Man Met Rise tutor Matthew Carney: “People are aware that they should be doing something, but they don’t quite know what to do.”

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Featured illustration: Bradley Sansom

aAh! speaks to Man Met Rise experiential learning tutor Matthew Carney to find out more about sustainability, climate anxiety, the importance of community, and how small actions can have a huge impact.

Can you share a bit about yourself and your role at Rise?

I’m one of the experiential learning tutors at Rise, so I look after project work and anything to do with sustainability. I joined Rise towards the end of my PhD.

My day-to-day responsibilities involve finding and generating activities. This includes things that we deliver ourselves, or working with people in the community and the local area.

We have quite a few community partners, and we’re aiming to ensure that every kind of degree at the university has opportunities to apply that specific degree of knowledge to sustainability and finding ways to express that.

How can students get involved in sustainability with Rise, and how is this recognised?

There are several levels of the Rise Sustainability badge, which reflect the time you spend doing Rise activities, and also the level of engagement.

To get your bronze badge, you can complete any of our activities – it can be self study kits, pop ups, and things like that.

The silver badge reflects activities in which you’ve gone out and done something, or you’ve engaged with somebody. That includes things like our workshops, for example our Mushroom Workshop or our Climate Cafe.

A gold badge reflects activities in which you’re applying knowledge, you have some autonomy, and you’re challenging something, so projects like our ‘Transforming Urban Green Spaces’.

You can show these badges on your LinkedIn or social media, or on your CV. It’s a way of highlighting that you’ve done extra things besides your degree.

How can students relate sustainability to their degree?

We’ve done a lot with the fashion school, looking at how we can develop fashion products to be more sustainable and making sustainability a focus in fashion design. 

Our recent six week project looking at transforming urban green spaces was really nice because it was open to students from lots of different degrees, which we combined into teams. The architecture students created some great sketches and used some of the concepts learned from their course.

It’s also the idea that every job can be a green job. You don’t need to be a sustainability consultant; there are lots of resources that can help you to be a sustainable accountant, or if you’re going into HR, how can you make sustainability present in this field.

How have students continued to be involved in sustainability after university?

Some of the people who were involved with Rise’s sustainability have started their own societies or businesses after graduating from MMU.

Two students, after attending our Mushroom Workshop, have gone on to create this organisation named FungALL, which all about the urban growing of mushrooms.

There’s also Plastic Shed, a community benefit society based in Stockport, which brings people together to turn plastic waste into new, useful things. They also run workshops, including our recent ‘Fantastic Plastic Fashion Drag Show Design Challenge’, as well as a collaborative workshop ‘Reimagining Plastic’, (happening again in February), which involves 3D printing and sustainability.

Groups like these demonstrate that it is possible to have a career pathway centred around sustainability. It’s great to bring in people who have done these amazing things and built their own organisations with sustainability as a focus.

Do you think that community is a central aspect of the sustainability movement in Manchester?

I think that it’s a key aspect. We need to bring in all aspects and groups of society. 

Rise has a whole host of volunteering opportunities, aimed at investing your time in creating social change, and helping others.

It’s important to acknowledge that people are struggling with lots of different things in their lives, so it’s not always so easy to start thinking about sustainability.

It’s vital that we have a very diverse message going out, with different beliefs being represented, and being communicated by more than one voice.

That’s where the idea for the Climate Cafe came from. We realized that lots of students are experiencing climate anxiety, so we decided to bring these anxieties into a space. That was something that was not previously on my radar; that’s why having multiple voices is so vital.

Also, we’re talking to Amnesty International, who are looking at producing some material and maybe some workshops for us, so that’s an exciting partnership we’ll be working on this year. If you look at how the UN breaks down sustainability and the sustainable development goals, it also includes things like having a just society and equal rights.

An important part of this is decreasing inequalities across the world, so it’s about building a better, more sustainable society, and realizing that what we do impacts the global community. 

Many students are not sure where to begin, or don’t have time much time. What is a good starting point, and what are some small things we can do that make a difference?

The Carbon Literacy course is a great thing that’s run at Manchester Met, which gives you a bit more knowledge, so that you can understand the problem more.

I think it’s important to remember that every small action helps, and that lots of people doing small actions will have an impact. Obviously we need top level system changes from governments, but also just those day-to-day small choices that really do have an impact.

There are things like driving less, and consuming less meat, which are great, but there’s also a lot more you can do, especially as you’re thinking about planning your career and next steps. Some of our Rise activities are designed with this in mind. Self study packs are always a good place to start.

I think that this is a really exciting time. Obviously, the climate crisis is a very unfortunate thing, but responding to it means that there’s a real push for innovation. It’s interesting to get involved with sustainability because you can become an expert in something that’s totally new and you can come up with completely new ideas. You can create change.

It’s also very employable; most companies are looking for sustainability experts, so there’s lots of different motivations. Finding your own motivation is quite important as well, I think.

What are your plans for next year, which events are you particularly looking forward to?

We’re going to be thinking about how we can tackle the carbon footprint of the IT system at the university, because one of the biggest carbon footprints of the university is the digital sector.

I’m also creating a Greener Compute Club, looking at how we can educate people on that and try to create some creative solutions to it. It’s useful to have students involved with this, because they are the people using campus and these systems everyday. We’ll be running that as a six week project and ongoing workstream. The first course starts on 11th February!

We’re also looking at how we can do some more work with the Mushroom team. This might be looking at some volunteering opportunities at their site down in South Manchester so it will be interesting to see how that goes, and we’d love to build a mushroom farm on campus at some point! Keep an eye out on the Rise website for these activities.

We’re also looking at doing another plastics project, that looks at some 3D printing as well. The last project they did involved 3D printing from recycled, repurposed plastic. These will also be on the Rise website!

So that’s some quite exciting things we’re working on and have got coming up.

I just encourage people to take advantage of what’s out there, because there is so much great sustainability stuff going on at Rise and MMU. The sustainability team also have some projects and ambassador roles as well. There’s quite a lot of different ways to get involved, with Rise and across the university. 

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Tara Morony

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