Working at a university is unlike working anywhere else.

It’s been five years since I joined The University of Nottingham as Director of Sustainability and a lot has been achieved and a lot has changed in that time. Sometimes, in an organisation that is so big it can feel like nothing changes but on reflection a lot has.

What struck me in December 2013 was the sheer scale of the organisation. In 2017-18 we recruited a total of 34,329 students, more than ever before and surpassed in 18/19 (whilst we await formal confirmation). Spread across three main teaching campuses, but also operating out of Nottingham’s City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre, Derby and the King’s Meadow Campus. My role has also given me the opportunity to visit our China campus in Ningbo on the eastern seaboard two hours south of Shanghai. We have created a community with the population of a small town with absolutely everything you’d expect – shops, hairdressers, restaurants, hotels, conference centres, sports centres, bars as well as 4000 bed spaces to house a good proprotion of our students on campus.

In the past five years we’ve added around 85,000m2 of new buildings – a big chunk of which was the creation of our fantastic David Ross Sports Village on University Park as well as the Research Accelerator Demonstrator Building, George Green Library, Ingenuity Building, Advanced Manufacturing Building, the Barn at Sutton Bonington, the new Cripps Health Centre, a recently opened teaching and learning building, the Centre for Dairy Science Innovation and the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry (which we built twice).

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The University continues to grow in size – our new cancer research building (locally known as CBS4 or CBSE), student numbers increasing, growing research portfolios, the emergence of Beacon research areas tackling some of the biggest global challenges and bigger and bigger conferencing, open days and events on our amazing campuses.

cofIt’s a big place – that’s why we worked in partnership with the tram operator to connect the University Park campus to the Queens Medical Centre and the city centre of Nottingham. We run a five route bus service (the Hopper Bus) to connect University Park, Jubilee Campus, Sutton Bonington, Derby Hospital and King’s Meadow Campus and work in partnership with the City Council to connect to the City Hospital in Nottingham too.

In that five year period I’ve seen significant changes at the top of the organisation – Prof Shearer West joined the University in 2017 taking over the reins from Prof Sir David Greenaway. A new CFO, new Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the retirement of the Chief Estates and Facilities Officer, Chris Jagger, means that, on reflection there is plenty of new faces across the Executive Board.

In those five years I have managed, for shorter and longer periods of time, the University’s Sustainability team, energy and carbon management team, grounds teams, transport and logistics, space and resources, admin and, in the past year, I took on the role of Director of the University of Nottingham farm.

The University is renowned for its attractive campuses worldwide and it’s something that is cherished by the University. Both University Park and Jubilee campus have retained their Green Flag status and the University has been a key component of the Nottingham in bloom success.

We have seen significant improvements to the campus environment and the beginnings of realising our ambition to develop University Park into an arboretum of national importance. Following the creation of the Trent Parterre in 2014, in 2016 a new centre piece Theatre Garden was opened between the Trent Building and Hallward Library adjacent to the walled garden. In 2018 we opened the Djanogly Terrace – a fantastic public space in the heart of University Park providing a wonderful amphitheatre for large public gatherings – it was a huge success during the summer’s World Cup in Russia! Similarly the central landscape enhancements at Sutton Bonington have created a central boulevard of both hard and soft landscaping that enhances the centre of campus creating a social space that is used for events such as the award winning farmer’s market held monthly on the campus.

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Biodiversity remains an important part of the University’s sustainability strategy and we have recently produced biodiversity action plans for our campuses whilst we launch our 4th wildlife calendar for 2019 and our second batch of the very popular University honey from hives at our Bunny Farm and King’s Meadow Campus. This December we launch a wonderful new book, produced by a graduate of the MSc Biological Photography and Imaging course, Jusep Moreno, a wonderfully talented photographer who has published ‘Wild Campus’ – a collection of stunning photographs taken exclusively on our University Park campus.

I am delighted that we’ve continued to maintain a high standing in terms of sustainability and we are recognised as a leader in the UK and across the globe. We regularly host visits from colleagues from universities in Asia, Africa, the US and Europe and share ideas and best practice. I regularly meet with my opposite numbers in other Russell Group universities and it’s heartening that we are all committed to improving our sustainability performance. Collectively the higher education sector continues to reduce its carbon emissions, divest from fossil fuels and tackle single-use plastic. Our #WasteNott campaign has seen some really impressive early impacts in the first 2 months since its launch.

In 2017 we confirmed the University would divest from direct investments in fossil fuels and we’re already working on indirect investments. We’ve won Green Gown awards and continue to stay at the top of the UI Green Metric. 

We continue to reduce our Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions, despite all the growth and increased activity on our campuses and report progress on an annual basis. In 2017/18 our Scope 1 and 2 carbon dioxide emissions have shown an absolute reduction of 2.9% or 1,423t from 2016/17 and down 21,051t from 2009/10 baseline of 67,998t CO2. We recently signed up to the Government’s Emissions Reduction Pledge 2020 and in the eighth year of our carbon management programme the University continued investment of £0.6m in projects. Since 2010 our CMP has now invested in excess of £18.8m, with estimated annual savings in the region of 14,034 tonnes of CO2.

I look back on the past five years and realise what a lot we’ve collectively achieved. Every day is different – the challenges, especially right now with a review of higher education underway, great uncertainty as the UK works its way out of the European Union (and I hope reverses its way back in to it) – and working with some incredibky talented, enthusiastic and smart people it is possible to achieve some amazing things and it’s fair to say, working at a university is unlike working anywhere else.

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Advanced Manufacturing Building, Jubilee Campus

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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.”

 

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.