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.

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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.