Sustainability in a changing world

As exciting as sustainability can be, some of the most forward-thinking initiatives come from the 'greening of the curriculum'

By Gloria Moss

“As an institution, sustainability has been very important,” says Florin Ioras, Professor of Conservation, Sustainability and Innovation. “Apart from policies on the physical aspect of activities – biodiversity, carbon footprint, energy consumption, and waste management – the University is introducing new courses that will emphasise the importance of sustainability and get this message out to the outside world.” So, the University can be a microcosm of good organisational practice but can also diffuse thinking to a wider macrocosm of people and organisations. What does this all look like in practice?

Prof Ioras sketches out the key elements in the University’s sustainability policies. A target of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2020, against a 2005/2006 baseline of 6,975 tonnes, is well underway, with a 43% reduction already achieved by 2014. Where waste management is concerned, a target of overall waste reduction and increased recycling has already seen the University move to a position where it is recycling 55% of its waste.

I should know since separate bins for paper and non-paper waste magically appeared in my office!

Some of the simplest and most effective initiatives have been in the reduction of energy consumption. The University’s two campuses, for example, separated by no more than 15 miles, are now connected by two electric vans ferrying post and maintenance people between the two sites. “Each van generates a reduction in carbon equivalent to 1.1 tonnes per year compared to a normal van,” says Prof Ioras, “so investment in electric vehicles can quickly create a sustainable return.” Within the University itself, in 2011 its high-specification building management system enabled it to achieve the ‘Carbon Trust Standard’ (CTS), which monitors the volume of carbon emissions produced by the University. The reductions in carbon emissions achieved by the University meant it was reaccredited with the CTS in 2013. This meant it joined an elite group of just 27 out of over 150 higher education in the UK with the accreditation.

The University’s use of solar panels has also produced tangible results, with 46,000 kilowatts of electricity supplied by solar energy, producing a saving of 11 tonnes of carbon per year. A switch to a policy of only buying in green energy has achieved further macrocosmic changes.

The University can also partner with local organisations to achieve further tangible results. It has, for example, set up one acre of land near Wycombe Hospital as a biodiversity reserve, with wild plants such as Poppies, Corn Marigolds, and Field Scabious that are native to the area. Prof Ioras himself works regularly with local organisations – many of them household names – to enhance their sustainability objectives. For example, he has assisted Pinewood Studios on a feasibility study for installation of solar panels on its studio roofs for heating the massive water tank that can be used in films – Pirates of the Caribbean was a case in point – for scenes involving big stretches of water. He has also advised Aylesbury-based HM Spring Hill Prison on a rainwater collection system.

As exciting as the physical sides of sustainability can be, some of the most forward-thinking initiatives come from the ‘greening of the curriculum’, as Prof Ioras put it. A Fashion Design degree has been launched by Bucks New University in which students study the way garments and materials are produced and the environmental impact of these processes. September 2014 sees the launch of an Event and Festivals Sustainability Management degree following consultation with the event and festival industry. With the growing focus on finding greener approaches to every aspect of festivals and live events, this course is key to developing advancements at home and throughout the world. Action learning will see students work on live projects such as A Greener Festival, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, Notting Hill Carnival and Glastonbury.

Closer to home, Prof Ioras’ own story is one of sustainability since he joined Bucks New University as a PhD research student and has worked extensively for it ever since on projects nationally and internationally. This shows how talent grown and nurtured within an institution can transform organisations both nationally and internationally.

Gloria Moss is Professor of Management and Marketing at Buckinghamshire New University. She has a new book ‘Why men like straight lines and women like polka dots’ coming out at the end of November.