Responsible Futures audit group

Tracking the progress of Education for Sustainable Development

Implementation monitoring

UWE Bristol has an ESD Action Plan which identified KPIs and actions to be implemented to ensure achievement of the objectives outlined in Strategy 2020. This is updated annually to ensure that targets and actions remain relevant and ambitious. The latest action plan can be found with our other policies, plans and targets.

Much work is being done across all departments to implement the Sustainability Plan and particularly the ESD components of that plan. Departmental films and annual reports by Heads of Department and the Senior Lecturer in Education for Sustainable Development provide evidence of engagement across all disciplines and demonstrate comprehensive implementation of sustainability consideration across the activity of all departments.

Baselines and Benchmarks


A thorough baseline curriculum survey was undertaken in 2008. This work resulted in a substantial report which detailed the state of ESD at UWE Bristol at that time and provides a comprehensive analysis of the presence of social responsibility and sustainability (SRS) in modules across UWE Bristol. The methodology is described in the report, which has been readily available to staff and students since its publication and has formed the basis of subsequent curriculum survey work.

In 2011, a survey was conducted with Heads of Department to identify level of provision of and engagement with ESD across UWE Bristol’s academic disciplines. A further survey of programme specifications was undertaken in 2012/13 according to a methodology approved by the UWE Bristol’s Sustainability Board. Triangulation of this data with subsequent Heads of Department surveys. This survey found that 71% of students had the opportunity to engage with SRS issues in their programme of study. This information has been used to guide the development of further formal curriculum engagement with ESD over the subsequent years. Departmental representatives on our internal Knowledge Exchange for Sustainability Education (KESE) now also contribute to our regular curriculum mapping work.

The survey conducted in 2012-13 has been repeated every year since. Further to the sustainability orientation of programmes being identified, an assessment of the number and proportion of students who benefit from the opportunity to engage with SRS in their programme of study has become a regular feature of monitoring. All courses are subjected to the same manual assessment of the presence and orientation of sustainability as the original survey.

In 2014-15, every academic department prepared a presentation on ESD in their department, including consideration of the formal and informal curriculum and research activity. The presentations were prepared by department reps on our internal Knowledge Exchange for Sustainability Education (KESE) group in conjunction with Heads of Department, Associated Heads of Department, programme leaders and other academics. A considered overview of the presence of SRS issues within the curriculum of all departments is contained within these presentations. The films of these presentations are available as a staff resource via our intranet.

UWE Bristol is currently undertaking a detailed mapping project which engages academics and students in detailed consideration of alignment between programmes and disciplines and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


The Students' Union at UWE Bristol undertook a baseline survey of students in November 2015, achieving over 700 completions. Findings include:

  • 89% of students that took the survey either agree or strongly agree that universities should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development.
  • 71% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to learn more about sustainable development.
  • 58% if students agree or strongly agree that sustainable development is important for their employability.
  • 51 % of students would be more like to engage with extra curricula activity if they had the opportunity to learn new skills.

One of the most important findings from the survey was that students agree that the university should be promoting sustainable development and they would like to learn about it whilst at university. The survey also showed that students were most likely to engage with extra curricula activity when the activity provides them with the opportunity to learn more skills.

The survey will be repeated at regular intervals to allow for comparison of results and identification of changes in students awareness and attitudes.

Impacts and outcomes

UWE Bristol's ESD has developed considerably over the past 20 years. A baseline report by Marcus Grant from 2008 details a situations whereby pockets of excellence exist and further examples of good practice can be found but where ESD is not pervasive across the institution. This report is attached as evidence and is available to all staff via our KESE Sharepoint site. Our 2015 ESD report details a very different picture, with headline data highlighting the fact that students across the institution have the opportunity to engage with SRS as part of their programme of study. Further, the departmental summaries contained in this report illustrate the comprehensive engagement of all academic departments with education for sustainable development.

In 2014/15, ESD was added as an expectation of annual programme and departmental reporting across the institution (part of our Enhancement Framework for Academic Programmes and Practice). This information will be invaluable to us in further assessing both understanding of ESD by staff but also the level of ESD provision across all of our programmes. We will be using this information to direct our staff development and to continue to enhance our ESD offer.

Short-term impact of engagement with ESD opportunities on students can be observed in the student case studies provided on the UWE volunteering site. Further qualitative evidence can be found on the SkillsBridge website which has been developed as part of UWE Bristol's collaborative Green Capital project with the University of Bristol. Evidence of student satisfaction with their experience on these kinds of volunteering projects can be found in the Green Capital Student Capital evidence report.

The opportunity to receive formal recognition for voluntary engagement with SRS enables students to demonstrably enhance their CV. The Change Maker Award was devised for this purpose and to incentivise further action. In order to achieve the award, students must provide feedback on their experience. Qualitative comments from students on the most meaningful aspect of their volunteering experience include: 'Seeing such a range of students from all different backgrounds, often not having any experience in environmental management, working together and developing an interest for the health of the woodlands' and 'Working with so many caring, enthusiastic and passionate people. Visiting fantastic independent local venues and talking to them about the impact of sustainability on their businesses!'.

UWE Bristol contributed to the development of several modules of the Bristol Method (a series of case studies of how Bristol has become sustainable). One such module, 'How to Engage and Inspire Young People' details advice for engaging students and potential outcomes both for students and host organisations.

A film detailing the many components of UWE Bristol's ESD work was developed as a result of the shortlisting of UWE Bristol's ESD work for an EAUC Green Gown award in 2015.


The University, in conjunction with the Students' Union, is currently implementing its Sustainability Plan 2013-2020. The plan details objectives and KPIs relating to all aspects of sustainability at UWE Bristol, including education for sustainable development. Each theme of the Sustainability Plan has its own action plan with more detailed KPIs and planned activity. Progress against these KPIs is reported on quarterly at the Sustainability Board, with an annual report for each theme being developed at the end of each academic year.

The results of our internal auditing and reporting are shared widely via our KESE group, HoDs, Sustainability Board, Sustainability Team and Students' Union and in our ESD documentation. Results are published on our KESE SharePoint site. Annual reporting is made to Academic Board and the Vice Chancellor’s Advisory Board.

Further reporting takes place as part of UWE’s ISO 14001 institutional accreditation, which includes our Education for Sustainable Development provision. UWE Bristol received its institutional ISO 14001 accreditation in 2014 and has been renewed in subsequent audits. Our accreditation covers all sustainability components of our estates management and operations, as well as our education for sustainable development activity. UWE Bristol is unusual in receiving institution-wide accreditation and in having its ESD work included in its environmental management system. The process of preparing for the audit as well as ensuring regular monitoring and management of progress, requires academic staff to work closely with estate and operation managers. This collaborative approach ensure significant impact and reach of this work. There are opportunities for students to undertake project work, internships and placements within our sustainability team and wider estates management related to our institutional environmental management.

Bristol Business School at UWE Bristol has been a signatory of PRME since 2010. However, in 2014, UWE Bristol become one of only a few HEIs to adopt PRME across the institution. Our Signatory Information Reports document this development. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has given our Architecture and the Built Environment department special recognition for its work with the Principles. Institutional leads for PRME are members of the Sustainability Board to ensure integration of the principles into university business. The university routinely offers staff and students the opportunity to undertake the Sustainability Literacy Test, which was developed in association with PRME.

Responsible Futures

Responsible Futures is an accreditation programme designed by the NUS to work “with institutions to embed sustainability into the curriculum of every student in education today” (NUS, 2016). The accreditation audit process assesses education for sustainable development (ESD) performance against 45 criteria in the following categories: Baselines and benchmarks, partnership and planning, leadership and strategy, policy and commitment, interventions, impacts and outcomes, and outreach. Each partnership (an HEI and its Students’ Union) also have the opportunity to have their performance measured against three self-defined criteria. Evidence must be provided of activity related to ten mandatory criteria and as many of the twenty five optional criteria as the partnership wishes/is able to. Each criteria is scored accordingly to difficulty and impact of the activity evidenced. A total score for the partnership is then reached. The minimum score for accreditation is 200 out of a maximum possible total of 330.

UWE Bristol and the Students’ Union at UWE Bristol worked together over a six-month period in 2015/16 to evidence current/recent activity and to undertake new activity to meet the full expectations of the accreditation scheme. In preparation for the audit, more than 150 pieces of evidence were submitted against all of the criteria.

In April 2016, the NUS ran a half-day training session for UWE Bristol students, including the Students' Union President, who were to audit the partnership’s evidence. These auditors undertook a desk-based audit of this evidence against detailed descriptions and expectations of each criteria and interviewed members of UWE Bristol and Students’ Union at UWE Bristol staff who are closely involved with our ESD delivery, namely AVC Environment and Sustainability, Senior Lecturer in Education for Sustainable Development and VP Societies and Communication. The NUS held two focus groups with UWE Bristol students – the first with ten students who are on programmes with an explicit social responsibility or sustainability focus or are part of societies or groups with a similar focus. The second focus group consists of students with no explicit connection to such programmes or societies.

At the end of the audit process, the UWE Bristol Responsible Futures steering group was advised that the partnership had ‘passed with flying colours’. This makes UWE Bristol the first institution to gain the Responsible Futures accreditation since the initiative was launched following its pilot phase in 2014-15. Formal accreditation was made at a ceremony on 24 May 2016 at UWE Bristol, on the eve of the EAUC Annual Conference. UWE Bristol is using the full audit report to identify areas of best practice and help to set an agenda for deepening our ESD offer to students for the benefit of society. We are now working towards reaccreditation in 2019.

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