SA EXECS REFLECT: Sustainability – In It For The Long Run

IGNITE recently sat down with Umair Ilyas, the Student Association Sustainability Officer from 2014-15. He told us about the challenges of taking on a brand new SA officer post and the need for successful improvisation.

What motivated you to run for the SA Sustainability Officer Post?

Last year as a relative rookie, I was hyped to run during the elections. As a First Year representative in the Pakistan Society, I believed I had the know-how to take on a position in the Student Association. After a friendly discussion with former Diversity and Environment Officer Rohini Ghosh, I was encouraged to run for the new SA Sustainability Officer post.

Having done research about the environment, I realised that the more you research, the more you can do for the campus. This inspired me to run.

Tell us more about your idea of staging a play to raise money for charity. Should UNMC expect to see more of this in the future?

Being an avid film lover with a similar love for television, I was inspired by a season of Hannibal, which motivated me to pen a script. Having discussed my creation with the play’s lead actor, I contacted Dignity for Children Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, for a possible charitable initiative. After a laborious process, where they grilled us with numerous questions about our interests with regards to their organisation, we were allowed to raise funds for the NGO. Having invested a lot of time and energy into the enterprise, the success of the venture was truly a proud moment for me.

In addition to raising RM 2500 for the foundation, we also established a long-term relationship with the Dignity for Children Foundation. Although we initially planned to sponsor an orphan with the proceeds from the play, this proved impractical, owing to numerous factors. Nevertheless our established relationship with the NGO will hopefully allow us to fulfill our sponsorship goal. As an educational institution, I think it would be an honour.

How successful do you think your new E-newsletter initiative has been?

The E-newsletter was heartbreaking.

My initial plan was to connect the E-newsletter with Student Environment and Equality Network (SEEN), which has not been very active for four years. All clubs have their own initiatives throughout the year. SEEN is relatively unknown. To be updated with the initiatives by Clubs, Societies and university management, we could make an E-newsletter for the SA website. Student writers interested in the environment could write for the E-newsletter, and we could share campus environmental and charitable updates. The management has spent about RM 8,000 to build the SA website. I had hoped that it would run well. It has been a year and the website still doesn’t function properly.

The last update on the website was about Nations Cup, which occurred back in November. Because of this, when I asked the Finance Office for funds for the E-newsletter, they were concerned and said that unless the SA website is sufficiently active, I could not do anything. Hence the E-newsletter proved unfruitful, which was sad as I wanted to leave something practical and efficient as a reminder of my role in the SA. The E-newsletter is something I’m still committed towards, as I believe it’s one of the ways all the Clubs and Societies working for the environment can collaborate with regards to the initiatives and events initiated.

In your Student Council Autumn Report, you noted that working with the other sustainability-related Clubs and Societies through the SEEN network has been difficult. Can you elaborate on this?

Yes, to be brutally honest, initially when I saw the International, Home, and Activities Officer portfolios, I thought having events was what made them successful, so I spent my first semester trying to think of ways to plan a huge event. But then I realised that my job was to assist and encourage initiatives. However considering that by October most Clubs and Societies have their events planned out, even if I had tried harder with the SEEN network, it wouldn’t have proved fruitful. To solve this issue, I devised the E-newsletter, but as mentioned previously, that didn’t work out either.

Nottingham University (all three campuses) is generally acknowledged as a pioneer in sustainability. What more can be done to make UNMC more sustainable?

Here at UNMC, we have brilliant ideas and people who can pull them off.

What we lack is cohesive, collaborative teamwork.

Both the management and other established large clubs and societies have their own events. I planned a charity carnival, which was agreed upon by the university management. Such a large scale event would undoubtedly have a lot of parties interested in collaborating, from our university and outside. However, owing to the university’s Open Day occurring in March, I was advised to postpone this event to next semester, when I wouldn’t be in office. In addition to our lack of cohesiveness, the process was laborious. Because of this, the Environmental Officer hired two months ago. Nevertheless, I still believe that we are on the right path and can solve this issue, thereby making UNMC sustainable.

What can we expect to see from the upcoming Green Week?

Having worked for a long time on this initiative, I am proud of the upcoming Green Week which I am organising with the UNMC Nature Club. It begins on 23rd March, with an opening ceremony featuring Fashion Club, Nottingham Dance Crew, and the Nature Club. On the next day, we will be holding a Sustainability Development Conference (SDC) at UNMC, the first time in two years. We’ll have internal speakers: Dr Svenja Hanson, Dr Ernesto Hernandez, Dr Timothy Brailsford, and other speakers from NUBS. The purpose of this conference is to shed light on the socioeconomic importance of sustainable development in our community. It will hopefully educate undergraduate students about the benefits of sustainability. Considering the newness of the Sustainability Officer post, people don’t take the role seriously. Hopefully with success of this conference, we can have more involvement and awareness towards both the environment and this post in general.

We will also invite an external speaker from Eco Knights, who will discuss their initiatives and ideas about sustainability on campus. We’re also holding an essay-writing competition with the topic of Globalisation and Sustainable Development, with a first place prize worth RM 300, second place earning RM 150, and a gift hamper for third place. This Conference will be organised by the Sustainability Research Network, an initiative introduced by me. This Network has grown from 3 to 13 members who are responsible for the general organisation of the whole event.

On the following day, we’re holding an eco-bazaar to promote recycling. An external company, iCYCLE, will be coming in and encouraging students to bring their recyclable materials, which they can drop off at the SA Building. There will be food stalls by Enactus, ACE, and the Baking Society. There will be a talk on eco-tourism by Dr Hanson at 1 pm. Then, from 5 to 6 pm, there will be a tree-planting event by the Nature Club. Earth Hour starts at 6 pm on Friday. This will be the first time that Earth Hour will be a part of Green Week.

What’s new with this year’s Green Week is that we’re not focused on one aspect, but concentrating on everything related to the environment.

I think it’s going to be great.

It feels like all the effort is paying off in the end and I’m happy.

When can we expect to see Dr Svenja Hanson’s ‘Save Energy Now’ project being implemented?

The “Save Energy Now’ was another dispiriting initiative. This was viewed as an efficient change that would result in short and long-term benefits and bring positive change to the campus. We needed sufficient finances (which had been approved) and statistics about the consumption of energy on campus from both the old and new accommodation blocks. However owing to both a larger number of refrigerators in the new halls, leading to greater consumption of electricity, we couldn’t have the new and old halls competing as the old accommodation halls would undoubtedly win. In addition, the ongoing construction and renovation projects led to some inaccurate statistics.

As the aforementioned projects are still incomplete, the initiative can’t be carried out. However, I really hope that the ‘Save Energy Now’ project will happen, as it’s a positive initiative. Conservation of energy will hopefully lead to water conservation, eventually establishing a more sustainable campus. I hope that we can start next semester. Dr Hanson stated in our last meeting that she was not impressed with the progress, but again, this is how it is. I wish I could do more but there’s nothing I can do if there are construction projects on campus. We just have to wait for the right time.

What has been the toughest part of your job so far?

To continue moving in the right direction. When I first came into office, I had all these plans. Then I realised that there were limitations. I had to adapt and follow the system while always being ten steps ahead of it in order to ensure progress. One of the hardest aspects of the job is when you do a lot of work and it does not pay off. However I truly believe if you plant an idea, it will in some way or another happen in the future. The toughest part is now over. I’ve moved a new post in the right direction – people are not saying this post is useless and that we should remove it. In fact, the management is encouraging us to keep it, and through this we can have more improvements on campus. Being on the SA is fun. Being Sustainability Officer is not the same kind of fun because whatever you do is behind the scenes. I wouldn’t be surprised by people coming up and asking me what I’ve done, because they really wouldn’t know. No hard feelings whatsoever.

Is there anything in your manifesto that you did not achieve?

Yes, animal welfare on campus. I had a lot of meetings with the Animal Welfare Society where I got some insight into the issues at hand. However in a meeting with upper management it was made very clear that the management is handling this on their own. And they are. I can’t give much input. But then again, I promised a lot of things. I wish I could do more, and I do think it’s a failure on my behalf. I’ll be honest about this, it was a failure. I couldn’t do much.

Any advice for candidates running for this year’s SA Sustainability Officer?

Ensure you display vague manifestos, so that you have room to improve on your promises.

Avoid rookie mistakes like making promises that can’t be fulfilled. Conduct yourself with due diligence intensive research and study the constitution. You can approach me whenever you want. Be focused and push for ideas as hard as you can. Some will happen and some will not, but what matters is how sincere you are in your job. So, fingers crossed!

Anything specific that you’d like to see from him or her?

I hope the eventual elected officer can work on the charity carnival alongside me, ensuring a huge event that involves the management, the students, and the Clubs and Societies. And the other thing is to keep trying to find new initiatives. Look for new ideas and make sure the post is new and it stays. Just don’t fail and force management to remove the post.

What’s next for Umair Ilyas?

Based on my previous experience in the SA, and coupled with my desire to give more to the student community at UNMC, I’m going to run for SA President. I’ll be honest, I might not have been the best SA Executive. But what I did accomplish was introduce long-term initiatives. Even if I’m rated only a 6 out of 10, based on my performance, I am happy with my job. I think I have sufficient ideas in place to stand for President, and hope everyone backs me to fulfill and ultimately accomplish my goals.


By Azfar Mustafa and Eunice Quah

EDITOR’S NOTE: UNMC, what do you think of our SA Sustainability Officer? Do you have any burning questions? Contact our team at or comment below!

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