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.

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.”

How to win the climate wars – talk about local ‘pollution’ not global warming

As the Caribbean islands and Florida were hit by enormous, powerful storms in the past week it’s not difficult to see the predicted effects of climate change so eloquently shared by Al Gore in his film Truth to Power played out across that part of the planet. Loss of lives, livelihoods, property, personal effects – lives changed forever by the relentless storms.

The focus of climate change often falls on mitigation – slowing down global warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases – but resilience is every bit as important.

Tae Hoon Kim, Researcher in Energy Politics, University of Cambridge writes:

Donald Trump has done many things to tarnish America’s reputation, but his decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement is probably the most internationally symbolic and damaging. That a US president can put climate change denial at the centre of his climate and energy policy is truly unprecedented, and it is difficult to remember an administration that has been so intent on undermining the intellectual and scientific findings on global warming.

Truth To Power. Time to Fix Democracy.

On 23rd December 2006 – just before the Christmas break – I was told that Al Gore would be coming to Sheffield to present to an audience of key stakeholders, leaders and decision makers and to share his influential views on climate change. The science and the slides in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, were to be presented live by the man himself.

documentary-film-an-inconvenient-truthAn Inconvenient Truth has been credited for raising international public awareness of climate change and re-energising the environmental movement. The documentary has been included in science curricula in schools around the world. It was also instrumental in Al Gore sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As Head of Environmental Strategy at the City Council I was excited to know that one of the 21st Century’s most respected politicians and leaders on the issue of climate change was coming to my city to address the people I’d been working with and helping to understand the very real threat of climate change. Over the first 18 months or so in post I had made understanding the challenge of climate change and its impact on the City a priority and this was a great opportunity to reinforce those messages. The man’s pulling power was awesome and the invitations to watch were snapped up fast.

I’d already presented to a Full Council Scrutiny session on the issue of climate change in 2005 and, whilst the City’s councillors were interested it was fair to say they had other priorities. They asked probing questions on that sunny afternoon in September 2005 but whilst they remained engaged in the agenda through Scrutiny Boards and Cabinet Reports, particularly around the ways in which the Council could reduce carbon emissions, reduce costs and become more self-sufficient in terms of energy generation across the City, they saw the challenge as too big and needing leadership from a higher plane. But, there was often a win-win-win and an obvious benefit to citizens and, I mean, who wouldn’t want to invest and save waste – it’s an easy case to make in most cases.

There is a wonderful sequence in the movie where he meets Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown in Texas. The mayor describes Georgetown as the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas – and he’s a conservative Republican. But he sees moving toward renewable energy, as just making sense.

Now that we knew Former Vice-President Gore was coming we could only expect greater commitment to tackling the causes and the effects of climate change couldn’t we? Overnight, we created the ‘Sheffield is my Planet’ campaign with our excellent creative minds at Diva Creative who had expertise in social marketing and behaviour change activity and a wonderful exhibition was curated where the City’s most innovative companies grouped to showcase their products and services on the day Gore was in town. We achieved more in those 5-6 weeks than we could possibly have imagined. The fear of not being seen to be committed was motivation enough.

Quite simply, we’d accelerated our commitment to a city-wide approach to climate change because of this one man agreeing to speak to us. Nobody wanted to appear uncommitted and there was a certain amount of jockeying for prominence. I remember Tom Riordan, then CEO of Yorkshire Forward the now defunct regional development agency, launching Carbon Action Yorkshire there and then in a room full of MPs, businesses leaders, academics, influencers, movers and shakers.

10 years on and it’s fair to say the City of Sheffield’s commitment to this agenda has both waxed and waned. It’s currently in an inter-waxing period. Whilst the climate continues to warm, the commitment to action appears to have cooled. The City Council has been heavily criticised for not following through on its climate promises and continues to create headlines for its tree felling / replacement programme. However, there are rays of light in amongst this that should encourage us. Since Gore’s visit to the City we’re no longer debating the existence of a changing climate. There are always dissenting voices but, on the whole, the science is accepted and the focus is on what is needed.

Of course, the City had a big wakeup call later in 2007 when one of those intense rainfall storms hit the city in June 2007 and flooded much of the City, with fatalities. That, plus Gore, had brought about a focus on climate resilience and adaptation that hadn’t captured the imagination of councillors til then.

On Friday I watched the live feed Q&A session broadcast to 340 cinema theatres across the UK where Gore addressed questions from the excellent, informed host and the UK-wide audience. He remained compelling, engaging and effective in portraying expert knowledge and insight, countless examples of why we must tackle both the causes and the effects of climate change and he warmed the audience up for the latest film, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ which followed immediate after.

DHIRkxMXgAE-s80The sequel is different to the first film – it is much more biographical and focuses on how Gore became the great climate change communicator and what he has been doing with his charities to build awareness and train future climate change leaders around the world.

Many of the predictions in Gore’s first film have come true. Those who described his predictions as ‘a terrible exaggeration’ are faced with the facts that the effects of climate change are happening. The intensity of storms, the melting of glaciers and ice caps and the rising global temperatures have come to bear. Despite that, the film tries to focus on the positive solutions already being implemented and the political commitments made in Paris. The discourse on climate change has, largely, shifted again from ‘is it real?’ to ‘what can we do?’ to ‘Can we do this?’.

But in the final few months before release President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris deal. Whatever positivity was embedded in the film is tarnished, undermined and obliterated by the approach Donald Trump has taken. The United States of America’s President is the cause of much head shaking by Gore.

There’s a great interview with Al Gore in The Conversation by Prof Mark Maslin of UCL. He says I was struck in the middle of your film by a profound statement: “To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy”. And then the film moved on to another topic. How do you think we can fix our democracies now in the 21st century?”

Gore replied “Well, big money has hacked our democracy even before Putin did. And it accompanied the transition from the printing press to television, when all of a sudden candidates – especially in the US – were made to feel they have to spend all their time begging rich people and special interests for money so they can buy more TV ads and their opponents.

960x410_f0a8797c14cba958a824e3e0d3447169

And that’s really given an enormous unhealthy and toxic degree of influence to lobbyists and special interests. Now just as television replaced the printing press, internet-based media are beginning to displace television and once again open up the doorways to the public forum for individuals who can use knowledge and the best available evidence.

If you believe in democracy as I do and if you believe in harvesting the wisdom of crowds, then the interaction of free people exchanging the best available evidence of what’s more likely to be true than not will once again push us toward a government of by and for the people. One quick example. Last year the Bernie Sanders campaign – regardless of what you might think about his agenda – proved that it is now possible on the internet to run a very credible nationwide campaign without taking any money from lobbyists and special interests or billionaires. Instead, you can raise money in small amounts from individuals on the internet and then be accountable to them and not have to worry about being accountable to the big donors.

Gore has made it his mission to build a following of trained climate change communicators to share his commitment and to learn how apartheid, slavery and civil rights movements can be repeated – but this time to build consensus in saving humankind from itself. Their task was tough in 2006 but they made progress. If democracy needs to be fixed first then maybe the uprising needs to focus elsewhere because just when it looked a little more positive, it was Trumped.

The film is released UK wide on Friday 18th August 2017. I would urge you to see it. I would urge you to #BeInconvenient

Derby and Nottingham to work together

Last year I wrote a blog outlining the Nottingham/Derby (or should that be Derby/Nottingham?) metro strategy. Following a consultation, a strategy with 4 key themes -Metro Enterprise, Metro Talent, Connected Metro and Metro Living – has been drafted and recognises that ” … if we are to fully achieve the ambitions set out within the strategy, a wider group of stakeholders will need to work together – many of these have indicated a commitment to be involved through the consultation, and key relationships are being strengthened.”

Nottingham City Council identified that “Developing a joint Metro Strategy with Derby can improve the opportunities for local people by helping to bring more investment and jobs to the area … and … with 40,000 people regularly travelling between the two cities, transport is clearly one area we’re keen to focus on. Developing more integrated links and realising the full potential of the planned HS2 station at Toton will be a key element of the strategy.”

One of the early measures will allow residents of both Derby and Nottingham to share services – such as leisure facilities and libraries – using a ‘Metro card’. The card will mean people in Nottingham could use facilities such as the £27 million Derby Arena velodrome and also get discounts in shops in both cities. But, it’s not going to be launched for a year or so …

The announcement comes as the cities launch their ‘Metro Strategy’, which will involve working together, including possibly combining backroom IT services between the city councils.

Collaboration and co-operation is borne out of both necessity and opportunity. ‘Austerity’ measures mean that doing things once and in the interests of both parties can mean reduced costs and economies of scale. Taking unnecessary costs out of the investments needed to make both cities more attractive, investment-ready as well as providing the basic services citizens need can only be a good thing.

The bigger picture, of course, is that the Metro Strategy provides a shared vision for the opportunities, quality of life and sustainability of both cities and their hinterland. Compared to global cities (and even Birmingham) the combined might of Nottingham and Derby is still relatively small but they can be nimble, agile and reinvent themselves as cities of the 21st Century together rather than competing for the same limited resources out there.

Growing Sustainably – The Elephant in the Room

The ‘Growing Sustainably‘ Cabinet report bound for the Sheffield City Council later this week (15th March) is now available online. It’s the Council’s response to the multi-agency, Council co-ordinated Green Commission which started in May 2014 under Councillor Jack Scott (the then Cabinet Lead) and taken on by Cllr Jayne Dunn subsequently. The Council’s response is prepared for a third Councillor, Cllr Mazher Iqbal.

The Council’s Cabinet report states that “We [Sheffield City Council] understand the vital contribution the Council can make in creating a sustainable future, and by identifying our five priority themes are providing a bold message of our commitment to take this forward.”

Since the Commission began the Council has seen a significant loss of staff with expertise in this area. Those responsible for previous (and similar) strategies have long since left the Council either because of ‘austerity’ or out of sheer frustration at the lack of commitment shown to this agenda since 2012. The Green Commission was, I believe, a sensible way of engaging a wider group of key stakeholders in the city. There are some talented and experienced individuals who contributed to the Commission. However, several have moved on and cut their ties with the city since the Commission reported. Two key partners, Veolia and Amey, appear to be at odds with either the public or the Council, or both at the time of writing.

I have written several Cabinet and Scrutiny reports, including in 2005 a 2 hour session at Full Council on climate change. Writing reports is the easy bit in many respects although the process is often tortuous and subject to the editing, cutting, pasting and redaction of anything that smacks of ambition. This report follows reports I have drafted and delivered on with limited resources, but the resources available to SCC now are less than they have ever been.

The report clearly states:

“There are no immediate direct financial or commercial implications arising out of this policy report as it does not propose to incur cost in respect of specific actions to realise the objectives of the Green Commission. In order to realise some of the city’s ambitions, specific actions will be required and the expenditure associated with these will be brought forward for approval under the Council’s existing Revenue and Capital Budget procedures. This may require the reprioritisation of expenditure as there is currently no budgetary provision for these activities.

So, in truth, this report sets out 5 key priorities (which align well with the previous Environment Excellence strategies), says they are important to a growing Sheffield faced with a changing climate, worsening air quality, reduced public transport patronage and increased carbon emissions. Except this time round there are no officers to deliver it and no budget. I applaud the Council for being prepared to re-state it’s commitment to this agenda but without staff to co-ordinate it or a budget to deliver it, I am afraid this is simply will not deliver the benefits to our city’s economy, health and wellbeing.

 

Why and How Universities should lead the way to Carbon Neutrality

University scientists have been warning for decades that we need to reduce our carbon emissions. They have discovered the mechanisms behind global warming, calculated the limits of our planet and developed solutions for how to continue in a sustainable fashion. Hence, you would expect universities to be leaders of sustainability already, showing us how their solutions work. However, despite their scientific evidence and what they teach students, most universities are failing to deliver meaningful carbon reductions. In the UK, a recent report by Brite Green revealed that 71% of UK higher education institutes are forecasted to fail HEFCE carbon targets. This highlights a historical disconnect between research and campus operations, which must be overcome. Interdisciplinary networks with a climate vision can be catalysers to change this path and help harness the economic, cultural and environmental benefits that come with such a transition.

I invited Christian Unger of The University of Sheffield’s Carbon Neutral University Network to share his thoughts on why, and how, universities ought to be leading the way to carbon neutrality.

 

Climate change science and the importance of universities

As early as the 1820s, French mathematician Joseph Fourier first argued that the earth’s atmosphere could act as an insulator 1. British physicist John Tyndall later proved experimentally that the various gases in the air could absorb heat in the form of infrared radiation. In 1859, he was the first to measure the absorptive power of carbon dioxide (CO2) among other gases 2. Based on these works, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius described and quantified the impact of the CO2 and other ‘greenhouse gases‘ on the temperature of the Earth in the early 1900s 3.

 

The Keeling curve, named after chemist Charles Keeling, showing continuously monitored atmospheric CO2 concentration from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii since 1958 provided the first real evidence for an abnormal increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The first concentration measured in 1959 was 313ppm 4 and since then has significantly increased, reaching the 400ppm mark in 2013 5. To put this in perspective, the atmospheric CO2 concentration over the last 800.000 years until the start of the industrial revolution (~1850), as measured in a study from 2008 from Antarctic ice cores, ranged between 172-300ppm 6. Further research, going back even longer, determined that the last time CO2 concentrations were as high as today was 10-15 million years ago; when our ancestors the orang-utans diverged from the other great apes, temperatures were ~3-6°C warmer and the sea level was 25-40m higher 7.

 

Together with this CO2 concentration record, the planet has now reached 1 degree warming above pre-industrial level 8.  This warming and the associated ice melting has increased sea level and extreme weather events all around the world, displacing people through drought, floods and resulting food shortages. In the 1990s, scientists first described the 2 degrees target as a threshold between extensive and significant destruction risk 9. Limiting global warming to below 2 degrees, as agreed by the world’s nations in the 2015 UN climate negotiations in Paris 10. This will require reducing worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero as soon as possible and stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 430-480ppm 11.

 

Universities are at the heart of climate change research; hosting the same scientists who measure warming effects and predict what carbon budget we have left to protect us from extreme danger. University engineers develop renewable energy solutions; social scientists design near zero energy homes, advise on government policies and research behaviour change to reduce our energy demand.

 

Considering the availability of knowledge, one would expect universities to be beacons of innovation – running their estates sustainably in accordance with their scientific findings.

 

However, too many universities are not achieving government targets or have even increased emissions in the last few years. In England, a recent report by consultancy Brite Green revealed that 71% of 120 English universities and colleges are predicted to miss their 2020 carbon targets.

 

Universities educate hundreds of thousands of students every year, employ tens of thousands of staff and impact their local community in so many ways that what they do has a significant multiplier effect – positive or negative. They possess the knowledge not only to plan and indeed become carbon neutral ahead of other institutions, but to trigger transformative change beyond their own borders through their research and teaching – locally, nationally and internationally.

Setting a carbon neutral vision is important and feasible

 

It is particularly important that universities in the developed world do their bit, as 50% of GHG emissions are generated from 10% of the highest emission countries, including the UK 12.

 

Achieving carbon neutrality in terms of energy consumption is necessary to stop global warming and indeed feasible. Through their research and teaching expertise, many universities can uniquely deliver solutions for this ambitious energy transition, at the same time as strengthening and promoting their innovation, research and teaching capacity.

 

More importantly through their solutions, they can provide hope for current and future generations.

 

The Zero Carbon Britain report produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology aspires for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2030 13. Many other countries, i.e. Germany, Japan, Chile, and cities, such as Berlin and Copenhagen have developed plans to reduce emissions to zero 14. Indeed, there are universities worldwide already on their path to carbon neutrality i.e. Cornell University (U.S.) or the University of St Andrews (U.K.) to name just a few.

 

However, why are there so few UK universities leading the way and how can others become models of best practice?

 

Historically, researchers and campus operations teams only communicate on a limited basis, with researchers and teachers provided with space and facilities to deliver research and teaching to their students and the international community. Research findings themselves are communicated internationally to other scientists via specialist journals, hence often failing to inform campus operations.

 

Further complicating the development of climate change solutions is the interdisciplinary nature of the solutions needed, ranging from climate modelling via renewable energy technologies to sustainable architecture, behaviour change research and politics. These research disciplines are often run entirely separate, which means new communication channels first need to be established for people to come together and improve innovation output.

 

As an example, at the University of Sheffield, these above partitions effectively weaken the engagement, support and input of researchers into delivering our 43% carbon reduction targets for the year 2020.

Furthermore, although scientifically clear, the need to reduce emissions to zero (carbon neutrality) in the long-term future is not a vision officially accepted or taken forward yet.

Forming a structure for change at the University of Sheffield: A Carbon Neutral University Network

 

Conscious of the urgency of climate change, we started a small working group of sustainability visionaries to research and compile a written case for carbon neutrality that could trigger further action within the existing university governance structure. This prompted the idea of forming the Carbon Neutral University network (CNU) to support such action – a university community that researches and communicates the climate change problem and uses internal available capacity (students, staff, facilities) to develop local solutions to reduce our carbon emissions to zero.

 

Before our network was launched in 2015, there was little transparency about the university’s sustainability aims and actions. To improve transparency, CNU has established a website and social media presence reaching currently up to 10000 views each month. We have organised and run information events on climate change research and policy, on university impacts and on building efficiency, which have attracted more than 700 visitors. To reach a wider audience and provide a resource, expert presentations at these events have been recorded and are made available online.

 

Further, following the network launch, CNU received an official seat on the University’s Carbon Management Group, which oversees energy strategy. This provides our network with first hand access and allows us to present our ideas and proposals to the governance structure. For example a case for a large 35MW wind farm able to generate 100% of our electricity is just one of a few projects under discussion.

 

Since then, the initially small CNU working group has evolved into a community of more than 250 volunteers from undergrad students to managers and heads of department, along with activists from outside the university. Our community members contribute ideas, time or lead projects, while being supported by a strong coordinator team that tracks, discusses and communicates vision and project outcomes.

 

Our network founder and current co-chair, Dr Christian Unger, received a Fellowship at the prestigious Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, supporting him to compile and publish the initial CNU network experience and vision in a Carbon and Sustainability Strategy (CaSS) proposal for the University of Sheffield. The proposal describes the underlying reasons for a carbon neutral vision; the situation at our university; and the first steps forward based on working strategy examples from universities around the world. In particular, it suggests (1) putting in place a carbon neutral university goal and (2) forming a structure that can develop and drive a plan to deliver this vision. This strategic proposal has been well received. It aims to initiate the development of detailed plans to embed sustainability in university business through an overarching focus on carbon neutrality.

 

Our network now provides a hub structure for climate change action at the University of Sheffield, which previously didn’t exist.

 

Volunteers at any university at no initial cost can establish a Carbon Neutral University network. It translates the passion and expertise of the university grassroots community to start and/or support carbon reductions. The CNU network at the University of Sheffield created a new foundation for a whole range of sustainability activities. It provides a focus point for future ideas, connects the right people to develop a transition plan, and with additional administrative funding, it can provide an important sustainability hub functionality long-term.

 

We need more universities to become sustainability leaders, by harnessing their unique innovation ability to show the feasibility and benefits of strong carbon reduction solutions to the world. Interdisciplinary communities, such as the Carbon Neutral University Network, can trigger this urgent transformation and we implore everybody to not sit idle and start your own climate action.

 

If you want to find out more or need help to start your own, please get in touch with us via our website: http://www.carbonneutralshef.weebly.com

 

 

References

 

 

  1. Fourier J. Rapport Sur La Temperature Du Globe Terrestre Et Sur Les Spaces Planétaires. Mémoires Acad. Royale des Sciences de L’Institut de …; 1824.
  2. Tyndall J. Note on the transmission of radiant heat through gaseous bodies. In:; 1859.
  3. Arrhenius S. Arrhenius: Worlds in the Making: the Evolution of the Universe. Harper & brothers; 1908.
  4. Keeling CD, Bacastow RB, Bainbridge AE, et al. Atmospheric carbon dioxide variations at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Tellus. 1976;28(6):538–551. doi:10.1111/j.2153-3490.1976.tb00701.x.
  5. Jones N. Troubling milestone for CO2. Nature Geoscience. 2013;6(8):589–589. doi:10.1038/ngeo1900.
  6. Lüthi D, Le Floch M, Bereiter B, et al. High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000-800,000 years before present. Nature. 2008;453(7193):379–382. doi:10.1038/nature06949.
  7. Tripati AK, Roberts CD, Eagle RA. Coupling of CO2 and ice sheet stability over major climate transitions of the last 20 million years. Science. 2009;326(5958):1394–1397. doi:10.1126/science.1178296.
  8. Hansen J, Sato M, Ruedy R, Schmidt GA, Lo K. Global Temperature in 2015. 2016.
  9. Rijsberman FR, Swart RJ. Targets and Indicators of Climatic Change. 1990.
  10. UNFCCC. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. In: 1st ed. Paris; 2015. http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/finale-cop21/.
  11. Pachauri RK, Allen MR, Barros VR, et al. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. EPIC3Geneva, Switzerland, IPCC, 151 p, pp 151, ISBN: 978-92-9169-143-2. 2014.
  12. Gore T. Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first. Oxfam. 2015.
  13. Allen P, Blake L, Harper P, Hooker-Stroud A, James P. Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future. Published in July 2013, the latest ZCB scenario report integrates new detailed research on managing the variability in supply and demand of a 100% renewable energy system, and on balancing our land use requirements to provide a healthy low carbon diet.; 2013. http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org/en/component/k2/item/85?Itemid=289.
  14. Allen P, Bottoms I, James P, Yamin F. Who’s Getting Ready for Zero?; 2015:59. http://zerocarbonbritain.org/en/ready-for-zero.

 

Why London is still central to UK Economic Plans

According to a Brookings Institute and JPMorgan Chase study, our idea of a global city has become outdated in a rapidly urbanizing world in the midst of seismic technological change. A handful of financial centers, like New York, London and Tokyo, no longer drive world economy. Instead a “vast and complex” network of cities – some surprisingly small, others mid-sized – powers the international flow of goods, services, people, capital and ideas.

The report, ‘Redefining Global Cities – The Seven Types of Global Metro Economies’ sees only two UK cities mentioned – London and Birmingham.No mention of Manchester or Leeds. Whilst other nations, particularly Pacific facing, are growing at an enormous rate, including several in China.

Cities most familiar to Europeans fall in to the ‘International Middleweights (26 mid-sized cities across globe)’ and includes historic, culturally significant political hubs: Brussels, Belgium; Copenhagen-Malmö, Denmark/Sweden; Frankfurt, Germany; Hamburg, Germany; Karlsruhe, Germany; Köln-Düsseldorf, Germany; Milan, Italy; Munich, Germany; Nagoya, Japan; Rome, Italy; Rotterdam-Amsterdam, Netherlands; Stuttgart, Germany; Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; Athens, Greece; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin, Germany; Birmingham, UK; Kitakyushu-Fukuoka, Japan; Madrid, Spain; Melbourne, Australia; Montreal, Canada; Perth, Australia; Sydney, Australia; Tel Aviv, Israel; Toronto, Canada; and Vancouver, Canada. Only London and Paris, of all the ‘Global Giants’ are European cities alongside Los Angeles, USA; New York, USA; Osaka-Kobe, Japan; and Tokyo, Japan.

Of note though is the number of conurbations that get bundled together – for example, Malmo/Copenhagen and Cologne/Dusseldorf. Urban geography is redefining our city boundaries. Smaller European cities are merging, even across international boundaries in the case of Malmo and Copenhagen whereas elsewhere megacities are growing fast in Brazil, China, India.

It certainly looks like that Europe – US – Japan axis is set to change though. The Asian Anchors (Five pacific-oriented powerhouses) are Beijing, China; Hong Kong, SAR, China; Moscow, Russia; Seoul-Incheon, South Korea; Shanghai, China; and Singapore (no real surprises) but the list of Emerging Gateways (28 business and transportation entry points for emerging markets) are cities on the up – growing in population, trade and cultural significance and include – Ankara, Turkey; Brasilia, Brazil; Busan-Ulsan, South Korea; Cape Town, South Korea; Chongqing, China; Delhi, India; East Rand, South Korea; Guangzhou, China; Hangzhou, China; Istanbul, Turkey; Jinan, China; Johannesburg, South Africa; Katowice-Ostrava, Poland/Czech Republic; Mexico City, Mexico; Monterrey, Mexico; Mumbai, India; Nanjing, China; Ningbo, China; Pretoria, South Africa; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Saint Petersburg, Russia; Santiago, Chile; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shenzhen, China; Tianjin, China; Warsaw, Poland; Wuhan, China; and Xi’an, China.

China is ubiquitous, Brazil and South Africa prominent but worth noting both Katowice and Warsaw from Poland in that list too. Could central Europe be slowly starting to establish itself again as an economic powerhouse? It seems the USA will continue to be big players for some time with all but two of the  ‘Knowledge Capitals’ (19 productive, mid-sized innovation centers) there. Only Stockholm and Zurich share that same classification: Atlanta, USA; Austin, USA; Baltimore, USA; Boston, USA; Chicago, USA; Dallas, USA; Denver, USA; Hartford, USA; Houston, USA; Minneapolis, USA; Philadelphia, USA; Portland, USA; San Diego, USA; San Francisco, USA; San Jose, USA; Seattle, USA; Stockholm, Sweden; Washington DC, USA; and Zurich, Switzerland.

 

 

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