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.”

Advertisements

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.

Taking People With You – Plastics Reduction

I am proud to work for one of the UK’s most sustainable universities, but I know we can always do more. The next opportunity is always there to be taken and it’s been great to see a rise in the commitment of both our staff and our students over issues important to them.

Whilst our research delivers greener sources of energy, food supply and construction, and our campuses use solar energy and have carbon neutral buildings we continue to use a huge amount of plastic across our campuses. We know we can reduce this this significantly — and we are engaging with our staff, students, visitors, suppliers and partners to establish what we should do – and how big our ambition should be.

We know that not all plastics are ‘bad’. Indeed, plastics have been a fundamental part of advances in medicine, construction, technology, transport and much more. But we also know that there are significant opportunities to reduce the use of unnecessary single-use plastics — such as coffee cups, bottled drinks and other everyday items that we use once and then throw away.

We bin more than 1 million disposable coffee cups and 1.1 million plastic drinks bottles a year across our UK campuses. Quite frankly, that’s astounding. We know we can do better. We know that everyone can make a difference by making small changes to their choices and lifestyle. By raising awareness and providing easy-access alternatives, we think we can make a big difference.

We’re developing challenging institutional tasks and targets for reduction, but we can only achieve those with the support of our students and staff.  We have set up a survey to help us decide what we should focus on — and how you would help us to accomplish our goals. It takes less than six minutes, but will provide us with the feedback we need to define what we do next.

With 10 days to go we’ve already had well over the 2000 responses – phenomenal! It shows just how much interest there is in the subject. Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, said:

Our research has a well-deserved reputation for supporting a more sustainable planet in developing greener sources of energy, food supply and construction. It is only right that our investments and campus activity reflect this.

We have recently committed to fossil fuel divestment within 12 months. Taking the next step in reducing single-use plastics on campus is an important part of our global outlook, ethical values and commitment to environmental sustainability. I invite our University community of staff and students to help us continue our drive to become ever more sustainable.”

 

What’s in a Name?

My first ‘proper’ job was in 1998 in a small town in West Yorkshire. It’s a place called Keighley. You might know it. When I first moved to West Yorkshire to study in Bradford (pronounced ‘Bratfud’) I didn’t know about Keighley. In fact, it was probably a while before I had to go there at all and, when I did, I bought myself a ticket at Forster Square Station to Keighley.

“Could I have a adult day return to Keighley {Keeley} please?”

“Er, you mean Keighley {Keithley}?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, thanks”.

It wasn’t hard to spot the first time visitors to Keighley after that.

My second, proper job, was at Leeds Metropolitan University and whilst I was able to avoid Keighley I stumbled upon The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. It was a bit of a mouthful and the acronym wasn’t any easier but it looked like it was just the thing I needed.

In the early 2000s I found myself as Convenor of the Association and it became, increasingly, known as the ‘Ee-Ay-You-See’ {EAUC} to many. But to some, it was any of the following: ‘You-Ack’; AEUC; The Association of Environmental Universities and Colleges; The Environmental Association OF Universities and Colleges’ and goodness knows what else. At best it was frustrating.

And once people were familiar with it, particularly the members, they would question the vailidity of the name as well. Their challenge was ‘it’s not all about the environment, I am a sustainability officer’ and the name of the Association is no longer relevant because it does so much more than ‘the environment’.

In truth, the Association has evolved significantly since I first got involved in it. 18+ years has seen it grow, employ staff, set up awards, develop measurement tools, training programmes, publications, webinars, international networks, and review its strategy and focus.

I was pleased to be invited to be part of that process and worked with members of the EAUC Board, executive team, Fellows and members of the association. The strategy was launched last year and really set a clear ambition to broaden its scope and increase its impact. All of sudden it felt like we’ve outgrown the name. Members were saying it, the task and finish group working on the strategy were saying it and so it was right to come up with something new that reflected the association’s new mission and priorities. Of course, much of what it has done in the past it will continue to do but it’s a good time to reposition.

I wasn’t involved in the development of the ‘new name’ or brand. I consciously left that to others to come up with and I was impatient when it seemed to take so long to come up with a new name. How hard can it be?

Like complicated maths, sometimes you want to know the answer and not be bothered with the working out. But to understand the answer you perhaps need to understand how it was arrived at, the logic that got you there. If you didn’t work the sum out for yourself you might even question the answer others have given you.

United Futures. When I heard it the first time, I thought ‘hmmm’. Not specific enough. Doesn’t tell me ‘sustainability’ or ‘university’ or ‘college’ and certainly doesn’t say ‘post-16 tertiary education’ to me. Well, good. It doesn’t need to. I don’t know how you reacted to the proposed name. It may have been with disbelief, indifference or excitement. Of course, it matters what the association is called but what’s more important it what it does. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I realised that. I also realised that the flexibility in the new name was a good thing – why box yourself in when you can create flexibility? Further and higher education doesn’t need any more constraints placed on it in such uncertain times. I like the way the new name aligns with the sustainable development goals and is forward looking.

I’ll be at the Annual General Meeting of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges at the Annual Conference in Keele on June 20th. As representative of the University of Nottingham, I’ll be supporting the adoption of the new name ‘United Futures’ (there, I’ve said it) and then I’ll get a train to Mytholmroyd.

 

 

University Estates Still Underpin Sustainability Progress in Higher Education

Sustainability has never been more important to the UK higher education sector than it is today and over the past 25 years there has been an ever increasing commitment from the higher education sector.

In 2015 the publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals put greater emphasis on the role of education in global sustainability and, globally, politicians have committed to those goals.

This has helped shape the education, learning and research agendas in the developed and developing worlds and the research portfolios of the seven major research councils focus on these global challenges featuring investments in crop productivity and agricultural sustainability (BBSRC); energy and the built environment (EPSRC); international relations and economics (ESRC); health of the public and antibiotic resistance (MRC); climate change and management of land and natural resources (NERC); energy and nuclear physics (STFC). Increasingly it features in the curriculum of degree programmes, equipping graduates with an understanding of one of the greatest challenges we face – sustaining the planet’s health so that the growing human population can survive and thrive for centuries to come.

Universities in the UK have responded to the research challenge and have developed world leading expertise in a wide range of disciplines – cities and urbanism, public health, food and crops, climate adaptation, energy systems and transport, forestry and water and they’ve done it on the campuses, in the buildings and laboratories and out there, for real, in wider society. Because of that, the campuses of 2018 are very different to the campuses of 1992 when AUDE first formed.

Today, visit any UK university and the chances are you will find an exemplar building or project that showcases the art of the possible. Zero carbon laboratories, BREEAM outstanding buildings, LEED Platinum and Passivhaus standards abound. Without doubt, our universities are able to demonstrate best practice with exemplars but are the social, economic and environmental impacts (both positive and negative) of universities adequately understood – both academically and operationally?

Over the past 25 years Directors of Estates and their teams have been central to the delivery of increasingly sustainable estates. The agenda has evolved from a marginalised-green view so that now sustainability professionals are commonplace across many universities helping to shape and deliver increasingly higher standards of performance.

Indeed, the higher education sector has got much to be proud of and can point to some fantastic examples of best practice such as the University of East Anglia’s Enterprise Centre, the Cockroft Building at the University of Brighton or the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry at Nottingham, but despite efforts, most universities are failing to deliver meaningful carbon reductions. A recent report by Brite Green revealed that 71% of UK higher education institutes are forecast to fail the carbon targets they set around 2010 in response to the Higher Education Funding Council for England – even those considered to be doing the most. Whilst much of the public sector has been contracting and reducing its footprint since 2008 the university sector has been encouraged to grow. Chances are, if there are 5 cranes in your city one or two of them are in the middle of a university campus. The real success has been to grow whilst maintaining a reduction in carbon emissions along the way. In fact, the analysis shows that whilst the higher education sector in England has improved its carbon emissions reduction performance it is still off track to achieve the 2020 targets and is far from the 43% HEFCE target.

Increasingly there is a strong economic case for doing embedding the principles of sustainability in to the way campuses are developed so that they are inclusive, safe and environmentally responsible.

Whereas once ‘sustainability’ was seen as a differentiator it’s now considered an expectation and, without doubt, the expectations of current and future students are ever higher and, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s important to deliver.  To attract the very best talent universities are creating inspiring, healthy, innovative spaces that support the research and learning strategies of our universities.

This is a challenge AUDE has fronted up to and, with others, is working with its members to support them in achieving these targets and continuing to contribute towards the wider sustainability agenda. In response to these new challenges, AUDE has developed training and learning activity to support its members and helped to celebrate real achievement through recognising leaders in its awards, conferences and programmes. Alongside that, AUDE has developed a sector-specific tool, the Green Scorecard, to provide benchmark performance information across wide range of estates-related metrics such as biodiversity, waste, water, transport and energy.

There is much change in the higher education sector and, similarly, whilst the scientific evidence for climate change is clear, the policy response isn’t. Successive British governments have been inconsistent in policy and approach and it may become less clear how carbon reduction targets will be achieved whilst negotiating exit deals with the European Union from where much of our energy dependency still comes. Universities are here for the long term and will benefit from longer term policy thinking in government. Whilst the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments have made firmer commitments, Whitehall and Westminster need to provide consistency.

For Directors of Estates, the future is both challenging and exciting. It’s unclear how long the current period of campus expansion can continue. Great uncertainty about the impact of Brexit and stability in the international market may mean that there’ll be a greater focus on maximising the efficiency of existing estates through more robust space management and, afterall, doing more with less and being resource efficient is a fundamental plank of any sustainability strategy. A renewed focus on older buildings and wider infrastructure services will ensure greater longevity for buildings that can have a second, third or even fourth life in a changing climate where resilience to extreme weather patterns will be increasingly important.

If we’re really to embed sustainability in the higher education sector it needs to maintain its strong foothold within estates departments whilst an institution-wide approach is adopted to ensure the wider mission, objectives and strategies consider their economic, social and environmental responsibilities more holistically so that sustainability is considered ‘just good business’.

The opportunity to bring together both the academic mission and the operational need through the development of ‘living labs’ and ‘smart campuses’ could be the way in which universities develop not just sustainable operations, but also learning, knowledge and transferable impact.

Imagine campuses demonstrating real-world, global, sustainability challenges using their intellectual potential to address practical issues and demonstrate them on campus. By co-creating teaching, learning, research and operational activity the next 25 years of university development will see greater innovation, inspiring architecture and better places to live, work and study than ever before. What a neat way to help deliver the sustainable development goals here and across the planet.

Any New Ideas in the New Clean Air strategy for Sheffield ?

Sheffield City Council’s cabinet meets next Wednesday 13th December to sign off a ‘new’ clean air strategy alongside a new ‘Transport Vision for Sheffield‘ which states, tucked away on page 10 that it’s developing a Green City Strategy with climate change at its heart  … 10 years on from the ‘Environmental Excellence’ strategy I wrote with the Labour Cabinet Member of the time I don’t see anything new in the strategies for transport or air quality despite the obvious improvement in data and opportunities afforded by new technologies. Whilst it’s hard to disagree with anything said in either strategy it hardly inspires a step-change in commitment.

There are also plans to establish a series of “Congestion Conversations” to fully understand any areas where congestion hotspots could be tackled with some small changes … [and] we now know that diesel cars are a major contributor to NOx emissions in the city.

To be precise, officers of the Council have known about these issues for a long time. This is not a new discovery. In fact, the Council is simply more accepting of the fact since the Government acknowledged it and has, since, actively disincentivised diesel engines.

As a result “We are seeing a downward market shift nationally in the demand for new diesel cars as a result of greater awareness of air pollution issues. However, there are still a significant number of older diesel cars in the city. Our data suggests that 41% of vehicles registered in Sheffield in 2016 were diesels, almost 30% of private cars are older diesels and there are a lot of older and more polluting petrol private cars on our roads too”.

So far then, a series of ‘comversations’ about congestion alongside some campaigning and now a commitment to “work in partnership with the bus companies to improve the bus fleet and reduce emissions … seeking investment to enable the retrofitting or replacement of the bus fleet” – something the Council has been saying for some time. Again, nothing new here and the evidence in the strategy that the city has some of the worst buses in the country. Even the small percentage of EURO6 engines isn’t encouraging – they often perform worse that EURO5 engines. 

I fear there’ll be little change in the bus operator’s attitude – especially if they’re also being asked to hold fares down (which is a good thing for air quality and carbon emissions overall unless you live right next door to an idling bus lane such as Broomhill, Ecclesall Rd or through West St.

More consultation is planned with the taxi operators: “We will consult and work with the taxi operators and other interested parties, to ensure we have theright standards in place, taking into account the wider implications of any changes that may be needed. We will seek investment from Government for a fund to help taxi operators/owners to improve their vehicles. This will be particularly focused on the most polluting taxis.”

All feels a bit passive to me. No mention of actively investing in electric charging infrastructure for residents, visitors and businesses in the way Nottingham City Council has done over the past 12 months (with a massive £2m roll out plan with Chargemaster). Scant mention of adopting its own fleet (and, I hope Veolia, Kier, etc) and just a postscript on supporting the University of Sheffield’s work on hydrogen.

So, more consultation (with taxis) and no real technological change or use of any smart ambitions for route planning, real time data, smart systems (other than dockless bikes) but, there will be [another] new parking strategy, which will reflect our aims to manage parking demand and incentivise lower emission forms of travel [good]. As part of this we will:

  • Review the parking permits available, including Green Parking Permit scheme, to ensure that they reflect the latest technological improvements and are incentivising low emission vehicles.
  • Review our Sheffield City Council employee parking schemes to encourage public transport, active travel and other low emission forms of transport.
  • Review parking across the city, including areas that are currently unregulated
  • Identify, review and implement a range of parking encouragements and disincentives to improve air quality.

I will be really interested to see how far the Council is prepared to go on this. In truth, they own very little of the off-street parking in the city anymore. Most of it is provided by private companies over whom they have very little influence. The parking stock in question is on-street, highly politicised [by a parking lobby and the Members themselves] and small in number.

On the positive side, it’s good to see a strategy going to Cabinet. It’s been in the queue for a very long time. It’s important that it integrates with the City’s transport strategy and they work together. I’m also really encouraged to learn there’s a Green City Strategy in the making too. But what I have read in these strategies is passive, lacks real teeth and misses the opportunities to use new technologies and stimulate a market for low emission vehicles in the City.