Sustainability in the curriculum

As outlined in our Environmental Plan, embedding sustainability into the curriculum is a priority for BCU. This is also reflected in the University’s Strategy 2025.

Sustainable Development Goals logo Embedding sustainability in our processes

We have embedded sustainability into a number of academic quality assurance processes including:

  • The Periodic Review, a formal review of all of our courses every five years;
  • The course approval form for every new course that is developed or existing courses that have a significant change.

Progress is reported against this in the annual Environment Report.

Embedding sustainability into the curriculum course

To ensure that staff are supported and able to fulfil this responsibility, the Education Development Service and Environmental Team worked in partnership to co-create a brand new accredited ‘Embedding Sustainability into the Curriculum’ course for staff. The course is the first of its kind and is accredited by the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA).

The course aims to support colleagues to embed sustainability in the curriculum of their individual courses and faculties, giving participants the knowledge and skills to support implementation of sustainability priorities aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Examples of sustainability enhancements and case studies developed by attendees from the course include:

  • One Health workshop: A university-wide workshop focused on SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing for students to consider health and sustainability;
  • Disability and Accessibility: Development of a resource for academics to improve the representation of disabled people at BCU (SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities);
  • Luxury Jewellery Management MA: Guest speakers discussed SDGs in relation to jewellery management, leading to additional workshops where students developed posters about the SDGs related to their course and discussed these as a group;
  • Textile Design BA (Hons): Redesign of the Textile Processes module to focus on the impacts of textile production on the environment and resource consumption, allowing students to make informed decisions in their academic and social lives.

An ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ Microsoft Teams Group has been set up for staff to network and share ideas, resources and queries on sustainability in the curriculum. Staff can join the group by searching for it on MS Teams or emailing and asking to be added.

Sustainable curriculum workshops

We have worked with SOS-UK run the following workshops for staff and students:

  • Introduction to embedding sustainability and climate learning in education
  • Decolonising, decarbonising and democratising education

The recordings and associated resources can be found on the ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ Microsoft Teams Group.

The Education Development Service also run interactive face-to-face or virtual workshops for BCU staff. These can be requested by contacting Rachel Curzon.

Examples of sustainability in the curriculum

There are some fantastic examples of staff embedding sustainability into the curriculum and students embedding real-life environmental issues into their University coursework.

BCU delivers research projects to develop sustainable solutions locally, regionally and globally through Faculty Research Centres and Groups, for example, the Global Environmental Challenges Research Centre, which includes:

  • Developing community centric sustainable solutions for rural communities in Western Cape South Africa;
  • MacroBio – Sustainable utilisation of Macroalgae, focused on biomethane production in Indonesia;
  • ALG-AD – Creating Value from Waste Nutrients, from anaerobic digestion in the UK, Belgium, France and Germany;
  • Solar pump based village microgrids –tackling the energy/water/food nexus in India;
  • Water, Environment and Communities Research Group (WECRG) supporting water knowledge, technology and processes, locally and globally;
  • Constructing a Digital Environment – facilitating long term management of natural capital to deliver benefits in addressing deprivation in East Birmingham;
  • Sustainable Growth Garden Project – the courtyard in our Parkside Building has been developed to grow and process plants for natural dyes, fibres and fragrances for use in our courses and education. This collaborative project is continually developing and Design Thinking Workshops are being held to share ideas and develop a business plan;
  • CLIMANIA - developing a Climate Action Game focusing on Retrofit with young people from Balsall Heath.

There is an opportunity for students within the Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment to use environmental data as part of an environmental project within their course. 

Some further case studies of Birmingham City University academics sustainability work can be found on our web pages.

Supporting Schools and Faculties

The Research, Innovation, Employability and Enterprise Team are working on a range of projects that support schools and faculties for sustainability. Each year, Birmingham City University works with Schools and Colleges, offering a range of activities, talks and events to increase understanding of higher education study and career opportunities. Some of these talks or events are surrounding sustainability.

Through the BCU India Group, we are developing collaborative relationships in India between academia, business organisations and civil society; with sustainability being a central thematic area. Our vision is the creation of new strategic projects in India, aligned with our strengths as a University and working in strong partnerships with organisations in India, so we can enable personal transformation and actual practical on-the-ground innovation, enterprise and research.

Research into magnesium is ongoing, as it is the lightest structural material, the eighth most abundant chemical element in the earth’s crust and is 100% recyclable. Birmingham City University students have been previously challenged to showcase the potential uses of magnesium within the aerospace sector, as part of a competition set by Meridian, the largest producer of magnesium components.

Awards and certifications

BCU were Green Gown Award finalists in two categories for sustainable curriculum initiatives in 2021. This included the SEDA Embedding sustainability in the curriculum course being shortlisted as a finalist in the ‘Next Generation Learning and Skills’ category in the UK’s Green Gown Awards and the Birmingham School of Architecture and Design (BSoAD) Experimental Sustainability Studio (ESS), which was shortlisted as a finalist in the Sustainable Champions category.

Our ISO 14001:2015 certified Environmental Management System (EMS) includes the provision of teaching and research and so embedding sustainability in the curriculum is audited. Our most recent external auditor recognised our efforts in this area, particularly the inclusion of sustainability within the curriculum approvals process.

Our efforts have also been recognised in the People and Planet University League, increasing from a score of 10% in 2019 to 95% in 2021 for Education for Sustainable Development.