Sustainability Week sees student life spring back into action

Eloïse Richard and Basile Morier © Alain Herzog / EPFL 2022

Eloïse Richard and Basile Morier © Alain Herzog / EPFL 2022

Eloïse Richard and Basile Morier are the coordinators of the UNIL-EPFL Sustainability Week, which will take place across both campuses from 7 to 12 March 2022. The initiative is backed by around 40 partner organizations as well as a team of volunteers, and features a packed schedule of events.

From 7 to 12 March, EPFL and University of Lausanne (UNIL) will play host to Sustainability Week, a six-day program of events organized by student association Unipoly with the support of around 40 partner organizations. The program will explore sustainability from a variety of angles through speeches, workshops, panel discussions, games, visits, debates, screenings, tastings and more. It promises to be a welcome return to normal student life – a chance to shake off the winter blues, reconnect after exams and vacations, and celebrate the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Here, we talk to Unipoly event managers Eloïse Richard, who’s studying for a Master’s in sustainability at UNIL, and Basile Morier, a Master’s student in physics at EPFL.

What are the highlights of this year’s Sustainability Week?

The main highlights will be the opening keynote speech on Monday the 7th and the closing one on Friday the 11th. The opening address will be delivered by Véronique Boillet, an associate professor at the Center of Public Law, which is part of UNIL’s Faculty of Law, Criminal Justice and Public Administration. She’s been invited by AJE, a UNIL association for climate- and sustainability-minded law students, to talk about Climate Seniors. It’s a hot topic right now, and an interesting counterpoint to the youth-driven Extinction Rebellion and Climate Strike movements.

This year’s Sustainability Week also coincides with the second Sustainability 101 - Back to schoolconference held by La Convergence, during which two prominent speakers will take to the stage starting at noon on Thursday the 10th: Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte, who co-chairs Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and Gilles Mitteau, who runs the Heu?reka YouTube channel. He’ll also speak at greater length on the following day when he delivers the closing keynote address.

But the keynotes are only the tip of the iceberg. Unipoly’s Le Castor Freegan team will be serving up freegan breakfasts using unsold food items donated by supermarkets, which always prove popular. These get-togethers are a chance to let people know what’s happening later that day and throughout the week.

At noon on Monday, another Unipoly team, Ingénieur·e·s Engagé·e·s, will be holding a lunchtime discussion on how EPFL students can act as a force for good in their careers, with alumni on hand to share their stories.

There’ll be another open discussion on Wednesday, this time about the “Campus Piéton” project, which is a joint initiative of the Design Studio on the Conception of Space (ALICE) at EPFL’s School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC), and the EPFL Sustainability team. First-year architecture students will present their ideas for making the campus a more pleasant and sustainable place.

There’ll be so many imaginative things taking place that it’s impossible to list them all! Another highlight that springs to mind is the DIY workshop on biomaterials on Thursday, where attendees will make zero-waste decorations out of eggshells and used coffee grounds. The facilitator, who’s studying for a Master’s in sustainability at EPFL, came to talk to us about it the other day. It sounds amazing!

Can you explain your personal reasons for getting involved in this initiative?

Eloïse Richard: I completed my Bachelor’s degree in sustainability and political philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam, where I was involved in organizing their sustainability week. A friend talked me into joining the Unipoly committee at the start of this school year. I’m particularly interested in the social, economic and political aspects of sustainability. I see getting involved in an organization like Unipoly as a way to give something back. And there’s a fair amount of crossover with what I’m learning in my degree program, so I gain a lot from it, too. It’s time-consuming, of course, but it’s rewarding when things come together and you see people getting enthusiastic.

For our generation, movements like Extinction Rebellion and the Climate Strike have been a big part of our lives. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stumbling block, and it’s going to take a lot more hard work to keep that momentum going.

Eloïse Richard, Unipoly member

Personally, I think awareness will be key to getting more students involved in organizations, activism and politics. Many classes don’t give sustainability issues the time and space they deserve. So that’s what we’re trying to do with Sustainability Week: to educate as many people as we can about these issues, build a sense of community among attendees and like-minded associations on both campuses, and start a conversation about sustainability. Our hope is that this initiative will get more people involved!

Basile Morier: My concern for the climate and the environment predates my student days. It’s something that sits naturally with who I am. I was interested in these issues before the Climate March and other movements – although they spurred me to become more politically active. These days, it’s a huge part of my life.

I first joined Unipoly after working as a staff member at Sustainability Week two years ago, and I already knew some members of the club through my roommate at the time and through the Climate Strike movement. I was eager to get involved in the committee, and since no-one else put their hand up to serve as chair, that’s how I started at the beginning of the following school year. Since the start of this academic year, I’ve served as event manager alongside Eloïse. The committee is much bigger than it used to be. There are 15 of us now. Most positions are held by two people: one from UNIL and one from EPFL.

My degree program is focused mainly on theoretical physics, but there’s definitely scope to move into studying dynamic, climate, and meteorological systems in the future. Alternatively, I could stick with theory. After all, there’s a lot of overlap between physics and ecology. In fact, Dr. Masson-Delmotte is a physicist by training. It all depends on your approach to physics, which tends to be a resource-intensive discipline.

Do you have a final word to persuade people to get involved in Sustainability Week?

Eloïse Richard: We’re delighted that Sustainability Week coincides with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, because it means we can offer a rich and varied program of events. There’s definitely something for everyone!

Basile Morier: It’s going to be fantastic, so come along and get involved!