St John’s May Ball is not accredited under the ‘Sustain-a-Ball’ schemeSimon Lock

An accreditation scheme encouraging more sustainable May Balls has gathered support from 17 of the 26 colleges holding a ball this year, with a further seven committing to a sustainability pledge.

The project, titled “Sustain-a-Ball”, is led by the Cambridge University Environmental Consulting Society and envisions a new “Sustainability Officer” on each May Ball committee to adopt sustainable measures for the accreditation scheme.

The accreditation scheme ranks balls from bronze to platinum depending on the criteria fulfilled, ranging from using compostable toilets to LED efficient lighting. It also offers colleges the chance to sign the non-binding Sustainability Pledge, which requires them to read a one-page document of recommendations and promise to consider “environmental awareness and sustainable thinking” in their organisation.

This scheme comes amidst a surge of related criticism on May Balls for widening inequalities and the waste they produce. Cambridge MP David Zeichner has signed a petition deeming May Balls as “extremely wasteful”. The petition has also similarly called for committee positions for Green Officers.

John’s and Wolfson are the only colleges who have refused to participate both in the pledge and the scheme, at the time of writing.

The scheme is designed to be “realistic”, insisted project coordinator Aoife Blanchard. Colleges need not appoint an entirely new committee member but can add responsibilities to an existing one and can achieve ‘platinum’ accreditation in only fulfilling 65% of criteria.

Blanchard argues that “it doesn’t make any sense – the environmentally friendly option tends to be more economical and often more socially sustainable as well”. The scheme provides suggestions for potentially cheaper measures such as using locally sourced food companies.

Sustain-a-Ball also offers the opportunity for colleges to sustainably share resources such as umbrellas and carpeting, providing another money-saving incentive.

The idea originated from the appointment of two sustainability officers at Clare May Ball in 2016, which also went fully carbon neutral last year. 2019 has seen a remarkable widening of support for the scheme, which went from have four participating colleges last year to 20 this year.

Blanchard was “surprised” this initiative is only gaining traction now, but is hopeful in that May Ball “presidents do seem quite keen [and] the impetus is there”.

The St. John’s May Ball committee said: “Everyone at the St. John’s May Ball committee is dedicated to improving the environmental sustainability of our event. To this end, we have a committee member for Green, as well as an additional committee member who is on the Cambridge University Environmental Consultancy committee.


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“The St John’s May Ball traditionally has a secret theme until the night and so many details of the ball are kept secret until the night. Whilst we do not prioritise secrecy over sustainability, this means we cannot share those [details] with the Sustain-a-ball campaign for accreditation and so cannot be part of the scheme.”

The Wolfson College May Ball committee has been reached for comment.

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