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Translating talk into action – University of Surrey Conference shows the way to Sustainable Practice in Universities

By Amy Fetzer
Employ a sustainability expert at faculty management level and he or she will earn back their salary in savings several times over. Turn waste into a resource not a drain on resources by diverting it from landfill through recycling, composting or energy recovery.
These were some of the powerful yet practical messages delivered at […]

By Amy Fetzer

Employ a sustainability expert at faculty management level and he or she will earn back their salary in savings several times over. Turn waste into a resource not a drain on resources by diverting it from landfill through recycling, composting or energy recovery.

These were some of the powerful yet practical messages delivered at the University of Surrey’s Sustainable Practice in Universities: Leading and Improving conference on 4th Sept.

Higher Education environments consume 5.2 billion kWh of energy every year creating a carbon footprint of ~3.3MT of CO2 and an energy bill of over £200m. By bringing together experts from across the globe, the conference armed delegates with the tools to reduce these impacts.

Delegates left with new contacts and practical tips on a diverse range of topics. One of the most ingenious included using the University as a living laboratory where innovations from sustainable building designs to climate control systems are tested in the controlled and yet real world environment of the campus. Another inspired approach suggested harnessing student talent by incorporating sustainability challenges into student coursework projects.

The conference also revealed six key strategies for successfully implementing sustainable development initiatives in Higher Education environments.

  1. Implement a sustainable development strategy – not a policy. Policies can easily be ignored, but strategies set targets and goals, give people responsibility and make them accountable explained Almut Beringer, UNESCO Chair ‘Higher Education for Sustainable Development’.
  2. Install sustainability experts at management level, as well as at an operational level. This prioritises sustainability at the upper level of management providing support and a coherent strategy for the operations team while the resultant cost savings will pay for the additional salary as Steve Lanou, MIT, explained.
  3. Present the business case. Many sustainability strategies, such as energy efficiency initiatives, bring massive cost savings ensuring they pay for themselves in the first 1-3 years, as speakers including The Carbon Trust’s David Vincent demonstrated.
  4. Engage all groups on campus from the staff to the students. Bring people with you and sustainability initiatives will succeed. The University of Leeds’ incredibly successful recycling programme and LSE’s Reuse programme which diverts student cast offs from landfill were just two of many winning initiatives showcased.
  5. Communicate in a language stakeholders can understand and measure and present findings so they can see problems and progress. MIT and others testified that graphs and targets which clearly demonstrate improvement are invaluable – they inspire and motivate whether the subject is dorm radiators or recycling rates.
  6. Work as a team and look at the University across all levels. Buildings, energy efficiency, waste management, transport and procurement often operate in silos. It’s crucial to bring people together across departments so the University works as a team and initiatives complement and support each other as Mike Kelly from Communities and Local Government explained.

Higher Educations authorities have an obligation to act to reduce their own environmental impacts. The conference concluded that managing their own impacts is not enough – Universities must lead by example and embrace their role in educating the decision makers of the future.

HE institutions are instrumental in mitigating the worst effects of climate change. They have the potential to produce a ripple effect across whole country and community as graduates literate in sustainability issues take that knowledge into their communities and the economy after graduation. This potential cannot afford to be wasted.

For more information on the University of Surrey’s Sustainable Practice in Universities: Leading and Improving conference, please visit: http://www.ces-surrey.org.uk/news/SPUconf.shtml#summary

Amy Fetzer is a freelance journalist and environmental writer specialising in CSR and sustainability issues. She can be contacted on amy.fetzer@amyfetzer.com. She is also is a member of ” The Sustainability Writers Network” (TSWN). For more information please visit the TSWN discussion thread on SustainabilityForum.com.