Student action

The Global Environmental Sustainability team is working closely with our students to co-develop sustainability initiatives, so that we can create a culture of sustainability at Heriot-Watt University. We want to start a conversation about sustainability so that we can take action together, as a university community, to address the climate crisis.

This includes the roll-out of summer internships directly addressing sustainability challenges faced by the university, the formation of engagement groups in which students can share their concerns and aspirations and the inclusion of student feedback in the governance of sustainability workstreams across our global campuses.

Sustainability at the Student Union

Our student community continue to actively demonstrate their advocacy for sustainability through self-organised activities and efforts. They are the voices that we strive to listen to as we develop our global environmental strategy and the pathways to achieving our long-term goals. Visit the Student Union Sustainability site to learn more about the positive approach being taken to address the challenges we face, and to keep up to date with student-led sustainability events.

Heriot-Watt Student Sustainability Forum

Staff record responses on flipcharts

Heriot-Watt University's Global Environmental Sustainability team and the Student Union have teamed up to help kick start a Student Sustainability Forum. The forum is creating a space for dialogue within the University, bringing together staff and students to discuss all-things sustainability.

Students are coming together to share their interests and knowledge around sustainability and some of the multi-facetted solutions needed to address the climate crisis.

The forum is designed as a space for students that is accessible, flexible, informal and as welcoming as possible, so that every student feels comfortable joining the sustainability conversation.  The five forums to date have explored areas such as the Climate Action Framework, recycling and food waste. If you would like to know more or get involved, upcoming opportunities will be shared through the Student Union’s What’s On page.

Heriot-Watt Student Sustainability Fund

Five student members of the Eco Society and Net Zero Society at a waste processing facility

All Heriot-Watt students, regardless of location, are able to apply for funding to support student-led activities addressing a sustainability theme. This can be as simple as organising a campus litter pick, or as involved as delivering large-scale events to advocate for a sustainable future. All funding applications should be associated with one of the many Heriot-Watt student societies, so whether you’re wanting to demonstrate what a particular subject can do to address a sustainability challenge or showcase how a hobby can promote sustainable practices, we want to hear from you.

The Global Environmental Sustainability team is happy to discuss your ideas with you as part of the funding application process, just get in touch:

If you’d like a bit of inspiration in the meantime, here’s some examples of ways in which the fund has been used:

  • A fieldtrip to enable members of the Net Zero Society to visit an industrial facility to learn about opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of their operations.
  • A conference event organised by the Muslim Society and the Net Zero Society to showcase research being carried out by society members.
  • An excursion to a waste processing facility for members of the Eco Society and Net Zero Society to see where waste produced by the Edinburgh campus goes, and more importantly, what happens to it.
The HWUSU Strive for Sustainability Student Volunteer Award is presented

Sponsorship of Student Volunteer Sustainability Award

For the second year running the Sustainability team sponsored the Heriot-Watt University Student Union Strive for Sustainability Student Volunteer Award.

The award recognises a student or student group who has made an outstanding effort to promote sustainability on campus and in the community more widely.

This year it was won by the Net Zero Society, congratulations were also extended to the other nominees, Heriot-Watt Eco Society and Lucie Stewart (Volunteer at the HWU 'Re-Loved' sustainable clothing outlet).

UniRecycle initiative

A group of people in yellow vests smiling for a photo.
Residence Life, Estates, Chaplaincy, Global Environmental Sustainability teams with student and staff volunteers (June 2024)

Students departing from accommodation on our Edinburgh campus are being invited to donate unwanted food and kitchen items in June and August as part of the UniRecycle Project to help reduce waste, support a local charity and their fellow students.

Donation areas will be set up in halls of residence ahead of the move out and instructions will be sent to students on what can be donated and where.

Any unopened food and non-electrical items left in communal kitchens after the move out deadline will be collected by a team of Residential and Cleaning Services, ResLife and Chaplaincy staff and student and staff volunteers, and will be recycled and donated accordingly.

The majority of the food collected over the weekend will be delivered to the Community One Stop Shop / Broomhouse Food Bank, an essential source of support for many in the local community. A donation will also be made to the Student Union Larder which supports Heriot-Watt students. Over 400kg of food was donated as part of the halls clear out in 2023, demonstrating the impact of the initiative on reducing food waste.

Items such as crockery, pots and pans, and other kitchen equipment will be redistributed to new students arriving on campus in September, an initiative the Chaplaincy have been running successfully for several years.

Last year the University set up a new partnership with The Edinburgh Remakery, a local social enterprise which refurbishes old IT equipment to avoid landfill and support people facing digital isolation and poverty. Departing students will be encouraged to donate unwanted personal laptops, smart phones, and other tech items in the Tech Donation Box located beside the reception desk on the ground floor of the Library.

Students can also donate preloved clothes, shoes, and duvet and pillow covers via the British Heart Foundation donation boxes which are stationed around the Edinburgh campus. Donated items will be sold through local British Heart Foundation shops to help fund lifesaving research.

Applied learning through sustainability projects & internships

A dedicated fund has been set up to enable short projects and summer internships to address sustainability issues. 

The sustainability team are actively supporting the creation of applied learning opportunities for Heriot-Watt University students to engage with sustainability themes through the provision of supervised projects and summer internships. Almost every discipline and interest area can find an application in providing a solution to a sustainability challenge, which is why we’re inviting students to grow their skillsets through discovering how they can personally tackle real-world challenges. 

Piloted via the EPSRC Summer Vacation Scheme, the sustainability internship scheme invites academic staff from across all HWU campuses and subject areas to propose practical, research-based internships to enable undergraduate students to gain experience of what it is like to carry out research on sustainability-relevant themes. Short project proposals are also considered, enabling both undergraduate and postgraduate students to become sustainability champions while gaining vital skills for careers spent finding solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity.

Summer 2023 Internship Case Study

A digitally created depiction of buildings with multiple stories.

Student William Rowntree (MEng Architectural Engineering) worked closely with our Estates Department to produce an energy model of some of our older buildings on campus. These buildings were constructed in the 1970s, and have been subject to various renovations since then, including refitting with double-glazing and improvements to the radiator heating systems.

Will produced a detailed model using the specialist software ‘IES-VE’, which included the construction of the building fabric, and the resulting thermal performance- and he ran simulations using weather models, comparing the simulated energy use for heating over the previous year, with the recorded and metered energy use from Estates for that same period. Once validated, this model allowed our Estates Department to explore the likely implications of improving wall insulation, and/or wall insulation, and/or triple-glazing windows, and several other strategies for refitting these buildings to meet our university Sustainability Strategy.

Will’s model not only allowed our Estates team to estimate the scale of impact of different retrofit techniques, it is also now a wonderful university resource for other students to develop ideas for retrofit. This enables us to set students practical, applied research work that directly impacts our campus and our race to Net Zero: climate advocacy and impact of the best kind!

Associate Professor Alex MacLaren, Project supervisor


In 2024 the sustainability sponsored internship will support Olivia Smith, a Geography student, to undertake an evaluation of the nature-based solution potential of the Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh campus (current and future).

This will involve an evaluation of current sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) on campus using existing data (i.e. topographic data, land-use and vegetation spatial data, SEPA flood map data, etc.) along with GIS mapping to identify key areas for implementing sustainable solutions.

Planning a sustainability event?

Planning a sustainability event and need support? You can apply for funds, staff assistance and input by filling in an application form with your proposals, requests or ideas. 

Apply now