The Bonn Climate Conference is drawing to a close, with world leaders calling for strong action to implement the 2015 Paris deal. As a university, there are three main areas where we can have an impact on sustainability and climate change: through our own policies and behaviour; through teaching; and through research. Previously our MSc students have written about the impact of business ethics teaching on their attitude to future employment, while others have discussed their research on sustainable consumption, environmental regulation and waste reduction. In this piece, the University’s Energy & Environment Manager, Peter Phelps, discusses the policies and plans that shape our institution’s impact on the environment.
Cutting our carbon footprint
The University of Bath was the very first UK university to set carbon reduction targets back in 2003, and our 2010 Carbon Plan was held up as an exemplar for the sector by the Carbon Trust. We are now preparing our latest plan, which must respond to the Clean Growth Strategy recently launched by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. This sets out the government’s approach to implementing the next phase of UK strategy under the Climate Change Act (2008) across areas such as power generation, industrial efficiency, green finance, domestic efficiency and transport. It particularly highlights the key role of the higher education sector in leading by example. The strategy includes new carbon reduction targets for the whole public sector, of 30% by 2020/21 against 2009/10 levels. Additionally, mandatory reporting and the potential for extra funding for efficiency improvements have been outlined.
Despite growing as an organisation, we have cut our carbon footprint over the last ten years: taking growth into account we have cut our emissions per student or per building floor area by a third. Typically, many energy efficiency improvements are ‘behind the scenes’. We constantly work to improve building efficiency by enhancing controls to reduce consumption. We have reduced water use through improved leak detection and usage monitoring. Other hidden improvements include increasing our self-generation of power through our ‘mini power stations’ whereby we produce 8% of our own electricity on campus and recycle the waste heat.
Smart meters and controls are increasingly in the news as these make their way into people’s homes – we have been at the forefront of this for several years with our automated network of 2000 smart meters. We use this data and our sophisticated controls to respond to national grid shortages to minimise our peak electricity costs, and deliver a targeted approach to energy management.
A more visible example of our investment is the £1 million we have invested in LED lighting in the last year. The Library, for example, has had all lights on Levels Two to Five replaced by the latest high-efficiency LED lighting with sophisticated automatic controls. This has cut lighting costs by 70%, reduced maintenance costs significantly and transformed the appearance of the whole building. Our lighting systems are state of the art with all lights, switches and sensors controlled by data networks. This control network has grown to be the largest such system in Europe; installed in fifty-five university buildings the Estates team are able to control over 30,000 devices from a single location.
We bring best practice into our approach to designing and procuring new buildings, and set challenging targets for our architects. We’ve also doubled our solar panel capacity, and our campus now operates with a 100% renewable energy supply.
Cutting carbon in this way also saves money – we are saving around £1.5m every year on utility bills due to our improvements - and this is against a backdrop of expected future increases in electricity costs of around 40% in the next few years.
As well as focusing on how we can reduce energy use, we have schemes to tackle the other “Rs” – reuse and recycle. Our recycling rates have increased from 36% to 54% in two years, and we are the first UK university to introduce large scale coffee cup recycling. We have installed 25 coffee cup recycling bins around campus, giving staff and students the opportunity to recycle all disposable coffee cups. The cups are taken to a recycling facility in Cornwall where they are made into items such as pens and pencils. The scheme, along with the promotion of reusable cups and containers, has the potential to divert over 650,000 disposable cups per year from the general waste stream.
In the last couple of years, we have launched an end of term waste scheme. Last summer, the University collected 27 tonnes of ‘end of term’ unwanted food, clothing, crockery and appliances. These were donated to charity, raising over £22,000 for the British Heart Foundation and making a significant dent in the amount of items sent to landfill.
We run the award-winning ‘Student Switch Off’ and ‘Leave No Trace’ campaigns in our student residences and hospitality outlets. Our students are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of not only their own activities, but also the practices of the University, as evidenced by the latest SU Top 10. This states that “when students graduate they want to be ethically concerned citizens alongside their academic achievements…We hope to work to a more sustainable University by examining our environmental practices and finding key initiatives that can be adopted to make a more green university...”
As discussed in an earlier post, it is students who are leading the way in incorporating awareness of public impact into their private decisions.
We have managed to cut our carbon impact as an organisation despite growing significantly, but this has been a real challenge. Perhaps we haven’t always been as ambitious as we could have been; perhaps there are echoes of this in the UK’s performance as a country, and also in our own behaviours as individuals. The challenge for the country, the University, and all of us, will be to respond to these internal and external pressures, and to plan for the future in a suitably ambitious way.
Header image of University of Bath campus by Nic Delves Broughton