Despite many HE institutions leading the way in research that highlights the dire state of the global environment this has not, with a few key exceptions, been translated into behavioural change within their own operations. The history of environmental performance improvement within the HE sector has, until now, been characterised by short-lived initiatives and slow and patchy progress. Until recently universities had given low priority to improving their environmental performance, despite admitting to their considerable environmental impacts.
Impacts of Universities-The UK Higher Education sector:
- Spends 3 billion annually on goods and services
- Has 2 million students and over 300,000 staff
- Consumes energy equal to 3 million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year
- Owns 9 % of all UK office space
- Uses 16 million cubic metres of water annually
- Is responsible for over 1 million journeys every day.
- Two government studies of the environmental performance of the sector (Toyne Report 1993 and Khan Review 1997) revealed that institutions had shown "considerable indifference" to the agenda.
- Over a decade after recommendations that all institutions should adopt and publish environmental policies and action plans, many have still not done so.
- By 2005 only 4 UK universities were certified to the international environmental management standard, ISO 14001, despite the Khan Review recommendation that by 1999 each university should be "accredited to a recognised environmental standard."
- Only 38% have set targets to improve environmental performance (Wastewatch report; 2005)
Furthermore, a recent HEFCE study which compared the environmental performance of a number of institutions in the HE sector with that of the UK's top private companies and industries, found that the HE sector rated as the lowest performer (Source:BITC, National Environment Index 2005). There have been a number of initiatives over the past decade to improve university environmental performance and share best practice. In particular the Environmental Assocation of Universities and Colleges (EAUC) and Higher Education Environmental Performance Improvement (HEEPI) should be singled out for bringing clarity to issues of resource and waste reduction.Transport policy, sustainable procurement and biodiversity management. However, with these exceptions many intitatives have either been short-lived, gained limited support, or they have only been directed at part of the Higher Education sector. However, a number of collaborative groups and new initiatives, including HEEPI, EAUC, People & Planet, EcoCampus and The Carbon Trust, are creating new opportunities for sharing best practice and pushing forward environmental performance improvement in the sector. There are now real chances for institutions to fulfil HEFCE's vision of a sector leading the way on sustainable development.
Within the last five years, the HE sector has started taking a more responsible approach to managing its environmental performance. This has been driven not only by the growing student environmental movement and groups such as the EAUC, but by the realisation that going green can generate considerable cost savings and further benefits, such as lower insurance costs and reputation. There now exists a significant, and growing, number of leading universities and colleges who are making genuine progress towards reducing their environmental impacts and creating a body of best practice that can help guide the transformation of the sector as a whole. Those who are not reducing their overall environmental impacts risk looking outmoded. Those who are leading the way are little different from other HE institutions across the UK in terms of their operations and facilities. What differ are their institutional approach and, crucially, the level of commitment shown by their senior management. For this reason many stakeholders, including People & Planet, remain optimistic about the potential for high environmental performance becoming the norm across the HE sector. Furthermore we believe the sector has the potential to become a model of best practice for environmental performance improvement across many sectors.What is high environmental performance...and how universities can achieve it?
At its most simple, achieving high environmental performance means assessing all the environmental impacts of an institution, whether as a formal audit or simple checklist, and then drawing up and implementing plans to progressively reduce these impacts. Although priorities will differ among institutions according to significance, such plans should involve setting significant, time-bound targets to:
- Reduce energy use and related emissions of greenhouse gases
- Reduce water use
- Reduce land filled waste whilst increasing recycling rates
- Purchase environmentally friendly products and services
- Eliminate unnecessary consumption
- Promote green transport options
- Improve local biodiversity
- Implement a certified environmental management system
-e.g. ISO14001, EcoCampus, EMAS and energy-efficiency accreditation
The central tenet of good environmental performance is the systematic monitoring and reduction of the overall environmental impacts of the institution. HE institutions often believe they can fulfil their environmental responsibilities just by taking one or two specific steps, such as by setting up a recycling scheme. However this piecemeal approach ignores the institution's overall environmental impact. This may worsen as impacts increase in other, more significant areas. Only a systematic approach that reduces overall impact can be seen as high environmental performance. Once the environmental impacts of an institution have been assessed, and targets for their reduction agreed, there are a wide range of specific actions that can be taken to achieve these targets. These commonly include:
- The introduction of a systematic utilities and buildings monitoring system or BMS
- The introduction of a Carbon Reduction Plan with time bound targets for continual
- Emissions reductions
- Using energy efficient lighting and appliances
- Ensuring that heating and electrical equipment are only on at appropriate times
- Drawing up sustainable travel plans, promoting walking and bicycle use and
- Providing disincentives to car use
- Purchasing green electricity from renewable sources
- Micro-generation schemes (e.g. installing wind turbines or solar panels on campus)
- Construction of a combined heat and power (CHP) plant
- Assessing major purchases on a whole-life basis according to their total
- Environmental impact
- Controlling paper use
- Upgrading or replacing inefficient plant (such as refrigerators and heating appliances)
- A programme of staff education
- Integrating sustainable development across all curriculum
- Integrating the needs of campus environmental management and student research opportunities
- Reducing or eliminating chemicals used on the estate, and promoting biodiversity
- Fitting more efficient taps and toilet cistern devices
- Ensuring that people are widely aware of, and have access to, recycling points
- Gaining Fair trade University status from the Fair trade Foundation.
- Without urgent action, climate change will devastate life on earth.
- Hundreds of millions of people, particularly the world's poorest and most vulnerable will be put at severe risk of drought, floods, starvation and disease.
- Up to one third of land-based species could face extinction by the middle of the century. In Britain...
- Use of fossil fuels continues to rise by 1.5% every year despite targets to reduce UK carbon emissions by 60% by 2050.
- Nearly 70% of all waste in the UK is still land filled.
- Biodiversity loss is accelerating - almost 160 bird species are in "rapid or moderate" decline.
Beyond moral obligation, there are financial and other reasons to go green. Escalating energy prices mean long-term investments in energy-efficiency and sustainable contruction now make business sense. There are also cost savings related to reducing consumption of water, paper and other materials. Going green can also reduce insurance costs, assist in gaining research contracts, lower the risk of regulatory breaches and associated fines, improve the university's public image and attract more students.Case Studies Case Study: Bristol University
Two full-time staff dedicated to Energy and Environmental Management
- Target to reduce energy use by 20% by 2010 and reduce water use by 20% below 2000/20001 levels by 2010
- Target to reduce amount of waste going to landfill to 60% below 1997/1998 levels by 2010
- Building Management System (BMS) monitors energy and water usage in all buildings
- Implementing an environmental purchasing policy
- Installing 2 CHP units at a cost of 2.7 million and is set to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 540 tonnes and save in the region of 300,000 per annum
- Achieved Fairtrade University status.
As the UK's second largest university, Leeds produced vast amounts of waste going to landfill.
A new recycling strategy has massively reduced its environmental impacts by:
- Removal of 5000 office waste bins
- Introduction of 2000 recyling bins across campus
- Installing recycling bins in student accommodation
- Setting and reaching 25% recycling target
- Purchasing policy favours recycled paper products
- Total cost of recycling scheme:
Oxford Brookes University: Energy
With an environmental policy and an active Environmental Co-ordinator driving performance, Oxford Brookes has a target to upgrade or refurbish buildings to a level at least 15% better than minimum buildings standards. With this aim in mind, occupancy controls are being installed to switch off lights in empty rooms, saving a projected 12% of lighting costs. Additionally, filament light bulbs have been replaced with low-energy bulbs and thermostatic valves have been fitted to 2,000 radiators. The swimming pool, often a major cost source through the need for heating, relies on solar energy. A new energy management system is able to detect any discrepancies in usage and can monitor energy use in individual buildings. Other elements of the programme include improved insulation and window upgrades.
The new National Science Learning Centre offers a practical example of sustainable construction. The 11 million purpose built centre features a geothermal heating and cooling system estimated to save over 11,000 annually and 'green roofing' that absorbs water and reduces heat loss. Much of the pipe work is made from recycled material. Other features include natural ventilation, energy-efficient lighting and rain water flushing systems. The building earned a Green Gown Award in 2006 in the Sustainable Construction category.
Without any major investment in new metering or other capital equipment, Sheffield Hallam has reduced its water usage by 15% across all its sites in the last 3 years. The environmental management team was able to achieve savings of 24% across its top five targeted sites through careful monitoring of water usage. Washbasins and toilets were fitted with cheap and simple flow restrictors resulting in huge financial savings which more than offset recent water price rises. Energy Manager, Charles Morse says: "We think that our experience could be applied at many other institutions" Sheffield Hallam was awarded a Green Gown Award in 2006 for excellence in Energy and Water Efficiency. Initial cost: 'a few pounds' Savings: over 35,000 a year.