Environmental Sustainability at York (ESAY) is a University of York-based team that helps to connect the activities we are doing on environmental sustainability within teaching, research and campus operations to deliver new joined-up benefits and create impact within and beyond the University.

Through creating and leading collaborative activities, networking or providing resource support, ESAY aims to maximise our environmental sustainability impact with internal and external partners by working collaboratively.

This highlights report showcases the work ESAY has done to support the wider University of York Sustainability Plan, progress of which can be found here:

Sustainability at York Annual Report 2022-23




Greater student engagement in environmental sustainability opportunities.


Increased environmental sustainability research activity.


Better integration among teaching, research, policy and operations in the environmental sustainability space.


Increased University of York profile, reach and impact in environmental sustainability.


Greater student engagement in environmental sustainability opportunities.


The Sustainability Clinic brings together students and our local community to tackle pressing sustainability issues. Working in teams, students are given a project brief that has been co-produced with an organisation, business or charity, focusing on a sustainability challenge. All projects are designed to develop students’ employability skills while helping local organisations find solutions to a real-life sustainability problem that matters to them.

Wider impact

The Clinic contributes directly to the University’s Sustainability Plan, which commits us to ensuring that all students are equipped to become leaders of change. In line with the Strategy, the Sustainability Clinic is designed to empower students to make a positive sustainability impact and equip them with practical knowledge and skills.

Externally, the Clinic is referenced in the Local Enterprise Partnerships for York and North Yorkshire’s Route Map to Carbon Negative, and contributes to the environment strand of York’s City-Wide Volunteering Strategy, which we have helped co-produce.

Pilot Projects

In June 2022, we ran two Sustainability Clinic pilot schemes, ending with an expert panel where students presented their project ideas to a panel of academics and learned insights from their expertise. A celebration event took place to mark the launch of the Clinic allowing staff, students and partners to join together and reflect on the pilot’s success.

Amy Compton, 3rd Year Law student, Sustainability Clinic pilot, 2022

GOING FORWARD: a module for all

Initially piloted as a voluntary activity, from 2023/24 the Sustainability Clinic is now available as an elective module to both undergraduate and postgraduate students from all Departments and Schools across the University (subject to availability) and over 100 students are registered for this academic year. The Sustainability Clinic modules are part of a suite of sustainability-related York Interdisciplinary Modules (YIMs) offered by ESAY in collaboration with Departments and Centres.


The Sustainability Clinic has recently been shortlisted as a finalist for the Green Gown Awards 2023 for "student engagement". Winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony which will take place in late November.


York Interdisciplinary Modules (YIMs) offer undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to develop key skills and competencies in working across disciplines on contemporary challenges. The modules are led by academics from different departments to introduce different disciplinary perspectives to the specific topics of focus.

For the upcoming academic year 2023/24, ESAY is offering a suite of sustainability-related YIMs, designed to equip students to work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary teams to solve local, regional and global sustainability challenges. They are linked to “a University for Public Good” as they focus on key contemporary issues, and provide empowering education for our students.

"Universities have an important role to play in meeting training and upskilling needs for the sustainability transition. The discipline boundary-crossing competencies, and skills in driving change and social leadership delivered by the YIMs will equip our graduates to tackle pressing global challenges, and make an important contribution towards moving us onto a more sustainable path."
Professor Claire Hughes, Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning and Students (Faculty of Sciences), Deputy Head of Department (Environment and Geography)


The ‘Student Sustainability Opportunities Hub’ was launched in March 2023 to showcase sustainability-related opportunities on offer at the University of York. Located on the University’s main website, all students can use the hub to discover sustainability related opportunities, from modules and internships to volunteering and events.

The hub has been designed with students in mind, and will help them to:

  • Develop their sustainability skills, knowledge and experience.
  • Think about a career in sustainability.
  • Go beyond their degree programme with our sustainability-related York Interdisciplinary Modules (YIMs).
  • Find work experience opportunities.
  • Enjoy sustainability events and workshops on campus.
"Education is key to imagining and creating positive, more just and sustainable futures together. The programme will empower students to take action, lead change and negotiate differences as we respond to climate and ecological crises."
Dr Lynda Dunlop, ESAY Director of Education


Effective education and communication are crucial in addressing contemporary environmental challenges such as the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. ESAY has designed a new interdepartmental postgraduate programme, MSc Environmental Sustainability Education and Communication, launched in September 2023.

The MSc aims to empower students to lead, educate and communicate on the most important environmental issues of our times. The programme is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Departments of Education and Environment and Geography, with modules co-taught by staff from both departments.



Climate Fresk is a tabletop card game on the causes and effects of climate change, based on IPCC reports. It aims to support participants to learn about the science of climate change, engage their emotions and empower them to take collective action. In June 2023, ESAY, in collaboration with 'With Many Roots', offered an open workshop followed by facilitator training, hosted in Spring Lane Building. This has already been embedded in one programme for PGCE Science Teachers.

We have recently trained a group of staff and students to become Climate Fresk facilitators in order to run more workshops in the future. Going forward, we hope to offer this interactive climate workshop to more of the University community to provide the knowledge and tools needed to take action. If you are interested in finding out more about a Climate Fresk for your team, contact


Alongside our own initiatives, ESAY has supported a variety of activities to increase student engagement with environmental sustainability opportunities at the University. Here are a few examples:

  • Supporting our students at the Student Sustainability Research Conference, University of Leeds (March 2023).
  • Supporting and promoting the York-Mahidol Student Sustainability Symposium (May 2023).
  • Engaging with students at employability seminars.
  • Promoting a new network "Environmental Doctoral Group in Education (EDGE)" for PhD students and early-career researchers working on climate, environmental or sustainability education.
  • Sharing student experiences at the Student Spring Symposium with CITY college (May 2023).

Staff & students participate in Climate Fresk, June 2023


We have collaborated with YUSU to create two new courses on the climate emergency for the Centre of Lifelong Learning: Climate Questions and Climate Conversations for Semester 1 in 2023/24. These courses have been co-created by staff and students from across the University and are designed to generate important conversations about climate change, along with supporting the delivery of the University’s Sustainability Plan’s “Quality Education” objective.

Student Sustainability Research Conference, University of Leeds, March 2023


Increased environmental sustainability research activity.


The YESI Fellows programme is supported by resources from ESAY and is led by the York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI). It provides support for University of York staff and collaborators (YESI fellows) to undertake short projects developing knowledge exchange and discipline-hopping research activities in environmental sustainability. Activities undertaken by the YESI Fellows catalyses further research activity in York’s environmental sustainability community.

Phase 1:
Discipline Hopping Fellows Scheme

YESI launched the first phase of its 2022-2023 fellows programme with a Discipline Hopping call, combining funding from ESAY and NERC to support ‘Cross-Disciplinary Research for Discovery Science’. Projects have included teams of researchers (YESI fellows) working together to explore new synergies or avenues of inquiry that enhance interdisciplinary working around environmental science challenges. This funding covered collaborations across a wide variety of departments.

Launch event, January 2023

On 26 January, YESI Fellows met for the first time to showcase the successful projects which were awarded in the Discipline Hopping Programme. The event included introductions, followed by an opportunity to hear from the fellows. ESAY provided support, assisting with promotion, photography, and sharing the event with the wider University. ESAY also attended the event and participated in networking, allowing further connections and joined-up work.

The people and disciplines that were awarded funding are working together in new ways to advance knowledge on important environmental challenges."
Professor Lindsay Stringer, YESI Director

Phase 2:
YESI Knowledge Exchange Fellows

The second phase of the Fellows programme ended in summer 2023, with funding from ESAY. The call focused on supporting Knowledge Exchange activities. Projects under the YESI Knowledge Exchange Fellows scheme took the form of teams of researchers undertaking knowledge exchange activities with end users in the field of environmental sustainability, aligned with one or more of the YESI themes (Environment & Health; Resilient Ecosystems; Food, Water & Waste).


Connecting Climate and Nature Education in York is a YESI Fellows Knowledge Exchange organised by research fellow Dr Abi Perrin in collaboration with ESAY and With Many Roots. It aims to strengthen the network of people involved in all forms of climate, nature and sustainability education in York. The network has been used to foster collaborations, and share knowledge, best practices, and resources.

On 8 June 2023, the team held its launch event at SPARK in York to network, share ideas and resources, find out about training, and shape future events. The event was attended by more than 50 people representing a wide range of different organisations.

Going forward, York CliConnect has become an official YESI network and is welcoming those interested in climate change to join.


Better integration among teaching, research, policy and operations in the environmental sustainability space.


York Living Labs (YLLs) were set up in 2021 to bring together our University community, and to use the campus as a test bed for sustainability solutions that will have a wider impact. This approach is designed to maximise the combined potential of our cutting-edge research, teaching and campus operations, making use of the resources and expertise on our doorstep. Our Living Labs are intended to provide powerful learning opportunities for our students, and motivate and empower everyone on campus to drive change towards sustainability.


In summer 2022, we ran a Living Labs biodiversity pilot which saw five student interns work with a team of consultants to undertake a baseline ecological survey of the campus grounds. We committed to undertaking this campus-wide survey within the University’s Sustainability Plan. The survey has provided us with valuable baseline data on our ecological habitats, allowing us to accurately map where these are on campus and designate an industry recognised metric for the quality of biodiversity across campus. This will help guide future campus developments.

Sharing the knowledge

A key output from the biodiversity pilot was a social media campaign, #KnowYorCampus, which aimed to raise awareness of the fauna and flora on campus among our University community. This successful campaign, which ran between August and October 2022, involved sharing photos, videos and content about campus biodiversity on social media. The campaign was seen more than 250,000 times across the University’s social media platforms and generated more than 15,000 likes, comments and shares.

A follow up campaign took place in January 2023, which encouraged staff and students to submit their favourite photographs of our campus for a competition, resulting in 269 entries and some fantastic photography to celebrate our local wildlife.

The internship was an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only was it a chance to develop my biological knowledge but it also provided the opportunity to develop a range of core skills such as teamwork, communication and organisation"
Marina Martin Maroto, Integrated Masters in Biology Living Labs intern

A NEW phase

In January 2023, ESAY set up a new Living Labs Biodiversity Committee, comprised of staff and students. The committee was created to make progress on this initiative in collaboration with ESAY and the Sustainability Steering Group.

A key success of the group has been a student walk in April 2023, supported by Gordon Eastham (Grounds & Ecology). The walk inspired students to engage with the campus biodiversity as they were shown wildflower meadows, swan mussels, orchids, and log piles. These walks have also been delivered as part of One Planet Week 2023 and the Festival of Ideas in June, further celebrating our biodiverse campus.


York Living Labs created two new ESAY internships for summer 2023. These internships have provided powerful opportunities for student learning and capacity to grow this initiative. Going forward, ESAY aspires to grow Living Labs and explore other sustainability topics, such as food, energy, and water.

Want to get involved in York Living Labs? Email

Erin and Millie's Living Lab biodiversity internships

Earlier this summer, we welcomed two Living Lab biodiversity interns, Erin and Millie, to the ESAY team. They were tasked with researching and enhancing engagement of our campus biodiversity with the wider University community.

"I was working on making an interactive map of the birds on campus, which was done using R Shiny, a framework for creating web applications. I enjoyed learning more about the species on campus, in particular about the wide variety of birds! I also enjoyed working with the other people in the office and learning about their research focuses."
Erin McDonagh (Biodiversity Research Assistant)
"I generated ideas, events and communications channels to share the work that is happening on campus, focusing especially on engaging prospective students that are coming this year. A large portion of my internship involved creating a static map, designing graphics on the different species of birds on campus. These maps would then be used to show the variety of birds we have on campus, and where they can be seen. "
Millie O'Neil (Digital Communications Assistant)


ESAY is exploring the potential for a Green Skills continuing professional development (CPD) offer from the University of York. Training will be offered as a non-accredited course aimed at professionals or those in work, which will support tackling environmental challenges and developing a more sustainable society.

The aim of this project is to develop a skills strand of ESAY, allowing it to have a clear offer to businesses and professionals in this area. The project is being supported by the ESAY Project Manager, Daisy Kemp, in partnership with colleagues from the University of York CPD unit.

Early developments: scoping

The first stage of the project ran between February and April 2022, which involved a scoping study to gather information on the business demand around Green Skills CPD. This was carried out by a student research intern tasked with the goal of assessing potential demand for Green Skills CPD in the local area. The project enabled the student intern to compile their research into a report and present their findings to the internal team. Our intern’s research will help to shape the next steps of this pioneering project and the future of Green Skills CPD at York.

Going forward: next steps

Looking ahead, ESAY is collaborating with academics working on a toolkit designed to provide knowledge and skills for small-medium enterprises (SMEs) to aid in the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient business model. The toolkit will draw on department expertise on sustainability and the City York Council’s knowledge of carbon reduction within the governance business space. Workshops took place over the summer of 2023 to shape the future direction of Green Skills CPD in partnership with this piece of work.

"As a Croucher Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow with ESAY, I will expand my research about the effect of environmental citizen science experiences on youth by including UK and Hong Kong schools, all to inform and enhance how students and teachers engage with environmental education locally and internationally. I am excited to work with educators who want to create learning opportunities that spark curiosity and action in their students, and to promote "nurture IN nature for nurture OF nature."
Dr Smriti Safaya, Postdoctoral Fellow, ESAY

Bringing together teaching & research:

In April 2023, ESAY welcomed Smriti Safaya to the team as a Croucher Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. Smriti's work focuses on citizen science, environmental and experiential education, and participatory action research. Smriti is extending research carried out during her PhD to look at the effect of environmental citizen science experiences on youth by including UK and Hong Kong schools, all to inform and enhance how students and teachers engage with environmental education locally and internationally.

Smriti’s role, working in the faculties of Science and Social Sciences is enabling new connections to be made between research, teaching and the wider community within climate and environmental sustainability education. Smriti is interested in hearing from teachers interested in trying out some citizen science approaches within or beyond the classroom.

EASY supported a talk “Ask Your Teacher to Take You Outside” presented by Smriti in collaboration with The Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity (LCAB) at the end of June. The talk closed with an invitation to co-create campus wide experiential initiatives to enhance learning and engagement in and for our natural environment.


Increased University of York profile, reach and impact in environmental sustainability.


ESAY Linkedin page

EASY created a LinkedIn page in March 2023 to share our latest news, project updates and opportunities to get involved with both internal and external stakeholders. The page is also used as a platform to cross-promote wider sustainability activities taking place across the University in order to support others and facilitate a collective impact within and beyond the University.


ESAY wrote an article for the University’s Knowledge Exchange March 2023 newsletter in order to increase general awareness of ESAY among the University community and showcase its key initiatives. This included a spotlight on Living Labs to showcase ESAY’s interdisciplinary approach to solving sustainability problems.

Alumni Sustainability Network newsletter

Externally, ESAY wrote an article for the Alumni Sustainability Network’s first ever newsletter. The newsletter is aimed at University Alumni who have a particular interest in sustainability news at the University, and how they can get involved. The newsletter, published in March 2023, included a spotlight piece on ESAY to raise awareness and showcase some of its projects that the alumni community can engage with going forward.


The York Policy Engine (TYPE) is the University's specialist policy engagement unit connecting people, ideas and evidence to drive policy change in the pursuit of public good. Through support to staff and the PhD community at York it aims to strengthen policymaker engagement and the adoption of evidence generated at York into policy. TYPE has worked with ESAY to enhance, promote and build capacity amongst staff related to policy-engagement and connecting its work with TYPE’s wider research areas. Through the delivery of policy masterclasses, research communication workshops and university wide impact forums, TYPE and ESAY work collaboratively to complement one another's objectives, in the pursuit of becoming key components of the university’s architecture.

An introduction to policy engagement at York

TYPE organised an Impact Forum on 27 June 2023, attended by 120+ staff across the University. The forum, which provided an introduction to policy engagement at York, included speakers from TYPE and five panellists speaking about their research area and policy engagement experience to date. One of the speakers included Dr Sarah West, Director of SEI-Y and part of the ESAY Leadership Team, who represented an ESAY project.

University activities

Alongside increasing our own awareness, ESAY has used various platforms to boost and support wider sustainability activities in order to help increase the University of York’s overall profile as a leader in environmental sustainability. Here are a few examples of activities that we have helped to promote:


ESAY has supported this year’s Big Community Challenge (BCC) in collaboration with York Cares (an employee volunteering charity), focusing on restoring river and wetland areas across York. Alongside promoting the BCC on social media, ESAY has been involved with creating a website feature and overseeing a University wide campaign to recruit staff and student volunteer teams to help with restoration projects.


ESAY has supported this year’s Festival of Ideas by showcasing some of its nature and sustainability events, including a biodiversity campus tour, and talks on avocado anxiety, rewilding York, and healthy oceans.


ESAY supported York Environment Week (YEW23) in September, an annual city-wide festival aimed at showcasing and celebrating the work of environment groups active in York. ESAY and EDGE offering a number of environment-related events and activities to support YEW23, including nature sensory walks, nature journaling, Climate Club and Citizen’s Council, open to staff and students at the University, along with the general public.

Alumni voices: sustainability

ESAY has coordinated with Alumni Voices to share a number of alumni stories relating to sustainability. These have included Professor Anant Kapdi, who is looking at solving sustainable scientific problems, and Grishma Jain, an independent researcher within the field of Industrial Ecology.

YUSU’s Excellence Awards

ESAY has supported this year’s YUSU Excellence Awards by encouraging the University community to vote for the Sustainability Champion of the Year via various channels including newsletters, staff and student digests, and social media.


ESAY has recently become a custodian of the University’s sustainability social media platforms. Alongside promoting its own initiatives, ESAY uses these platforms to showcase university-wide events, research, news & opportunities related to sustainability, to increase engagement and action.

Follow us: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram

Student Sustainability Research Conference, University of Leeds

Student Sustainability Research Conference, University of Leeds

The Big Community Challenge

The Big Community Challenge

York CliConnect launch event

York CliConnect launch event

York Living Labs pilot scheme

York Living Labs pilot scheme

ESAY at Freshers Fair 2023

ESAY at Freshers Fair 2023

Smriti's multi-sensory nature walk, York Environment Week

Smriti's multi-sensory nature walk, York Environment Week



Climate Fresk workshop

Climate Fresk workshop

Biodiversity Nature Walk, led by Gordon Eastham

Biodiversity Nature Walk, led by Gordon Eastham

York CliConnect networking

York CliConnect networking

The ESAY team!

The ESAY team!

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Student Sustainability Research Conference, University of Leeds

Student Sustainability Research Conference, University of Leeds

The Big Community Challenge

The Big Community Challenge

York CliConnect launch event

York CliConnect launch event

York Living Labs pilot scheme

York Living Labs pilot scheme

ESAY at Freshers Fair 2023

ESAY at Freshers Fair 2023

Smriti's multi-sensory nature walk, York Environment Week

Smriti's multi-sensory nature walk, York Environment Week



Climate Fresk workshop

Climate Fresk workshop

Biodiversity Nature Walk, led by Gordon Eastham

Biodiversity Nature Walk, led by Gordon Eastham

York CliConnect networking

York CliConnect networking

The ESAY team!

The ESAY team!


Interested in contributing to environmental sustainability at York? Here are a few ways to participate in our initiatives:

1. Follow us on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram).

2. Join our Living Lab Biodiversity Committee or contact us if you have an idea for a new Living Lab.

3. Participate in a Climate Fresk workshop to learn about the causes and consequences of climate change and take action.

4. Tell us about a sustainability project you're working on for us to promote with the wider community.

5. Join York CliConnect to get involved with city-wide environmental activities, events, and opportunities.

6. Find out about student sustainability opportunities on our Student Sustainability Opportunities Hub.