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 …
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.
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.
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
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- Arrhenius S. Arrhenius: Worlds in the Making: the Evolution of the Universe. Harper & brothers; 1908.
- 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.
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- 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.
- Gore T. Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first. Oxfam. 2015.
- 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.
- Allen P, Bottoms I, James P, Yamin F. Who’s Getting Ready for Zero?; 2015:59. http://zerocarbonbritain.org/en/ready-for-zero.
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 Park
- 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.
Perhaps, 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. A 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 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%.
Since 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. 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
 Scope 1 combustion of Natural Gas. Scope 2 ‘Grid’ supplied Electricity consumption
In April 2015 I wrote about Enactus being the best kept secret in higher education. You can read that blog here. In that blog I has just returned from the Enactus National Finals in London and was totally struck by the sheer enthusiasm, innovation, sporting and supportive community that has been nurtured by the Enactus UK team and the participating universities.
I continue to be struck by the impact Enactus has locally and across the globe, so I was delighted that Andy Stride, Enactus Nottingham’s current President, was recognised for his enormous contribution at last night’s Green Gown Awards in Leicester.
Andy has developed over 14 different social enterprises tackling both local and global issues linking to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This includes social enterprises working in renewable energy, access to clean water and sanitation, developing sustainable eco-friendly housing, food waste reduction, access to better education, developing improved agricultural practices and promoting the circular economy.
Andy leads a team of 167 students who have the opportunity to learn about social enterprise and develop their skills in sustainable business. This year, Andy and his team won the Enactus UK National Competition and represented the UK in the Enactus World Cup 2016 in Toronto earlier this yer as well as showcasing the importance of sustainability in business to the House of Lords.
We’ve worked closely with Andy at The University of Nottingham to provide premises, some business ideas and the rest is very much down to him and his fantastically impressive team. For over a year now they’ve run our university-wide cycle hire scheme and set up a fantastic furniture recycling project that’s having a really positive impact in the city of Nottingham.
Yesterday’s occupation of the Houses of Parliament by representatives of the city of Nottingham were a lesson in relationship building. The City created a wonderfully diverse programme to showcase the city’s strengths, ideas, talent and assets to policy makers and decision takers – with an emphasis on ‘can do’ and a sense of fun (not least the noble way in which our University’s academics declined to win the University Challenge event Chaired by the Speaker of the House).
It wasn’t just fun though. There were some key messages that are worth repeating here:
a) There is an ever-strengthening role for universities to provide intellectual, asset and cultural offerings to their respective cities. Nottingham showcased it’s contributions in theatre, history, art, sport, science and engineering.
b) The scale of universities means they can be engines of economic success and growth when they work in partnership with their city government and across their wider economic partnership areas, such as D2N2. I blogged on this previously here.
c) Wider city objectives that embrace genuine sustainability and a low carbon future require their largest and most influential organisations to support them and help show them the way. I was impressed by the number of times I heard ‘low carbon’ mentioned. whilst other cities have shied away from this ambition and put it in the ‘too difficult’ box Nottingham’s leaders have made it a priority. They see the opportunity it provides.
The morning after ‘Nottingham in Parliament’ and you could ask, ‘well, what’s changed?’
Without doubt, Parliament knows Nottingham was there. You couldn’t turn a corner without the famous Nottingham Green being there. Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham, school children, gold medallists, sporting heroes, business leaders, Knights of the Realm, academics all contributed to the day. They built new relationships, they showcased what the city has to offer and they made Nottingham feel that bit closer to Parliament than maybe it has in the past.
More coverage in the Nottingham Post; the liveblog of the Day from the BBC, Chris Leslie MP’s video of the day; this video from The University and our FlickR page which has some images of events on the day, the journey down and the Home of Sport activities