Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: September 2016

Brite Green Higher Education carbon report launched

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

The Brite Green Higher Education carbon report has been launched.  EAUC says:

Based on data from the 2014/15 academic year, the report looks at how the sector is doing overall and specifically, how institutions are performing against their 2020 carbon reduction targets.  To accompany this year's report, Brite Green have produced a best practice guide to support institutions to achieve their emissions reduction targets.  The EAUC has contributed heavily to this guidance to ensure that our members can make the most of the information on offer.

The Brite Green says:

This is our third progress report on the carbon emissions performance of HEFCE funded universities.  The report shows that despite some universities having achieved excellent reductions the sector remains behind its 2020 target.  To help meet the UK Government’s carbon reduction targets set out in the Climate Change Act, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) developed a sector reduction strategy in 2011.  It required Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to set carbon reduction targets for 2020 and implement carbon management plans to achieve them.  Universities have now reduced total emissions by 10% from the 2005 baseline.  This is a great achievement especially against the backdrop of significant commercial growth.  The sector however is only projected to reduce emissions by 15% by 2020, well behind the sector target of 43%.  Our analysis suggests that more than 70% of universities are not on track to achieve their own carbon targets for 2020, a slight improvement on last year.  This year’s analysis also looks at research intensive institutions in more detail.  The 20 Russell Group universities in England are responsible for about half the sector’s emissions and only the University of Birmingham is currently on track to achieve their carbon targets.  Universities need to update their carbon management plans to ensure they are still fit for purpose and able to achieve their carbon reduction targets.  It is important that this review aligns the carbon and commercial strategies and incorporates the wider opportunities from the sustainability agenda.  Many universities have started to consider how environmental and sustainability issues will shape the risk and opportunity landscape for the next 10 years, and are developing a broader sustainability strategy covering academic, operational and financial management.

So, some good(wish) news, but a gloomy prognosis overall.  HEFCE won't mind all that much, having given up on carbon.  They might like the rainbow logo though which has been described by one sector-leading commentator as "Spiffing".

Write Green has 4 main recommendations for universities to recalibrate their carbon management plans:

  • Review your performance
  • Benchmark against peers and best practice
  • Identify areas for improvement
  • Upgrade to an integrated sustainability strategy

Good luck downloading the Report by the way, as it's not straightforward.  It's as if BG is keeping quiet about it.


Clear the Beaches

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Times carried a story the other day that the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had banned an anti-Fracking advert from Friends of the Earth (FoE) on the grounds that it was misleading.  The paper reported:

"Friends of the Earth (FoE) failed to substantiate claims that fracking could cause cancer, contaminate water supplies, increase asthma rates and send house prices plummeting, the Advertising Standards Authority says.  ...

The draft upholds the complaints against FoE on all four grounds, finding in each case that the group had breached the ASA’s code by making misleading statements that it had failed to substantiate.  The draft rejects FoE’s attempt to use evidence from the US to justify its claims about the threat to health and water supplies. It notes that there are differences between the way fracking is regulated in the US and UK, with the Environment Agency imposing strict controls here on chemicals used and the protection of water supplies."

FoE denies it all.  Apparently, however, one of the FoE claims was that fracking chemicals could cause cancer because they contain sand, which contains silica, “a known carcinogen”.

The trouble is, I think, that there are just not enough popular TV programmes about chemistry.  We clearly need more like Breaking Bad which, under the guise of drama and entertainment, sneaks in some decent chemistry teaching.  Meanwhile, just to be on the safe side (the precautionary p'ple, you know) we should, perhaps, be putting out the red flags and clearing beaches and sand pits everywhere.  You never know ...



As I write this, the first tanker of fracked gas arrives in Scotland for processing at Grangemouth, a plant which, in a different life, I once visited to research an article on Hydrocracking.  It is ok, it seems to import gas from a country with lax environmental standards, but not to produce it where such standards are amongst the highest in the world.  Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.


Energy Exchange graphics

📥  Comment, News and Updates

If you've ever found yourself wondering how much electricity Bulgaria exported in November 2015, and to where, and got no answers, your problems are over.  Just go here where fabulous graphs will answer this, and many another question about European energy transfers.  But be warned, do not do this is you are up against a deadline as you'll get into a lot of bother.

The answer is 1.1 TWh, and it went, unsurprisingly, perhaps, to Turkey, Serbia, Greece and Macedonia.  Never say this blog is not informative!


Countryside Didactics and the National Trust

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I wrote last week about the article by Simon Murray, the NT's Director of Everything, in the Autumn magazine, and promised to say some more about what he had to say about the "more difficult" countryside.

Well, he wrote this:

"The countryside is more difficult.  People get that immediate 'wow' from walking in places like the Lake District – there are green fields and sheep grazing or corn being cut – and they don't see the devastation of nature that these pastoral images can conceal."

Wow! indeed.  Someone should tell Murray that if visitors to the Lakeland fells ever encounter un-devastated nature (all bracken and rank grass), they won't thank him.  I imagine that it was this sort of egregious re-wilding nonsense that was behind the Trust's top dollar payment in Borrowdale to ensure that farming would stop on a large chunk of the valley.  To be fair, biodiversically speaking, it will prove to have been a great day for thistles.


What might be the shortest report in the world

📥  Comment, News and Updates

UCL's Development Education Research Centre (DERC) has been commissioned by UNESCO to prepare a briefing paper on Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship Education within the training of teachers.

It's looking for any examples around the world of initiatives that bring these themes into the training of teachers and any relevant literature or research.  The specific questions it has been asked to consider are:

  • What are common ways of preparing teachers in the areas of ESD and GCED?
  • What is the best methodology to monitor the GCED and ESD-related training of teachers, particularly at the level of ITE, from a comparative perspective? Have there been any attempts to compare the efforts of countries in including ESD and GCED in their teacher education curricula and practice? What obstacles need to be overcome to draw such comparisons at a global level?
  • What is the available evidence base on the extent to which GCED and ESD are included in ITE and materials in different countries, as well as CPD programmes? Using examples from at least ten countries in four different regions, what are the most emphasized GCED and ESD-related issues in teacher training?
  • What could be the best mechanisms to improve GCED and ESD-related teacher education?
  • What are the prospects (given the current situation and the available evidence) that systems will meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4.7 target in relation to teacher education by 2030?

If you are in a position to send any relevant material or wish to discuss these points, contact Doug Bourn , – by mid October.


My report would be: "First, change the nature of the training of teachers; only then think about all this."  I said it was short.


Didactics and the National Trust

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've been leafing through the NT's Autumn magazine and turned to the article by Simon Murray, the Senior Director of Everything with particular interest.  Actually Murray is only i/c Strategy, Curatorship, Visitor Experience, and External Affairs, but you do wonder what else there is for others to do.  Anyway, he's obviously a busy bloke, so we should be grateful that he's found the time to commit his thoughts to paper.  And what thoughts they are.  There's a big block of bold text in the middle of the article which runs:

The vision is for a programme that inspires you to take something from your visit that will make a difference."

This, it turns out, is not an encouragement of petty theft or grand larceny, both of which are routinely possible at NT houses.  Rather, it's all about learning outcomes which it seems are central to its new 10-year strategy (Playing our part).  Murray says: "We want to create experiences for our visitors that move, teach and inspire them."  I've a terrible thought that compulsory learning objectives cannot be far behind – and we'll probably encounter them in a tent strategically placed between the car park and the first raffle ticket sellers.

The purpose behind all this becomes clear as you read on.  It is to help the Trust address the "current crisis in the historic and the natural environment" through the Playing our part strategy so that visitors who've been taught, moved and inspired, will then go away and do something to make a difference to make the world a bit of a better place.

Having poked some fun at the earnestness of all this, I should say that I like the idea of helping people get more out of visits, and that more of us, and more frequently, should do something positive in the world, as far as we can.  I fear it will have to be handled gently, however, as quite a lot of visitors obviously go to NT properties for a nice day out and a cream tea.  But the Trust knows that.

I'll say more about what Murray writes about the countryside in another post, as this he says  "is more difficult."  Indeed it is!



My week

📥  Comment, News and Updates

A time to remember – A visit from an old friend and colleague from the Netherlands prompted thoughts about the 1980s when I believed the EU was a force for good, and teacher education the "priority of priorities".  No longer, of course.  We remembered visits to €eurocrats in Brussels, and a never-to-be-forgotten trip to Limerick to the Nth ATEE conference.  There, there was a limerick competition which we both duly entered only to find our entries censored.  It's still hard to see why; mine was a modest satire on the poor organisation of the event; his a delicate Lutheran skit on St Mary in whose immaculate college we were staying.  Humourless *******.

To Stourhead – for modest exercise and good conversation with more old friends, and a visual stimulus that's second to none if you like your landscapes to be of the managed 18th century sort.  I read that such Capability Brown-type gardens (this one's by Henry Hoare) are under attack by certain groups across the UK for their cultural uniformity and tendency to nostalgia.  I noted that the long-neglected overshot water wheel was now fixed.  And so it turned, but as it was not connected to anything, no useful work was done.

Meeting up with Johnny Voun – To have lived so long – 55 next birthday; but don't ask what number base that is expressed in – and not to have comes across Johnny Voun seems most remiss.  Johnny V is an English apple with deep crimson skin whose colour bleeds into the white flesh which is sweet with a slightly anise flavour and lovely aroma.  Somewhat like a Discovery, but denser and more subtle.  Say what you like about the National Trust – and who doesn't these days – they do know their apples.

Chinese visitors – It was good to meet Li Shan and Hu Sifan, from Mengla and Shenzhen, respectively, who are in the UK enquiring about environmental and sustainability education from the botanic garden perspective.  It was an engaging hour at the university with two articulate and perceptive people.

Life and Death in the afternoon – Perhaps a never to be repeated or forgotten incident was the dispute between three magpies and a sparrow hawk on the grass in front of my house.  We watched from 15 metres or so.  The hawk had taken a wood pigeon out of the sky and was trying to eat it, but the magpies were intend on having it instead.  But they were no match for the hawk and were too disorganised to get the better of it.  They had the last word, however, as when the hawk had had its fill, they disposed of what was left leaving only a few feathers.  There was only one metaphor on display here.

All plastic and no apples –  Where are English apples?  I've long given up on the Co-op having English apples as it's not part of their understanding of sustainable development, and sure enough the university's shop only had imports and fruit that had been stored for months.  I was surprised, however, to fine none in the lage Bath Sainsbury's store.  When the country is awash with the best apples in the world, where are they all?  Well, the chance is that, when they do turn up, they'll be wrapped in plastic as most apples seems to be these days.  Just when we'd been weaned off take away plastic bags, the supermarkets are still using tonnes of the stuff, mostly needlessly, I suspect to make life easier for themselves.

A carbon-neutral white van – Finally, to round off the week, we got a parcel via a cheery bloke in a big white van which (the parcel, that is) proclaimed itself to be carbon-neutral.  Anything is now possible, it seems.


Subjective well-being over the life course: evidence and policy implications

📥  Comment, Talks and Presentations

This the prolix title of an international conference in London on 12/13 December at the LSE.   It's asking:

  1. Why should governments care about people’s wellbeing, and
  2. How would policy change if raising wellbeing was the objective?

The conference blurb says:

Understanding how people experience and feel about their lives provides valuable information for policy-makers.  But for public policy to improve people’s subjective well-being, we need a good understanding of what drives it.  This two-day conference will examine the latest evidence from UK and international research on the determinants of subjective well-being over the life course, and what this might mean for policy-making.

The conference will report the first results from a collaboration between the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, the CEPREMAP Wellbeing Observatory at the Paris School of Economics, and the OECD, and an international consortium of researchers.  There will be ...

  • Keynote addresses from Lord Gus O’Donnell, Jeffrey Sachs, Mari Kiviniemi, John Helliwell, and Alan Krueger
  • High-level panel discussions on well-being and policy
  • The launch of a new Wellbeing Society

I think I know the answer to the first question as this was a key issue at a seminar I went to at the Treasury some years ago.  This was also graced by the presence of Gus O'Donnell who made a nice joke about a £50 note and wore the most magnificent white shirt I have ever seen.  He probably said interesting things but I was too dazzled by the shirt to notice.

And the answer?

Simples really, the Treasury thinks that more wellbeing would mean a higher GDP.


A triumph for NUS and Jamie Agombar

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Well done to the NUS sustainability team for scooping a whopping global ESD Prize.  They'll be off to Paris in October, to UNESCO Central Command, and three days of launching and lunching in that special French way.

There are three winners of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) this year:

  • The Centre for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD-Cameroon)
  • Okayama ESD Promotion Commission
  • NUS

The Prize was established in 2014 to "honour and showcase outstanding ESD projects and programmes of individuals, institutions and organizations within the framework of the Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP)".  The Prize is funded by the Government of Japan and endowed with USD 50,000 for each laureate.

NUS, ably led by Jamie Agombar, won the global ESD prize for its Green Impact programme and was nominated by the UK Government c/o the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO.  UNESCO says:

"NUS-UK, a confederation of 600 students’ unions across the United Kingdom, was selected for its “Green Impact” programme, which accredits and awards university departments for sustainability efforts. Training students as mentors, the programme encourages university staff to make their workplace “greener” while generating economic savings. The Green Impact framework ranges from simple actions such as advice on double sided printing to setting up an ethical credit union. Through peer to peer engagement, the programme creates collaboration across departments and institutions."

Although NUS has been widely congratulated for its achievements from within the UK, surely there are more than a few ladies and gentlemen now abed in England who'll be thinking themselves acursed they'll not be going to Paris in NUS's stead.

I'm not one of them.  Although I rather deplore the size of the prize, I can think of no worthier UK winner.



What might Brexit mean for the environment?

📥  Comment, New Publications

In a new study, Charlotte Burns, Andrew Jordan and Viviane Gravey, explore what Brexit might come to mean for UK environmental policies and governance processes by comparing two scenarios: a ‘soft’ and a ‘hard’ Brexit.

A ‘soft’ Brexit would see the UK remain as close as possible to the EU, establishing a new relationship akin to Norway’s current relationship, whilst a ‘hard’ Brexit would see the UK trade with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules.  The authors say that the two scenarios generate radically different impacts on policies, systems of governance and levels of environmental quality in the UK – key issues that should inform forthcoming negotiations to effect Brexit.

This is the authors' Introduction:

On 23rd June 2016 the UK held a referendum to decide its future relationship with the European Union. The electorate was asked if it wanted to remain or leave the EU and voted by a margin of 4% in favour of leaving (52% Leave vs 48% Remain).  The implications for the UK’s environmental policy sector are potentially very far-reaching. The EU is well-known for its economic activities – its Single Market, customs union and currency. Yet its environmental policies, which have quietly accumulated since the early 1970s, address every aspect of environmental protection from air and water pollution, through to land-use planning and climate change. Together, they constitute one of the most comprehensive bodies of environmental protection law in existence anywhere in the world today. Yet the environment was barely mentioned in the referendum campaign and there is still very limited understanding of how the vote to leave will impact on this policy sector.  This report updates a detailed review of the academic evidence on how EU membership has influenced UK policies, systems of decision making and environmental quality that was produced to inform the debates leading up to the referendum (Burns et al. 2016). Our earlier work explored the possible effects of a vote either to remain or leave the EU, but now the result is clear, the demand for impartial, expert analysis of its environmental repercussions is even more important.  Will environmental standards rise or fall? Who will make significant decisions outside the EU? And what are the environmental effects likely to be? This report cuts through the technical complexity and the uncertainty associated with the UK’s withdrawal from the EU by addressing these and other salient questions. It does so by transparently exploring the risks and opportunities that arise in two main scenarios:

  • The UK becomes a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) (the ‘Soft Brexit’ option)
  • The UK negotiates free trade deals with the EU and other trading partners (the ‘Hard Brexit’ option)

There are infinitely more scenarios that could be considered, but these two capture the most critical choices, risks and opportunities. We hope that by presenting the evidence in this way, this report will give voters a much fuller insight into what will be at stake once the UK government formally initiates its withdrawal from the EU.

As the authors note, each option means different future policy choices for environmental policy which will impact on UK law and policy, on governance and, eventually, on levels of environmental quality that are currently enjoyed by UK citizens.  That is undoubtedly the case.

I was surprised, however, about how little attention was paid to the CAP, and surely the following conclusion is open to question:

"It seems likely from an environmental perspective that the farming lobby will oppose most greening measures and will seek to roll back policies on habitat and bird protection, and on nitrates, which are seen as expensive."

The cynic in me says that this is entirely dependent on the amount of non-farming payments that are on offer to farmers, especially NFU members.  The more hopeful me says that there is more to this than cynicism and that at least some farmer and wildlife organisations will welcome the chance to work together to a common end.

We shall see; but what an opportunity.