US-UK Fulbright Exchange on Sustainability

Thinking about sustainability in a place where settled human activity has continued for millennia brings new perspectives.  Seeing how places such as pubs and cathedrals carry on human patterns of activity alongside innovative university/town partnerships such as The Hive has been inspiring.  I’m also seeing new meaning in “Keep Calm and Carry On” as a helpful motto for continuing to work on very challenging issues such as climate change and environmental racism.

Through the Fulbright Specialist Program and the US-UK Fulbright Commission I’ve been able to spend two very enjoyable weeks with folks at the University of Worcester.  The purpose of this exchange was to better conceptualise a university culture of sustainability.  Culture of sustainability is meant to reflect a set of attitudes, behaviors, levels of understanding and commitment, degrees of engagement, and dispositions among a population such as members of a university community.  While many institutions of higher education have committed to campus greening initiatives (energy conservation efforts, expanded recycling, etc.) only a few institutions – such as the University of Worcester and the University of Michigan are working to promote a culture of sustainability leading to longer term impacts.  I first learned of Katy Boom’s work at UW about two years ago and it’s been great to learn more about her work and that of others at Worcester.  Here’s a link to our work on this topic at the University of Michigan– the Sustainability Cultural Indicator Program.

Here’s a brief summary of some of the things we’re worked on during my visit:

  • Identifying opportunities for expanding sustainability efforts at UW
  • Outlining efforts to promote sustainability culture programs
  • Discussing initial ideas for working with SMEs on sustainability culture
  • Potential next steps for developing an ongoing partnership with UM

UM is one of the leading public research institutions in the US, with more than 45,000 students and 40,000 staff across 19 schools and colleges.  In my position at the Graham Sustainability Institute, I work with many others across the university to move our institution towards a more sustainable future involving members of community with partners in the local community and around the world.  Like UW, we struggle to find the right balance of efforts working with the growth of our institution and the principles of sustainability. Also, like UW, sustainability has become one of our key institutional priorities.

Here are some of the highlights of my visit:

Meeting with staff at UW to share our experience at UM and enjoy a great lunch – what a feast! lunch

Hiking to the top of Cadair Idris in Snowdonia National Park, Wales – what a view!


Attending Carbon Journey in Birmingham – a climate program for all second year students at Aston University and Birmingham City University – what an event!  “It’s not weather. It’s how.”  What might be the impact if an event like this spread to all the universities in the UK and the US?

carbon journey

I’ve also had the chance to meet and talk with students at Worcester and hear about their interests in sustainability and ongoing projects.  I’ve been very impressed with the strong voice of students for sustainability within UK institutions of Higher Education.  The work of the People and Planet’s University League  and the National Union of Students are particularly impressive.  At the University of Michigan we have found that student voices for sustainability are often the most impactful.  I encourage Worcester students to stay committed to sustainability efforts as your efforts now will make all the difference for future generations!



Illustration Kirsty Dea third year illustration student

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Jacob Ellis
6 years ago

Our group met John during our sustainability module at Worcester University. We learnt about how Michigan University faculty and students are all pitching in to create a fully sustainable environment. It’s amazing how small changes in behaviour, such as recycling and energy conservation, can have such a big impact on a campus environment, especially when more people start to take part in it.
It was a pleasure to have John come and speak with us and I hope we can again in the future.

– Jake, Amy, Edwin and Maciej

John Callewaert
John Callewaert
6 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Ellis

Thanks Jacob – it was great to meet with you and the other students too – best of luck with you sustainability projects.


John Callewaert
John Callewaert
6 years ago

Thanks for the note and wishing you all the best with Go Green Week 2017

(still counting and recounting votes…)

Connor Egan
Connor Egan
6 years ago

We are Worcester university students. Your presentation was really interesting as it gave me an insight to the importance of community awareness of sustainability and the solutions that promote sustainability. We have also found that the National Health Service (NHS) have taken action towards sustainability through their sustainability day which represents the important role sustainable development has in the health sector. The following link explains another way in which the NHS has contributed to sustainability through Bart’s Health NHS Trust:
Connor Egan, Ieuan Miller, Liam Gaffney, Tom McCabe

Lucy Gregory
6 years ago

We attended the presentation John gave on the initiatives that the University of Michigan have carried out to improve their levels of sustainability. The presentation inspired us to use our day on Go Green Week 2017 to spread awareness and educate other students on sustainable living and encourage them to adapt their lifestyles to fit a more sustainable routine.
John was an informative speaker and helped us to form various activities for food day to enhance the university’s culture of sustainability to, not only spread awareness, but inform people of the impacts of living sustainably and motivate people to eat sustainably. The talk he delivered to our class was eye opening and good to see such an important, yet tragically, overlooked topic being tackled head on by such a large institution. With the uncertain political future on both sides of the Atlantic work done by people such as John becomes even more important to influence such a large volume of people to care for our planet in the face of BREXIT and Trump.

Lucy Gregory, Rasa Liepina, Sion Evans, James Stanley, Ella Sutton

John Leah
John Leah
6 years ago

I went along to the lunch-time presentation John gave at U.W. and was intrigued to hear about his work at the Graham Sustainability Institute at U.M. Widespread cultural change within any organization is key, and of course a very challenging thing to bring about too, so it was heartening to see what they have achieved at U.M. as well as hearing about the barriers they have yet to overcome. John was a relaxed and engaging speaker and I came away nourished by his reflections on his experience at the Graham Sustainability Institute (and by the wonderful lunch, now I know a sustainable lunch is an option at U.W. I’ll try and get it ordered for meetings etc, good food always get people on side!). So many thanks John for sharing your efforts to help make the world a greener place and I look forward to some further exchanges across the pond.
Dr John Leah
Course Leader for the MSc Public Health
Institute of Health and Society
University of Worcester

John Callewaert
John Callewaert
6 years ago
Reply to  John Leah

Great to meet you to – best wishes for all your efforts.


Carolyn Roberts
6 years ago

Great to meet you, John, and I see from your blog that you had a good time in Wales, too!

Trump’s approach has terrified a lot of people in the UK – on top of BREXIT, it’s not feeling very good currently. Let’s hope that he pulls back from the strong statements about withdrawing from climate change agreements. I just came back from China, and they are powering ahead (literally and metaphorically) with clean energy initiatives and strong words about the importance of maintaining a healthy environment.

Best wishes,


Professor Carolyn Roberts

Water and Environment Consultant
Professor of Environment, Gresham College, London
Honorary Senior Research Associate, University College London
Vice President, Institution of Environmental Sciences, UK
Former Chair, Society for the Environment, UK
Life Member of the Common Room, Wolfson College, Oxford, UK