Going for Green: Learning Design sustainability champions

Left image: the Open University Learning Design Sustainability team (L-R Tom Olney, Tehnaz Crook, Paul Astles, Catriona Matthews, and Kathleen Calder) // Text on right hand image: Green Gown Awards 2023; Sustainability Champion - Staff; Highly Commended; Open University logo; and a list of the team involved in the award project: Paul Astles, Kathleen Calder, Hayley Johns, Catriona Matthews, and James Openshaw.

Kathleen Calder, James Openshaw, Catriona Mattews, Hayley Johns, and Paul Astles  ~ Learning Designers

The Learning Design Sustainability Group at The Open University has been championing sustainability at the Open University in one way or another for some time now. The end of 2023 saw a wonderful celebration of that work at the Green Gown Awards 2023.  We were highly commended for our work at the Green Gown Awards. To see what the judges thought about our work you can follow the link to the Green Gown Awards page.

We’ve created a series of top tips about applying for the Green Gown Awards, based on our experience: Planning, Teamwork, Stage 1 and Stage 2.

We’re pleased to share this reflection on our experience of the Green Gown Awards (GGA) process – from thinking about putting our work forward through to the awards dinner and celebrating our achievements in December 2023. Alongside our thoughts we’re also officially unveiling the sustainability resources page on our blog site.

In truth, this page has existed since our work was presented at EDEN 2023 and refined further at ALT 2023 . As context is important, we’d shared these resources initially with those who’ve met us at conferences last year. We’re pleased to say that we can now make them openly available.

We encourage you to reflect on the context in which you might use the resources to support you in taking non-tokenistic, meaningful action towards embedding sustainability in the design of learning materials. Before we talk more about the resources, we would first like to share with you our musings about our journey to being awarded ‘Highly commended’ at the Green Gown Awards.

The Open University Learning Design Sustainability team holding their award. (L-R: Tom Olney, Kathleen Calder, Catriona Matthews, Paul Astles and Tehnaz Crook. They're standing in front of a banner listing the sponsors and that reads: EAUC (The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education); Green Gown Awards 2023; in association with UKRI - UK Research and Innovation.
The Learning Design Sustainability team proudly showing off their award. (L-R: Tom Olney, Kathleen Calder, Catriona Matthews, Paul Astles and Tehnaz Crook.) [Image opens in new tab]

Developing the award submission together showed how strong we were as a team, which was incredibly rewarding. The importance of collaborating with colleagues and others keen to support sustainability was reinforced as we identified the steps and support we had been given to help achieve our aims. It was also a pleasure to be able to highlight the key input students provided in informing and focussing our work, particularly in the context of distance learning.


Collaborating with colleagues on the application was so important for us. It helped us to juggle the demands of other sustainability work completed in parallel. Through the process of applying for the GGA I have developed the confidence to talk about our journey and ask others to share theirs. I remember an overwhelming sense of joy that our work was recognised by the GGA 2023 and the ceremony being an opportunity to celebrate that work.


During the GGA application, in a moment of overwhelm, I remember worrying that our small endeavour wouldn’t be considered impactful, let alone award worthy compared to some of the amazing entries from previous years. When we got through to the finals it felt like a win against imposter syndrome. This achievement has been a useful reminder not to disregard the little things, as you never know the impact they might have.


Applying for the GGAs really helped us to take stock of the work that we had done so far. The two-minute screencast we created for our submission was challenging – working out how to condense over a year’s worth of work into such a short clip which still did it justice really had us scratching our heads! It was so rewarding, though, as we got to take in everything the group had achieved.

Learning Design team Sustainability logo plus images of 5 members of the Learning Design Sustainability team.
Some of the members of the team: Paul, Kathleen, Hayley, Catriona and James.

For me, the rewarding experience that came out of applying for the GGA was that we were able to reflect on the journey our team had made so far and the work we had done. It enabled us to recognise the difference we are making through our collaborations with others in our institution and the resources we have developed. It also highlighted how active we are in this vital conversation about sustainability.

Our sustainability resources

Being curious is an important part of the journey towards embedding sustainability. It can be difficult trying to untangle what sustainability means in a design context and how to make that meaningful for students.

The Learning Design Sustainability Group created this set of resources to help prompt initial thoughts and discussions about embedding sustainability in course design. Our aim is to prompt the reader to reflect on whether sustainability has been included in course design and provide support and guidance to help that process.

Call to action:

We want to hear about how our resources are supporting colleagues across the sector and beyond. If you use them, please tell us about your experience. We would be interested to know what has worked well, where they have not quite worked as intended and how you are embedding sustainability within your context. Are there resources that you have used to support colleagues with embedding sustainability that you’d recommend to us?

Contact us at ouldsocial@open.ac.uk. For more information on sustainability at the OU visit Sustainability at The Open University.