Why I am here

Hands holding soil and growing plant

How did you get involved with sustainability?

That’s quite a story. While studying industrial engineering at university in Israel I became fascinated with the new and innovative environmental group Green Course. This led to a passion for sustainability and becoming a student activist.

I was only a few months into my new engineering career when I realised it just wasn’t where my heart was. I left to study sustainability at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, an academic and research centre at a kibbutz in the middle of the Israeli desert. I studied, lived and worked there for the next few years, mixing with lots of smart, courageous and passionate people from all around the Middle East.

Did anything in particular spark your desire to join Green Course?

Yes – Green Course was protesting about a highway being built across Israel, something I was strongly against. Interestingly, here I am now in the south of England, and Green Course was started in Israel by a graduate who returned there after studying in London – after being inspired by activists protesting about the new M11 here in the UK.

What brought you to this part of the world?

Family circumstances brought me to Oxford about three years ago. I loved the place and the people immediately. I’m so lucky that this job opened up at the University. I’m excited to be here doing what I love, but I am still getting my head around some of the cultural differences – which can be challenging.



Vered Balan with her husband and two sons with mountains in the background

Vered and her family on holiday

Can you give an example of a cultural difference?

Oxford is much freer. That’s great of course, but it can sometimes mean that you have to convince many people to enable change. At the same time, it enables a variety of tools and solutions. Where there is more of a command and control culture, it can be easier to enforce environmental policy, but it is only useful when it works in your favour!

Green Impact is a fantastic, systematic initiative to help you apply environmental sustainable practices to your work area. I encourage everyone to get involved in your department’s team, or set one up with your team if you don’t yet have one

What is the Environmental Sustainability team’s main focus right now?

Hopefully, most people are aware that we are working on a new strategy for the University that will bring all the strands of environmental sustainability together – everything from food and aviation to power and transport – targeting zero carbon footprint and net biodiversity gain. The pandemic has affected our timescales, particularly for an important consultation stage, but there’s a huge amount of work being carried out with many teams across the University.

I find the work that is being done by my colleagues fascinating. The broad perspectives and the depth that is put into this process gives me a lot of confidence about the impact in Oxford, and also the ripple effect that takes into consideration the leadership role of the University in the world.

There are also many other initiatives, such as Plastic Free July – and Cycle September, which is in the planning stage. These campaigns aim to encourage people to take the few first steps to address environmental challenges. And there’s also all the amazing work our Green Impact teams are involved with.

Tell us more about Green Impact ...

It’s a fantastic, systematic initiative to help you apply environmental sustainable practices to your work area. I encourage everyone to get involved in your department’s team, or set one up with your team if you don’t yet have one. It is a great opportunity for people to get to know each other better, to exchange ideas and, very importantly, to initiate fun and inspiring activities that promote the cause

How would you describe your role?

I’m here to engage others with the environmental sustainability agenda and to help to create and promote the University’s initiatives for working towards being environmentally smarter.

Many of us are very aware of what the issues are and the behaviours we need to adapt to correct them – there’s just a huge gap between knowing and actually doing something about it. So the challenge for me is working out how to help us close that gap.

It involves three Hs – Head, Heart and Hands – the knowledge of what needs doing and why, the commitment to making changes, and the skills or practical know-how to enable them. I’m here to help with all three.

Headshot photo of Vered Balan

Vered Balan

Are you good at closing the gap personally?

It’s not easy to always do the right thing, but I am an environmentalist so I challenge myself. Plastic Free July is a good example. With my busy life, work and kids I found myself doing a lot of supermarket shopping and every piece of plastic wrapping depressed me – I had to make a real effort to get through the initial steps to find a solution. I will not say I am an environmental saint, but I do my best and keep challenging myself to be better.

What do you miss most about Israel?

My friends and the beautiful blue sea – England may be surrounded by water but it’s just not as warm and comforting as the Mediterranean.

And what do you particularly like about Oxford?

The diverse mix of people – so a wealth of cultures and experiences – I’m always meeting someone new and fascinating.

And my favourite place is Port Meadow. It changes dramatically with the seasons – making every visit interesting and surprising even if only a couple of weeks apart.


Mind the gap

Vered discusses the gap between knowing what needs to be done to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and actually doing it. Try to reflect on what this gap looks like for you, and your family, colleagues and friends, and consider how to close it. If you have any ideas, however small, to help the University make positive actions to enable the change please contact the team at sustainability@admin.ox.ac.uk.