Sustainability at the Heart of Our University Strategy

A commitment to join the city of Nottingham in its ambition to become carbon-neutral by 2028 and work in China and Malaysia to improve sustainability is just one of the stretching ambitions in the new University of Nottingham Strategy published this week (9th December 2019).

You can read more about the Strategy in a new blog by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Andy Long who has led the work on its consultation and development.

I’ve worked for the University of Nottingham for the past 6 years and, in that time, the University has earned an excellent reputation for its commitment to sustainability. However, this commitment has never been as forthright as it is in the new University Strategy launched this week, nor has the bar ever been set so high.

Often University’s will produce the kind of strategy that could be ‘The University of Anywhere’ and crafting something that’s honest, recognisable and setting a clear course is a real challenge. We certainly felt that challenge – but I am delighted that our Executive Board and the University’s Council has made such important commitments to dealing with the global challenges of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the local challenge of becoming a zero carbon city by 2028. These commitments to embedding sustainability in our core business of teaching and research are the first time the University has done this. It has the full backing of our Board.

The easy way out for many organisations is to have a separate sustainability strategy which is unconnected to the core business objectives. By integrating these at an institutional level we’ll be working right across the five faculties where sustainability teaching and research takes place as well as across our professsional services who support the instituion across our campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia.

Centre-for-Sustainable-Chemistry-031016-105-copy650x433The Strategy places a particular emphasis on environmental sustainability, supporting the City of Nottingham’s desire to be a net zero carbon city by 2028 and working with partners in China and Malaysia to improve sustainability within their regions. This is without doubt a challenging ambition but one we must deliver on.

It does this with the confidence of knowing that our students and staff really want this to happen. Sustainability was one of the leading themes in the consultation exercises that informed the Strategy. It is clear that our University community wants all of us to be ambitious in tackling our greatest global challenge.

This commitment to carbon neutrality builds on our current contribution to research, investment decisions, collaborations and our behaviours on campus.

Placing the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of our strategy illustrates that our reputation as Britain’s Global University means not only we have global connections but that we have a strong emphasis on find solutions to those global challenges. ur global research programme is supporting a more sustainable planet in developing, for example, renewable sources of energy, green propulsion systems, climate-resistant crops and a sustainable food supply. Significant carbon reduction research is conducted at our Ningbo campus and our Malaysia campus provides a world-leading field laboratory for research into environmental protection.

Elements of this blog were published previously on the University of Nottingham’s strategy blog pages.

What Lies Beneath?

On 7th November 2019 Sheffield and South Yorkshire suffered significant rainfall and many areas remain flooded 9 days later as I write this. Meadowhall shopping cente was part-evacuated and the River Don swelled to levels not seen since June 2007.

Inevitably there was localised flooding and impacts. Top soils washed away of newly ploughed fields, bee hives washed away, moorland washed bare.

Having moved to Broomhill in August 2019 I found myself living in a property on relatively high ground but halfway down a hill beneath Crosspool/Ranmoor and Crookes on the old Crooks Moor as it was known. A Victorian suburb with Victorian infrastructure – which, on the whole, coped. Just about. To put it in perspective Sheffield received 80mm+ rain in 24 hours – the same as the November monthly average.

I was out on the evening of 7th November until the early hours of 8th November (I’d met with friends in the Sportsman Inn at Lodge Moor – one of the highest (and on that night, one of the wettest) points in the city. Certainly there was a lot of rain coming off the moorland and farmland in the surround areas.

I came home, went to bed, woke and left for work before 7am and set off for work. Later that day I was sent photographs of a significant hole towards the rear of our property on the boundary with our neighbours. Initial thoughts were that it was a sinkhole – very worrying and, hidden as it was with the boundary fence and beech hedge, difficult to know how deept it was or the cause.

Eventually we were able to clear the hole of the debris and see, for ourselves, the stonework of a well that had laid buried without anyone’s knowledge. Nothing in the deeds of the properties either side of it or any mention of it in archives. There is, though, a theory that the well was, at some point (before the construction of our home in 1852?) used as a watering hole for the horses racing on the racecourse that was once a feature of Crooks Moor where Broomhill has now developed.

In 1711 a race course, known as The Crooks Moor Race Course, was established in an attempt by the Town Trustees (a then equivalent to a Town Council) to divert the public’s attention from more blood-thirsty pastimes such as bear baiting, cock-fighting and dog fights (although the first officially recorded races were not until 1713). The course was one and a third miles long, and was a rough track wide enough for about 5 horses, with small bridges to cross streams. (source: https://www.broomhillsheffield.co.uk/about.html

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Understanding the geology beneath and how to make it safe is the next step …

Energy and Carbon Management at the University of Nottingham

I recently attended the UI Green Metric conference in the fine surroundings of University College Cork in Ireland. As well as representing the UK participants in the Green Metric I gave a short paper on our experiences of energy and carbon management. The following extracts give a summary of our efforts in a fairly narrow range of projects but we’re making progress. With thanks to my superb energy manager (Bryony Attenborough) and Carbon Manager (Martin Oakes) for the content and the great work they do!

If you’d like the full paper (or the powerpoint slides that accompany it) let me know by emailing sustainability@nottingham.ac.uk

The University of Nottingham developed its first CMP in 2009/10 following the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) guidance on the issue as part of it sustainability strategy. It was approved by the University in December 2010 and updated in July 2016 with the main areas of investment to be centred on:

  1. Improvements in energy efficiency of buildings, including insulation, heating & lighting
  2. More efficient use of existing equipment
  3. Generation of energy from small/medium scale renewable energy systems
  4. Major infrastructure upgrades to replace existing plant to reduce energy cost, carbon emissions while at the same time improving system resilience.

The CMP includes a number of specific investment projects and more generic programmes to deliver CO2 reductions.  These focus on the areas of energy saving and energy efficiency for Scope 1 (predominantly gas combustion in boilers) and Scope 2 (electricity use) emissions.

The CMP provided a baseline of CO2 emissions; sets emission reduction targets; and mapped out a 5 year investment programme implemented to deliver environmental performance improvements and carbon & financial savings[1].
We continue to prioritise the most energy and carbon intensive buildings and achieve a better understanding of what contributes to our significant ‘out of hours’ baseload.  We are continuing the development of energy strategies for each campus with the overall aim of reducing carbon emissions, improving financial sustainability, system resilience and student experience and wherever possible, deliver income generation via government feed in tariffs / renewable heat incentive.

Overall energy and water costs were £12.2 million in 2017/18, an increase of 5% from the previous year.   Both our energy consumption per square metre and per student remained below the Russell Group average. 

Energy consumption, i.e. the total of gas and electricity, increased by 3.4% year on year even though floor area was up by 2.6%, student numbers were up by 2.1%, and the weather was significantly colder, indicating a requirement for 7.7% more heating fuels.  If the effects of the weather and new buildings are removed, then in a like-for-like comparison, consumption for the last year would have been 192,489 MWh, a reduction of 4.0%.

We have seen a steady reduction in our emissions following 8 years of investment in energy saving projects and external factors that are out of our control.  The National Grid has continued to reduce its CO2 emissions associated with power generation through the increasing proportion of renewable energy and gas fired power stations supplying the grid with a corresponding reduction in the use of coal fired plant.

Although there was a large increase in our Estate of almost 108,000m² (20%) since 2009/10, overall ‘Grid’ imported electricity consumption only increased by 7%, this is due to on-site generation from the installation of the 800kW CHP plant at our Sutton Bonington campus and other new plant and equipment installed.

Despite the increase in the floor area of the University estate and additional gas required for the new CHP plant, overall consumption of natural gas actually reduced by 2% since 2009/10 this has been achieved by efficiency gains and new plant and equipment.

Our 2015 Carbon Management Plan target was 51,000 tonnes, a reduction of 17,000 tonnes from our 2009/10 baseline year.  Our total programme savings at the end of 2017/18 stood at 14,034t CO2 per annum from 2009/10.  Since the publication of the CMP in 2010 the University has exceeded its planned growth plan, however carbon emissions have reduced by 21,051t CO2 with as a result of the considered investments made and the wider de-carbonising of power generation supplied to the UK’s National Grid[1].  This will continue to have a significant influence on our performance and ability to meet carbon targets.

The challenge over the period to 2025 and beyond will be to continue to identify and implement cost effective carbon reduction initiatives to achieve:-

·         absolute reductions in emissions

·         offset continued growth in any new buildings

·         offset increased intensive energy consumption from research

It is clear that to achieve our long term targets we need to continue to invest in large and small scale carbon reduction projects to de-carbonise our power and heat supplies to our buildings, as there are currently predominately from the combustion of natural gas.

We have continued to deliver investment in the laboratory fume cupboard efficiency programme with further works to reduce fan speeds with full variable speed extracts to reduce electricity use and, as a consequence, reduce gas from space heating. These systems included PIR occupancy sensors that automatically lower the fume cupboard sash window and reduces fan speed if no one is in front of the cupboard. The means savings are achieved as soon as possible with the added safety benefit a lowered sash provides for other lab users.

The replacement of old plant, both chillers and boilers, has resulted in improved efficiency across the estate and this rolling programme will continue over coming years.

The University’s Medical School has had additional projects involving replacement lighting on F Floor, new controls to existing central extract systems and work on the steam main to reduce significant losses.  Along with the installation of new chillers replacing dependency on steam driven cooling systems which has now delivered the total accumulative carbon savings of 8,695t CO2.

Small and medium scale renewable energy projects are financially supported by UK legislation through initiatives such as the Feed in Tariffs (FITs) and Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).  These programmes promote widespread uptake and provide income from generation to accredited technologies including photovoltaics (PV), wind, biomass, solar thermal and ground source heat pumps (GSHP).  These installations have saved 191 tonnes of carbon last year by displacing electricity and gas that would have been provided by the National Grid.  A number of sizeable low carbon energy generation schemes have been installed on both the David Ross Sports Village (solar PV and combined heat and power) and the Teaching and Learning Building (solar PV) that are awaiting permission from Western Power for connection to the local grid. These should come on line in 2019 following works to enhance local grid resilience.

Working at a university is unlike working anywhere else.

It’s been five years since I joined The University of Nottingham as Director of Sustainability and a lot has been achieved and a lot has changed in that time. Sometimes, in an organisation that is so big it can feel like nothing changes but on reflection a lot has.

What struck me in December 2013 was the sheer scale of the organisation. In 2017-18 we recruited a total of 34,329 students, more than ever before and surpassed in 18/19 (whilst we await formal confirmation). Spread across three main teaching campuses, but also operating out of Nottingham’s City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre, Derby and the King’s Meadow Campus. My role has also given me the opportunity to visit our China campus in Ningbo on the eastern seaboard two hours south of Shanghai. We have created a community with the population of a small town with absolutely everything you’d expect – shops, hairdressers, restaurants, hotels, conference centres, sports centres, bars as well as 4000 bed spaces to house a good proprotion of our students on campus.

In the past five years we’ve added around 85,000m2 of new buildings – a big chunk of which was the creation of our fantastic David Ross Sports Village on University Park as well as the Research Accelerator Demonstrator Building, George Green Library, Ingenuity Building, Advanced Manufacturing Building, the Barn at Sutton Bonington, the new Cripps Health Centre, a recently opened teaching and learning building, the Centre for Dairy Science Innovation and the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry (which we built twice).

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The University continues to grow in size – our new cancer research building (locally known as CBS4 or CBSE), student numbers increasing, growing research portfolios, the emergence of Beacon research areas tackling some of the biggest global challenges and bigger and bigger conferencing, open days and events on our amazing campuses.

cofIt’s a big place – that’s why we worked in partnership with the tram operator to connect the University Park campus to the Queens Medical Centre and the city centre of Nottingham. We run a five route bus service (the Hopper Bus) to connect University Park, Jubilee Campus, Sutton Bonington, Derby Hospital and King’s Meadow Campus and work in partnership with the City Council to connect to the City Hospital in Nottingham too.

In that five year period I’ve seen significant changes at the top of the organisation – Prof Shearer West joined the University in 2017 taking over the reins from Prof Sir David Greenaway. A new CFO, new Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the retirement of the Chief Estates and Facilities Officer, Chris Jagger, means that, on reflection there is plenty of new faces across the Executive Board.

In those five years I have managed, for shorter and longer periods of time, the University’s Sustainability team, energy and carbon management team, grounds teams, transport and logistics, space and resources, admin and, in the past year, I took on the role of Director of the University of Nottingham farm.

The University is renowned for its attractive campuses worldwide and it’s something that is cherished by the University. Both University Park and Jubilee campus have retained their Green Flag status and the University has been a key component of the Nottingham in bloom success.

We have seen significant improvements to the campus environment and the beginnings of realising our ambition to develop University Park into an arboretum of national importance. Following the creation of the Trent Parterre in 2014, in 2016 a new centre piece Theatre Garden was opened between the Trent Building and Hallward Library adjacent to the walled garden. In 2018 we opened the Djanogly Terrace – a fantastic public space in the heart of University Park providing a wonderful amphitheatre for large public gatherings – it was a huge success during the summer’s World Cup in Russia! Similarly the central landscape enhancements at Sutton Bonington have created a central boulevard of both hard and soft landscaping that enhances the centre of campus creating a social space that is used for events such as the award winning farmer’s market held monthly on the campus.

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Biodiversity remains an important part of the University’s sustainability strategy and we have recently produced biodiversity action plans for our campuses whilst we launch our 4th wildlife calendar for 2019 and our second batch of the very popular University honey from hives at our Bunny Farm and King’s Meadow Campus. This December we launch a wonderful new book, produced by a graduate of the MSc Biological Photography and Imaging course, Jusep Moreno, a wonderfully talented photographer who has published ‘Wild Campus’ – a collection of stunning photographs taken exclusively on our University Park campus.

I am delighted that we’ve continued to maintain a high standing in terms of sustainability and we are recognised as a leader in the UK and across the globe. We regularly host visits from colleagues from universities in Asia, Africa, the US and Europe and share ideas and best practice. I regularly meet with my opposite numbers in other Russell Group universities and it’s heartening that we are all committed to improving our sustainability performance. Collectively the higher education sector continues to reduce its carbon emissions, divest from fossil fuels and tackle single-use plastic. Our #WasteNott campaign has seen some really impressive early impacts in the first 2 months since its launch.

In 2017 we confirmed the University would divest from direct investments in fossil fuels and we’re already working on indirect investments. We’ve won Green Gown awards and continue to stay at the top of the UI Green Metric. 

We continue to reduce our Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions, despite all the growth and increased activity on our campuses and report progress on an annual basis. In 2017/18 our Scope 1 and 2 carbon dioxide emissions have shown an absolute reduction of 2.9% or 1,423t from 2016/17 and down 21,051t from 2009/10 baseline of 67,998t CO2. We recently signed up to the Government’s Emissions Reduction Pledge 2020 and in the eighth year of our carbon management programme the University continued investment of £0.6m in projects. Since 2010 our CMP has now invested in excess of £18.8m, with estimated annual savings in the region of 14,034 tonnes of CO2.

I look back on the past five years and realise what a lot we’ve collectively achieved. Every day is different – the challenges, especially right now with a review of higher education underway, great uncertainty as the UK works its way out of the European Union (and I hope reverses its way back in to it) – and working with some incredibky talented, enthusiastic and smart people it is possible to achieve some amazing things and it’s fair to say, working at a university is unlike working anywhere else.

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Advanced Manufacturing Building, Jubilee Campus

University Vice-Chancellors join forces with Government to tackle Carbon Emissions

I was delighted, today, to join with our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Andy Long, four other UK universities, the National Union of Students, the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Director General, Julian Critchlow, and Office for Students CEO, Nicola Dandridge, to officially sign the Government’s Emissions Reduction Pledge.

The predecessor to the OfS, HEFCE, set the ball rolling almost 10 years ago with a sustainability strategy that invited universities to sign up to targets. A decade on, great progress has been made by many universities but there is a recognition there is still much, much more to do.
Whilst investment in energy efficiency across campuses has been made, at best it’s often achieved a slowing down or flat-lining of carbon emissions. Some have made real strides and seen an absolute reduction even in the context of growth.
As we sign up to this pledge we know that the hard yards are still to be run. The low-hanging fruit has been plucked and the investments need to be bigger and the behaviour change greater if we’re to make the contribution needed to assist in avoiding the predictions of the IPCC report this week.
Nottingham’s commitment has seen some significant investment over the past 8-9 years, totally almost £19m in projects which reduce carbon, improve energy efficiency and user comfort.
In 2017/18 our Scope 1 and 2 carbon dioxide emissions have shown an absolute
reduction of 2.9% or 1,423 t from 2016/17 and down 21,051 t from 2009/10
baseline of 67,998 t CO2.
In the programme’s eighth year the University continued investment of £0.6m in
projects across all areas of the CMP. Since 2010 our CMP has now invested in excess
of £18.8m, with estimated annual savings in the region of 14,034 tonnes of CO2. Our target is to reach a minimum of 41,000t CO2 by 2020 – so in the next two years we need to shave another 5000t off our activities.

This event was organised and facilitated by EAUC and the National Union of Students (NUS) for Green GB Week, a landmark celebration of Clean Growth. The Pledges made by these universities are reflective of the dedication and aspiration in the Higher and Further Education sectors when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Those that have signed are committing to reducing their institutions carbon emissions by 30% by 2020/21 against a 2009/10 baseline.

Universities and colleges occupy a unique societal position – they are powerful influencers of the next generation. They also hold significant financial and cultural assets, and are often the bedrock of strong communities. Setting this example will reduce carbon emissions on campuses, influence the behaviour and awareness of local communities on carbon emissions and highlight the role of universities and colleges in leading the UK to net zero emissions in a timely manner. The recently published IPCC report serves to highlight that timeliness on this topic is crucial.

The institutions that have made the pledge today are:

  • Professor Robert Van de Noort, Acting Vice Chancellor, University of Reading and Jason Dabydoyal, President of Reading University Students’ Union
  • Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Northumbria University
  • Professor Joy Carter, Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester
  • Professor Julie Sanders,  Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University
  • Professor Andy Long, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and Andy Nolan, Director of Estates (Sustainability) University of Nottingham

Also in attendance will be Director General, Energy Transformation and Clean Growth at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Julian Critchlow, CEO of the Office for Students (OfS), Nicola Dandridge, CEO of the EAUC, Iain Patton and Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Ali Milani.

Claire Perry, Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, said:

“The UK has led the world in cutting emissions whilst growing our economy –  with clean growth driving incredible innovation and creating hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs. Ten years on from the Climate Change Act, the first ever Green GB week is a time to build on our successes and explain the huge opportunities for business and young people of a cleaner economy. I’m delighted to see how many more businesses and organisations, such as the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges, are seizing this multi-billion pound opportunity to energize their communities to tackle the very serious threat of climate change.”

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive at Office for Students (OfS), said:
“Universities are influential voices in local, regional and national society, so have an important role to play in showing leadership in our collective efforts to tackle climate change. Students expect their universities to be taking action on this issue, including by highlighting the impact of unchecked climate change and making sure they are leading by example in reducing their own carbon footprint. These universities are taking important steps to address a problem which will affect us all, and I hope many more universities will consider signing up to the emissions reduction pledge.”

Iain Patton, Chief Executive at the EAUC, said:
“Universities and Colleges are hubs of innovation, beacons of best practice and key influencers of future generations. We are pleased that so many institutions are recognising their leadership role in combatting climate change and publicly pledging to reduce their emissions.

“Universities and colleges make a unique contribution to society. Not only can their research and teaching help society understand our changing climate and the necessary societal changes, but by signing this Pledge, as leaders, it puts them at the heart of where the changes start. EAUC encourages all institutions to sign and prioritise carbon reduction, and can offer support and guidance to those unsure how to progress on this.”

Ali Milani, Vice President at the National Union of Students (NUS), said:
“It’s great to see the tenth anniversary of the Climate Change Act being celebrated in Green Great Britain Week, and even better to see the first Universities in the UK signing up to this really challenging emissions reduction pledge. Making this commitment demonstrates real sector leadership and we really hope the institutions involved will deliver the 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions they’ve agreed by 2020/21.

“NUS is doing a great deal to help universities reduce their emissions through our Student Switch Off, Green Impact, Divest-Invest and Responsible Futures campaigns. We’re ready to help any institution in any way we can so that more are inspired to sign up, commit and deliver this pledge. We encourage all the signatories to engage their students in all aspects of delivering the targets, and hope other colleges and universities will follow suit and publicly commit to the pledge.”

Every day should be Clean Air Day  

Not applying to cars, but diesel-fuelled buses, HGVs, coaches and most controversially – taxis, city centre drivers must meet strict standards for their commute under the current proposals. Most diesel vehicles built after 2015 adhere to the standards. Petrol vehicles would have to comply with the standards of Euro V, applying to most vehicles built since 2011.

Clean Air Day is June 21st

via Clean Air initiative to combat air-pollution in Nottingham City Centre.   

6 reasons why Universities should be setting science-based targets

Really like this blog on setting science based carbon targets. 

I have always been of the view that the science is the reason we’re bothered about carbon so it ought to be at the core of the target.

Will Jenkins, of Carbon Credentials, makes some good points:

The UK university sector is facing uncertainty from a multitude of challenges. This is triggering universities to examine their identity, their values, and their purpose.”

If universities don’t show leadership on this, who will? Christian Unger wrote this great piece with me last year.

Jenkins continues, “Universities are exploring how they can become more transparent, how they can build their brand and how they can remain competitive in a sector that is ripe for disruption. Given this context, and the fact that most of the sector has set carbon targets to 2020, could now be the right time for universities to reconsider their climate change objectives and look to set ambitious and long-term targets in line with the Paris Agreement?

Read Will’s blog, or better still, come to the annual conference of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges at Keele University later this month and speak to him yourself.