Researched and Written by Maddie Williamson, Student at the University at Exeter 

The option of eating affordably is an important element of university campus life. Eating sustainably on top of that is only a bonus. But Emma de Saram, a climate justice activist, history graduate and now president of the student guild, has achieved just that. In late 2022, the University announced that it would now be offering £2 plant-based and sustainably sourced meals on campus to its students (and staff!). This was the result of months of tireless campaigning, outreach and activism by Emma alongside other students, societies and activists.

It might be easy for some to dismiss achieving a lower priced sustainable meal option to Exeter University students as just low-level student campaigning, but it is so much more than that. The success of the £2 meal campaign perfectly embodies what is happening and can happen with student activism at a university level: smaller efforts being made to help bring about a larger positive impact in terms of climate justice. These smaller efforts are commonly known as positive tipping points and what Emma described in her seminar as ‘small nudges that can lead to rapid social change, potentially accelerating action on climate change’.

In her talk, Emma applied the positive tipping points framework to the progress she has made in her £2 meal campaign journey so far. It opened up an interesting discussion about using the tipping point framework to look at activism or campaigns in a new way to improve but also empower the way you can bring about change.

The £2 meal campaign and its journey is outlined here as:

Demands focused on affordability and sustainability

– Start of campaign worked with the Plant-Based Universities campaign focusing on the sustainability side

– Targeting a smaller student body population

Providing relevant information

– Reinforcing feedback

– Now reached ‘social contagion period’ (the spreading of their influence via the interaction between students and the kitchen offering the £2 meals) because it is being used on campus every weekday

– Showing that this meal is an appealing option to students

Action with mass appeal

– University investment going into the campaign

– Public information

– Behavioural nudges across campus and online through social media

– Now as guild president, Emma can push the system with further tipping points

In the post-talk discussions, Emma touched on the tipping points in her own personal activism journey. Although she has achieved an impressive point in her journey so far, such as attending COP26 as a University of Exeter delegate and speaking at the Global Progress Summit 2021, she recognised that it was her earlier activism that helped her find her voice. She shared the more locally-based activism she has participated in such as the Extinction Rebellion Barclays bank clean up with her mother and opening a repair café in her hometown, illustrating the many innovative and fun ways in which young people can get involved in enacting change.

Emma’s work also demonstrates how current and future students are at the forefront of so many different social and political causes. For example, Emma is now focused on the ‘Shell Out’ movement at the University, campaigning against a new research partnership with Exeter and Shell focused on carbon sequestration. A research partnership that Emma believes does not reflect the values of the University’s 2030 Strategy committing to sustainability and collaboration.

Both affordable to students and sustainable for the University, the £2 meal campaign is the perfect success story for student activism. But it doesn’t need to end here: Emma’s efforts demonstrate that the £2 meal campaign itself can be seen as the start of a new tipping point for further positive change led by like-minded students on Exeter’s campus.

You can keep up with the £2 meal campaign journey on their official Instagram at: Read up on Emma’s current work with the ‘Shell Out’ campaign at the University: