of Manchester has not been particularly supportive of the divestment movement. Despite having said they will review their investment portfolio, so far little effort has been made to actually divest from these businesses, which may be because their portfolio is so large that it will take some time to change. One of the ways that People and Planet are attempting to help the university divest is to show them that their financial investors (us students) don’t think that fossil fuels are a good choice of investment for our money.
To this end, People and Planet have organised a Fossil Free Shindig (FFS) on the 21st of November. This is the national day of action for fossil fuel divestment, with the overarching theme ‘Time’s Up’. It’s going to be a very relaxed festival-style day, which aims to celebrate the support for a fossil free university and the possibilities this could bring. If this isn’t enough to convince you, it will also be full of lots of treats like vegan food and free plants, as well as performances from music and spoken word artists. Members of other organisations like Friends of the Earth, Frack Free and the MMU Sustainability Team will also be there for you to chat to.
“We’re trying to work with the university on this. Manchester is always seen as a city that’s so forward-thinking and dynamic, and it’s really disappointing that the university can’t claim to be part of this legacy whilst supporting an industry like fossil fuels,” Sophie continues. “They also have a responsibility to represent the views of the students who invest in them. We’ve been so impressed by the level of student engagement so far, and we’d love everyone to come along and get involved.”
If you’d like to get involved in a more permanent way than attending FFS, you can join the society, for free. There’s a Facebook group online, and regular socials at the pub so you can have a chat with the team. Weekly meetings are also organised to talk about current and future campaigns, and one of the highlights of the People and Planet agenda are the FRED (friendly earth discussion) talks. These cover subjects ranging from eco-fashion to eating sustainably, and are guaranteed to be both informative and good fun.
“We’re very open at People and Planet, so come along to our meetings and see what we do. If you’re worried about the time commitment, it’s not too demanding. In the meantime, give us a follow on our Instagram!”
Looking ahead, People and Planet have several other campaigns that they’re currently involved in, including lobbying the Students’ Union to put more food waste bins around campus, and trying to get the university to be totally free of single use plastics. They’re currently also working with the Activities Officer, Lizzie Houghton, to set up a Waste Free shop in the SU, which will also help raise awareness about lifestyle choices and waste.
Waste is a key theme for People and Planet, and they’re also looking at connecting local food banks and charities so that leftover food from mixers and events doesn’t go straight in the bin. Instead, it’ll go to those that need it most.
“Universities are supposed to be institutions that benefit society. We’re hoping that we can lead by example.”