The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, presented higher education with a chance to showcase cutting-edge environmental research, promote green credentials as well as simply generate engagement and conversation around climate change issues among existing and potential students.
Some universities were even at the conference and, in the UK, there is the COP26 University Network – a group of more than 80 institutions working together to promote a ‘zero carbon, resilient future'. There was also cross-university working to produce content for this group, including the Climate Papers podcast series.
Here we look at how universities seized the opportunity in a variety of different ways, from events and podcasts to blogging and Instagram stories.
Dedicated COP 26 landing pages
Many universities had sections devoted to COP 26 on their website, and Harvard University was among those to execute well on this front. Its sleek, eye-catching page linked the institution's environmental research and initiatives with key themes at the conference. It carried news and opinion from before, during, and after the summit as well as blog content from a student in attendance and pulled in a wide scope of relevant historic content.
Reading University's ‘Partnering for the Planet' page was also stylishly presented, with an intuitive information architecture allowing for ease of navigation between the science behind climate change issues, the events scheduled around COP26, and the university's own commitment to the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
As the host town university – and the first UK university to declare it would be free of fossil fuels in a decade – Glasgow University didn't disappoint with its online content either. Multiple pages were filled with high-impact material around the environment and sustainability, with video content and conversations around topics such as the impact of the music industry.
Exeter University's Green Futures page featured a compelling video created especially for the conference, alongside other content which included a digitalized magazine about what the institution is doing to work towards net zero.
Birmingham University, The University of Edinburgh, Sheffield University and the University of Plymouth also produced informative and engaging landing pages for the event. And all of the above demonstrated how historic content could be pulled in and repurposed to create a meaningful journey for users, rather than relying solely on entirely fresh material.
Demonstrating environmental impact
While not solely related to environmental issues, the University of Cambridge's global impact map pinned to its homepage is a captivating way of demonstrating the reach and gravitas of its environmental research. By enabling users to click on each country around the world to pull up relevant content, it is an intuitive means of grouping and showcasing content.
The university's Countdown to COP page also offered some brilliant material, with interviews with professors on their hopes and expectations for the conference in the run-up to the event.
Events and festivals to accompany COP 26
Lancaster University held its very own festival to coincide with the COP 26 summit, spanning 39 events for staff, students, and the wider public – with plenty of supporting online content. Manchester University took a similar approach, and its supporting in-depth question and answer section was a great way to link to relevant content and contacts.
For Princeton University, which is celebrating half a century at the ‘forefront of environmental research', it wasn't just about content and engagement during the conference – it held an online retrospective event in December to take stock on the outcomes and look to the future, once scholars and students had the time to digest what unfolded.
Social media and COP 26
Nottingham University utilized Instagram Stories superbly during the conference to share impactful facts around climate change and link to the institution's work in coming up with solutions to the challenges faced. The stories were stylized and well-planned, linking to relevant content on the university's website – compelling people to read more, and surely inspiring prospective students looking to pursue environmental studies in the future.
Columbia University also produced great coverage and conversation around the event using Instagram Stories, with video content, live broadcasts, interviews with climate students, and links to analytical articles. Again, a dedicated landing page brought all related news and events into one place, with media clippings linking to press coverage, including that featuring a round-table with Barack Obama, organized by the Columbia Climate School in partnership with the former president's foundation.
The University of St Andrews, which was in attendance at the summit, too used Instagram Stories to show behind-the-scenes footage as well as push to online content including podcasts on the COP26 developments. It also used grid posts to share ‘in conversation' videos with a variety of students and professors live from the event, as well as thoughtful posts reflecting on conference conversations and outcomes.
The University of East Anglia took a slightly different approach with Instagram Stories, with students showing ways to lead a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, from shopping in thrift stores to vegan eats. Meanwhile, graphic-led posts on the grid highlighted and summarized important conversations, and pushed users towards online content which included the university's Butterfly Experiment, an initiative asking people for ideas on tackling climate change – from eating insects to creating man-made volcanos.
Campaigns, podcasts, time capsules and competitions
Aston University launched a prominent campaign online to highlight its work linking with the issues raised at the summit, which included three dedicated YouTube shows leading up to the conference. This was alongside a dedicated page linking relevant conversation and research as well as a ‘fishbowl' event to maximise engagement.
Aberdeen University took a unique approach to engaging students, staff and the general public when it came to the conference, and created a time capsule - and a supporting video - filled with messages about people's hopes for the climate's future, to be opened on Founder's Day in 2040. It was supported with plenty of informative content elsewhere on the university's dedicated COP26 section.
The University of Sussex, meanwhile, launched a competition to generate conversation around the conference and boost engagement. It invited students to create videos with the aim of either influencing delegates at the summit, changing attitudes towards climate change or promoting young people's voices on the issue. The shortlisted videos were then shared at events and on social media.
With the spotlight on climate change set to grow ever brighter beyond COP26, the event has shown the importance of universities focussing time and investment into digitally conveying their research, impact and commitments to working towards net zero.
It's not only important for attracting the attention of prospective students looking to pursue environmental studies, but for all eco-conscious students wanting to ensure they join an institution with climate values in line with their own.
Hundreds of universities the world over were producing content around COP26 and we couldn't possibly have featured all of the amazing work out there. Please let us know in the comments below or via email or social if anything resonated with you that hasn't had a mention.