Skip to main content

Sustainable learning, teaching and research

Student sifting through fabrics in the library
Student sifting through fabrics in the library
Fabric samples and materials in the library, 2019, Central Saint Martins, UAL. Photography: Alys Tomlinson

Embedding social and environmental sustainability into the curriculum.

Our new UAL Strategy 2022-2032 continues to embed sustainability in our learning, teaching, and research. Our third Guiding Policy is to change the world through our creative endeavour, as part of this we will focus our research, knowledge exchange and enterprise activities in areas that deliver the biggest social, environmental and economic impact. By 2023, all of our courses will be re-designed to educate our students about climate change. By 2040, we will reach net-zero in our carbon emissions. These commitments are grounded in the experience of students, alumni and staff, academic insights and in our data.

In November 2021 the University shared UAL’s Climate Action Plan which was approved by the University’s Executive Group and speaks of the role UAL must play in achieving climate justice. Integral to this commitment is creating institutional change and this will be realised through our pledges to change the way we teach, research and work with others.

As a University, we need a curriculum which empowers our students, across all programmes and levels, to take action in response to the imperatives of the climate and ecological crisis and to engage their work, practice and research in making change for a better world.

In order to bring to life a curriculum underpinned by climate justice we know that we must equip students and staff with the tools, skills and resource to support the development of a new type of curriculum. Changing not only what we teach – but how UAL approaches the development of learning, teaching and practice for our community.

This key area of the Climate Action Plan is being delivered by the Academic Discourse and Action Learning (ADAL) Working Group – one of four working groups within UAL’s Climate and Environmental Action Group (CEAG PDF 290KB). The ADAL Working Group (PDF 79KB) is committed to three key aims, with a view to have delivered on these by September 2023.

The group’s aims are to:

  1. Embed climate justice, and its intersectionality, in all UAL courses through foundational science-based learning and teaching and discipline-specific critical exploration, contextualisation and pedagogies.
  2. Provide all UAL staff will have opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills to contextualise their discipline and transform their teaching to advocate for and take action on climate, social and racial justice.
  3. UAL will create flexible and collaborative conditions and actively support students and staff to live change and work together as advocates, partners and activists to achieve the above.

Work is already underway with the group developing a set of guiding Principles and a tool kit of Baseline Knowledge and Skills for climate, racial and social justice. The next phase, will be to consult with our students, academic, technical and administration staff across the Colleges on a draft version of the Principles and tool kit.

A programme of staff development opportunities to support staff in transforming their teaching to deliver climate, racial and social justice in the curriculum is also currently in development, and an Educational Developer based in the Teaching and Learning Exchange is being recruited to coordinate these activities.

The group is also working to provide opportunities for student and staff voice and activism through a roll-out of student Climate Advocates across UAL and a University-wide project to mobilize models of co-production, rapid adaptation and student climate advocacy.

To find out more about the ADAL Working Group’s commitments contact Dr Nicky Ryan (n.ryan@lcc.arts.ac.uk).

Frameworks for sustainable learning, teaching and research

In our guiding principles of the new strategy, we ensure our students’ skills are always set within an ethical framework which addresses issues of social, racial and climate justice. Working with the sector, we will use new technologies to address social problems like the climate crisis.

Our Environmental Management System for Sustainable Learning, Teaching, and Research is ISO 14001 accredited. ISO 14001 is a framework that UAL uses to structure the integration of ESD and it provides a mechanism for setting targets and reviewing and reporting on progress. The associated Guidance Document is available here (PDF 2.8MB) and section 8 and 9 detail the monitoring and reporting structure. There are 12 Key Performance Indicators that determine progress made in Sustainable Learning Teaching and Research which are:

  • The number of events that promote and foster sustainable research
  • The number of student projects centred in sustainability (See ISO14001 Accreditation: Number of student projects themed around Sustainability in LCC Design School (PDF 116KB)
  • The amount of funding for sustainability research grants obtained.
  • Total waste mass (kg) / full time student (or equivalent)
  • Total hazardous waste mass (kg) / full time student (or equivalent)
  • Engagement with SU arts 'Sustainability Zine' and college staff newsletters
  • Business related travel offset by Skype/Teams
  • Carbon emissions from academic procurement
  • Tonnage of waste disposed by skips per year
  • Number of end-of-year shows including 'deconstruction plans'
  • Number of disposals issued at each site/per year

We've worked to increase the levels of student oversight of this new learning, teaching and research EMS. The Arts SU Campaigns Officer plays a key role in not only helping students understand the terminology and the benefits of an EMS, but also as a critical friend to the university, independently checking that we're doing what we say we're doing through internal site audits in accordance with the UAL Risks and Opportunities Register - Learning, Teaching, and Research (XLS330KB) - and this is something that will continue.

We've also been able to make good progress on this thanks to the involvement of one of our Sustainability Interns, who has been conducting independent site audits.

All of this information gathered is independently verified by an external and accredited ISO auditor every year.

Creative education must play its part in averting climate catastrophe. Central Saint Martins hosted two major research projects to do just this. First, Materializing Data: Embodying Climate Change, uses the visual arts to present climate data, often impenetrable to a general audience, in a way that is accessible. A second project, Architecture After Architecture, speculates on what kind of architecture might be necessary if we are to face the climate emergency.

Staff networking, training, and support

As outlined in our Strategy 2022-2032, we want to change the world through teaching. For example, our Continuing Professional Development programme provides support and training to help all academic staff integrate Education for Sustainable Development into the curriculum, through training sessions such as our workshop on Embedding sustainability and ethics in creative teaching. Since 2019, sustainability has also been a compulsory part of every course across the UAL curriculum, spanning design, fashion, science, performance, media and screen and creative computing, and every staff member is required to undertake our carbon literacy training (PDF 1.33MB). Finally, our Climate Action Plan outlines our commitment to embed sustainability in learning, teaching and research.

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion continues to support the development and integration of sustainability in the curriculum across all courses and levels at the London College of Fashion. The Education for Sustainability Transformation Strategy (PDF 253KB) and the Education for Sustainability Transformation at LCF Interim Report (PDF 10MB) displays the spectrum of vital ways in which LCF is critically considering and connecting fashion’s artistic, social, cultural and business practices in an ecological context. It is cross referenced with academic frameworks such as PRIME and reported to ADQA. LCF have also embedded social responsibility, diversity and sustainability into the curriculum in their undergraduate courses through the LCF Better Lives programme.

Staff network and share best practice. For example, in January 2020 all course teams in the Design School at LCC participated in a workshop to embed sustainability into the curriculum. Staff also discuss ESD in the Climate Assemblies.

The Responsible Design Framework (PDF 79KB) recognises the need for design education to respond to the eco-social challenges of our time and to equip Design School students, academics and technical staff with the skills and values to become responsible creative citizens.

The Exchange provides professional development to support sustainability and sustainability literacy. Staff participating in the PgCert Academic Practice can reflect on sustainability issues in their area of academic practice. Findings are delivered to a wide University audience.

We have launched our carbon literacy training (PDF 1.33MB) programme for all staff which is part of the induction process.

For more information regarding staff networking opportunities please refer to the Climate Emergency Network. For examples of how networking opportunities have been organised in the recent past please refer to the Carnival of Crisis.

View all our policies and strategies.

Examples of research and innovation at UAL in learning, teaching and research

  • Centre for Sustainable Fashion provides leadership and research on sustainable fashion. This includes collaborations, before the Paris climate talks, with the COPtimist project and Dress for Our Time.
  • The Textile Futures Research Centre investigates sustainable and ethical innovations in textiles.
  • Centre for Circular Design focuses on using practice research approaches to originate, steer and support circular technologies, economies and communities around the globe.
  • UAL Social Design uses research insights to change how designers and organisations design. It connects UAL staff and students with external partners who are working in social and sustainable design. Our mission is to make a positive social and environmental difference.
  • Design Against Crime investigates how to use art and design to make safe and more sustainable urban environments.
  • Industry Projects creates partnerships between companies and LCF students. Projects often involve sustainability such as the Nike Sustainable Materials Project. 
  • We aim to involve students in sustainability operations at UAL where possible. Students delivered ideas for the new accommodation block to contractors and to the Estates team. The students were from the Spatial Practices Programme.
  • Through many of our courses and their assessments students contribute to improving sustainability. In MA BiodesignMA Fashion Futures, MA Material Futures and MA Architecture students often build sustainability into their projects. An example is using the natural dyes from the Mare St garden or creating clothes from flax grown at LCF sites.

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion based at London College of Fashion, UAL has been awarded a £250,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to fund a new research project, Decolonising Fashion and Textiles - Design for Cultural Sustainability with Refugee Communities. The research will be led by Dr. Francesco Mazzarella, Senior Lecturer in Fashion and Design for Social Change, as Principal Investigator (PI) and Professor Lucy Orta Professor and Chair of Art and the Environment, as Co-Investigator (Co-I). Work on this project will start in September 2022 and will run for two years working with eight project partners – V&A, UNHCR, Bow Arts, Arbeit Project Ltd, Poplar HARCA and the London Boroughs of Newham, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets.

This project aims to develop a framework for decolonised design practice by advancing a cultural sustainability agenda within a fashion and textile industry context. To achieve this aim, the research team will work together with refugee communities based in East London to scope the research in relation to their reality and lived experience of resilience and inform a process of reciprocal learning and making.

Oral histories will be collected in relation to the communities’ cultural heritage and used to collectively outline visions for a sustainable future. Fashion and textile artefacts grounded in the cultural heritage of the participating communities will be co-created, as well as social enterprise models intended to enhance the resilience of refugees. Recommendations for policy for sustainable regeneration will also be outlined, with a focus on refugee communities in the UK. Finally, dissemination activities will be conducted to amplify the impacts of the project.

The novel perspective this research advocates moves beyond the three commonly recognised pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic, and social – to also consider a cultural dimension, meaning cultural heritage, diverse cultural systems, values, behaviours, and norms. The project will adopt a holistic approach to design for sustainability, focusing on textile and fashion artisanal practices carried out by local refugee communities who, despite their transiency, retain their culture, customs, faiths, and invaluable craft heritage skills.

Until now, the textile heritage of minorities has often been the object of abusive cultural appropriation practices undertaken by fashion brands or has been systematically obscured or undervalued as ‘non-fashion’ produced by ‘the other’.

Within this context, the research intends to challenge dominant practices of designers being ‘parachuted’ into marginalised or disadvantaged communities with the assumption that they can bring their own knowledge and expertise to solve their problems. Hence, ‘Decolonised Fashion and Textiles’ will address the need to liberate design from its legacies of colonial thought, whilst leveraging and valuing refugee communities’ contribution to cultural sustainability, community resilience, and social entrepreneurship.

Examples of Living Lab case studies

Our Knowledge Exchange activities and research facilitate opportunities for mutual learning, collaboration and community engagement. Together with our partners, students, academics and teachers, we've been able to situate UAL as a driving force for social change within our institution and within our local and global communities. From finding creative solutions to the climate emergency to anti-racism, take a look at some of the differences we've made inside and outside our UAL community:

Equal access to Higher Education - Scholarship and maintenance costs

UAL is committed to widening participation and access to higher education (HE) and supporting students as they progress to the next stage in their creative education, these provide specific eligibility criteria for refugees, asylum seekers or those granted humanitarian protection.

  • UAL Travel Bursary - Each UAL Travel Bursary offers to cover the costs of mainline train and/or airline travel within the UK for applicants meeting eligibility criteria to attend UAL applicant and/or interview days.
  • UAL International Postgraduate Scholarship -  Up to 165 UAL International Postgraduate scholarships are available. A scholarship provides a £5,000 tuition fee waiver for a full-time taught master’s course at one of UAL’s 6 Colleges.
  • UAL International Postgraduate £50,000 Scholarship and ISH accommodation award - This scholarship covers the cost of tuition fees, accommodation at one of UAL’s halls of residence and may also contribute towards living costs. Up to 4 UAL International Postgraduate £50,000 Scholarships are available.
  • The Refugee Journalism Project - Partnership between London College of Communication (LCC), The Refugee Council, The Guardian Foundation, and Google News Initiative supporting refugee and exiled journalists to re-start their careers in the UK.  This project helps to redress negative political and media-driven stereotypes by presenting refugees as displaced professionals with valuable insights and skills to offer society.
  • UAL’s Development team have secured charitable funding so that this project can continue and develop, providing training and work opportunities for refugees in the UK.
  • Anyone on an undergraduate, graduate diploma or postgraduate course can apply for UAL’s Hardship Fund. The University Hardship Fund is a means-tested hardship grant to assist with study costs, and is open to home and international students. It is not a loan and does not need to be repaid.
  • We also offer a wide range of scholarships supporting home and international students, such as the The FUTURE FWD Scholarship available to 1 Home or International student from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background on the 1st year of the BA Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins, and the Tara Nirula International Students House (ISH) / London College of Fashion (LCF) Graduate Scholarship available to 1 student from India across a number of courses from the London College of Fashion.
  • UAL is committed to a social purpose, as outlined in our 2022 - 2032 Institutional Strategy. We are currently exploring more ways to provide support to people fleeing conflict and persecution outside of the UK.
  • UAL’s Access and Participation Plan outlines our commitment to widening participation and fair access to higher education and is approved by the OfS.