Reflecting on 3 Years: Good Progress and Higher Impact.

It’s been three years since I took up post here at The University of Nottingham as Director of Sustainability. Three years in is a good time to reflect on what’s changed, what’s been achieved and what’s still left to do.

What struck me immediately was the sheer scale of the organisation. 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, home of Bullseye, Supermarket Sweep and The Price is Right in a former life as Carlton TV studios.

So, in that 3 year period, what has changed? The Sustainability Directorate has led, supported and cajoled our closest and not so close colleagues to adopt ever more sustainable practices and we’ve achieved quite a bit through quiet revolution and ramping up of activity.

The things we did before I arrived have been stepped up and we’re recognising that where we can’t deliver ourselves we can create opportunity for others to do so. My favourite example of this being our partnership with Enactus Nottingham in delivering our cycle hire scheme. 18 months ago, as the funding from the local authority dried up we had to do things differently and we needed entrepreneurial, customer-focused enthusiasm and energy. We gifted Enactus the assets of 300 or so cycles and created a dedicated facility for them to operate from and the scheme has gone from strength to strength. The scheme now operates closer to where our students are and is run by their peers.

Alongside UCycle, we’ve supported Enactus’ Re-covered project giving them a warehouse/ showroom and providing them with furniture for refurbishment and re-sale that means those with the greatest need in Nottingham have access to affordable furniture that turns a house in to a home.

Both projects have a fantastic impact on the local community, student experience and support the University’s strategic objectives of promoting employability skills in our students. Not only did Enactus Nottingham win the finals of the Enactus Nationals in 2016, they went on to the semi-final of the Enactus World Cup this August when representing the UK in Toronto. Inspiring stuff from them made in Nottingham.

External recognition is helpful and it’s always nice to be recognised for what you’ve achieved. In 2014 the University’s massive open online course, or MOOC, ‘Sustainability, Society and You’ was highly commended at the Green Gown Awards held in the stunning Whitworth Hall in Manchester. In 2015 we were Highly Commended for our work on Carbon Management and a finalist for our famous Creative Energy Homes as well as Highly Commended for our innovative helium recycling scheme. Enactus Nottingham impressed the judges in 2015 with their wonderful work in the enterprise and employability category and this year’s awards brought around our first ever student-award, with Andy Stride, Enactus President winning the Student Sustainability Champion Award whilst we picked up final placings for the creation of our Diamond Wood in the Community Category and for our work on transport and sustainable mobility in the continuous improvement category.

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. This project has created an inspiring and useable space for outdoor performance and socialising and has significantly enhanced the external environment of the centre of Campus. 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.

In addition to the Theatre Garden, numerous projects have been completed over the last year that enhance the environment of the University including:

  • A fitness trail at University Parkimg_20150910_102820
  • A trim trail at Sutton Bonington Diamond Wood
  • Working with the conservation society on habitat clearance works
  • Landscaping works along the newly opened tram line
  • Enhancements to the Science and Engineering areas of the campus

Nottingham, officially Home of Sport has seen both the city and the University invest in new facilities. We’ve invested both in terms of indoor facilities and external playing surfaces. I was delighted when we picked up our first prestigious award from the Institute of Groundsmanship for the management of our artificial surfaces at the University.

We’ve promoted our wonderful campuses with the production of two wildlife calendars in both 2016 and 2017, with photographs taken by talented members of staff from across the University. The profits from these go to the University’s Impact campaign raising millions of pounds to support medical research in childhood cancers, dementia and other health related disciplines. The University’s commitment to fundraising through its ongoing and annual endurance cycle rides is undiminished and personally led by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir David Greenaway.

Over the past three years the capital programme of the University has been without precedent. Last year alone we invested around £100m in the completion of the George Green Library development, enhancements to the chemistry façade and windows, the completion of the David Ross Sports Village, the opening of the Ingenuity Centre, Jubilee Campus and the completion of Barn at Sutton Bonington.

IMG_3318Perhaps, of all the buildings we have created in the past three years, the one closest to my heart has been the The GlaxoSmithKline Centre for Sustainable Chemistry. It’s a stunning building, unique in so many ways and, in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), The University set about delivering a carbon neutral laboratory building. In order for the carbon neutral concept to be achieved the building needed to make no overall contribution to greenhouse gases or the acceleration of climate change throughout the entire carbon footprint of the design, from offsite procurement, site construction, occupation and to eventual demolition.

The building has been constructed to achieve both LEED ‘Platinum’ and BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ status, as a result of which high standards of construction and site management must be achieved. Throughout every stage of the project, from its inception to completion, great care was taken to minimize the impact of the building on its environment (both in the local and wider contexts).

The energy supply for the building is met from over 1000m2 of photo-voltaic panels to provide energy for running the building during its operational life. img_3325A Combined Heat and Power (CHP) engine has also been installed to operate on low-carbon fuel (fish oil) to heat the laboratory building and the nearby Romax and Ingenuity buildings. The building is a naturally ventilated laboratory and is seen as a landmark development and the first of its kind.

The University’s carbon management plan (CMP) was refreshed in 2015/16 and includes targets for reductions in emissions of CO2 from energy consumption.  It identifies the principal areas of energy use and our investment programmes to improve energy efficiency, reduce consumption and generate energy from lower carbon and renewable energy sources.

In 2015/16 our Scope 1 and 2[1] carbon dioxide emissions have shown an absolute reduction of 9% (5,312t) from 2014/15 and down 15,714 t from 2009/10 baseline of 67,998 t CO2. In the programme’s sixth year The University made its biggest annual investment to date with £4.4m in projects across all areas of the CMP. This included our single biggest project (Sutton Bonington CHP and district heating scheme) with predicted annual savings totalling £400k and 1,616 tonnes of CO2.  Since 2010 our CMP has invested in excess of £15.2m, with estimated annual savings in the region of 12,673 tonnes of CO2.

Over the past year investments have continued to focus on energy and carbon intensive buildings and processes across our campuses. These have covered a range of areas, including boilers and chillers upgrades and replacement, lighting upgrades and the continuation of insulation and double glazing projects along with energy saving fume cupboard upgrades. Targeted action at the Medical School continues with projects to replace the large centralised chilled water production which achieved carbon reductions this summer of 460t CO2.

With the investment in energy efficient equipment and subsequent investment in CHP the University was able, for the first time in recorded history, reduce its consumption of grid-delivered electricity by just over 3%.

p1020959Since the publication of the first CMP in 2010 the University has continued to grow in size and the carbon associated with the University’s development exceeded its projected additional carbon of 3,000 tonnes by the end of 2012. This trend has continued though to 2016 and can be explained by the impact of increased activity especially in areas of energy intensive research.

The University’s challenge of feeding over 30,000 students every day is not a small one. We’re working hard to do that ever more sustainably and the development of our sustainable food policy and strategy in 2016 was a step up in our commitments.

We continue to see our overall landfill diversion rates increase with more than 99% of the total waste generated through our main waste contract being diverted from landfill, with just under 40% of that waste segregated at source through our comprehensive bin provision for recyclable material and food waste.  Further recovery and recycling by the waste contractor ensures that a very small amount of waste, around 8 tonnes out of total of 3,100 tonnes in 2015/16, is sent to landfill, resulting in a very low carbon waste disposal process.

We have seen a continued year-on-year increase in the amount of food waste that is being diverted from general waste to dedicated food waste collection, which not only cleans up the general waste but also allows the waste to be processed and its energy recovered via anaerobic digestion thereby creating usable energy. We have continued to roll out more on-street and internal recycling infrastructure to further enhance the opportunities for the University community to recycle. It hasn’t all been about recycling and recovery, we have been working with suppliers to reduce waste associated with products and goods we receive and also reuse more items.  Our on line waste exchange facility continues to attract more and more users and now has over 300 active members.

Significant research around alternative fuels is on-going throughout the University with one of the first hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK in operation on the Jubilee Campus.  Electric Estates Vans 07-2015 (6)Over the last year the University welcomed nine electric vehicles to its fleet. These vehicles used by the Estates office and catering teams on a daily basis and have many benefits over vehicles which run on fossil fuels like petrol and diesel including: zero CO2 emissions at the tailpipe resulting in cleaner air and cutting the University’s carbon emissions. They’re cost-effective and quiet running, reducing noise pollution. This is just one example of how we’re promoting sustainable transport alongside the wider provision of extensive cycling infrastructure, public transport (including the tram network now serving the Medical School, University Park and Highfields Sports Ground).

In the coming months, we’ll be working with the City of Nottingham’s Go Ultra Low programme to further develop our electric vehicle charging infrastructure whilst continuing to research and develop prototype hydrogen fuels for both vehicles and buildings.

In fact, The University is working with the City on a number of fronts, including the exciting Trent Basin housing development and the creation of a smart city vision drawing on the University’s expertise in data, energy and transport and the City’s political commitment to sustainable travel, low energy homes and innovation.

Looking back over the three years I have been delighted to see us develop a rigorous, targeted and evidence-based approach to reducing our negative impacts. We’ve identified those high carbon buildings and worked hard to reduce their emissions through investment in energy efficiency and on-site generation.

We’ve continued to be ambitious in our construction programme, not least in the creation of the carbon neutral laboratory and look out for the Passivhaus designs for our next Research Acceleration and Demonstration (RAD) Building on the Jubilee Campus. We’re re-shaping the landscape at University Park with the creation of a wonderful new amphitheatre north of the Portland Building and the creation, over time, of an arboretum across the campus.

Whilst other sectors have been tasked with downsizing the university sector has been given the opportunity to grow, to innovate and to develop and to be part of that is an exciting thing.

You can read more about the University’s sustainability programme at www.nottingham.ac.uk/sustainability

[1] Scope 1 combustion of Natural Gas. Scope 2 ‘Grid’ supplied Electricity consumption

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