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Durham University and Earth Minutes Win Prestigious Green Gown Award


Professor Chris Stokes and colleagues, including two student interns, from the Department of Geography, in collaboration with Earth Minutes, have been awarded the prestigious Green Gown Award for Enterprise 2021

Their project (RENU) developed a virtual field trip and was funded through Durham’s allocation of the government provided Disability Premium for £21K funded through the DCAD Coordinated Enhancing Accessibility Funding Grant.

Project RENU

Project RENU (Research Expedition for Net Zero and Universal Learning) used innovative communication techniques and sustainable digital practices to produce a digital field-trip experience with the aim to make environmental learning accessible to all students in a fundamentally sustainable way.

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, the team recognised that many University courses had been forced online and the majority of Geography field-trips had been cancelled or postponed.

This unearthed many challenges relating to traditional field-trips, including the accessibility (physically and financially) and sustainability (carbon footprint) of field-trips. The team used this as an opportunity to drive the future of field-trips through trialling a digital field-trip experience for the second-year module, ‘Glaciers and Glaciation’, within the Geography (BSc) degree.

The result is an engaging documentary-style, interactive resource which allows the user to experience the field trip as if they were there. The resource contains high quality video, 360° camera footage, associated reading, and in-built assessments.

Screenshot of Project RENU.

“Even before the pandemic, we were starting to have conversations about the carbon footprint of our field-trips and one of the recommendations that came out of an education review was that we should look again at the sustainability of our field-trips. We wondered whether technology could be used to complement traditional field-trips, so I had a conversation with one of our alumni who runs an environmental digital filmmaking and environmental communication company (Earth Minutes). 
It all came together when we saw the call from DCAD for the Enhancing Accessibility Fund to support access and inclusion.  We thought, wow, these are perfectly matched.”

Prof. Chris Stokes, Dept of Geography

The Green Gown Awards

The Green Gown Awards recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges. The Awards have become established as the most prestigious recognition of best practice within the further and higher education sector. The Green Gown Awards (UK & Ireland) 2021 celebrated the inspirational work and projects of 90 finalists in 14 different categories. This year’s finalists represented over 862,000 students and 156,000 staff.

What next?

There has been a great deal of interest in the RENU project, from national conferences, the Field Studies Council, and several other Universities to name a few. The team are now looking for funding opportunities to do more in this area, more specifically on how research is communicated, such as short documentaries around climate change to improve, promote, and translate research within and beyond academia.