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

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Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

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