Green for go

They say great minds think alike but, for HE, great minds are thinking green, writes Simon Fry

Today’s students, raised by parents who grew up watching Jonathon Porritt on Saturday morning children’s television, are more environmentally aware than ever. The universities they attend understand this, offering them chances to put their awareness into action in innovative ways, from making fair trade chocolates to clothing African orphans and ensuring insects have suitable habitats.

Students attending Freshers’ Week at London South Bank University (LSBU) this autumn can look forward to a programme of sustainability activities and a Sustainability Fortnight in spring 2018, following on from similar initiatives in the educational year just ended. Indeed, elements of both are ongoing at the University, with a gardening club and guided health walks designed to explore Southwark’s many green spaces proof of the enduring appeal of environmental engagement.

James Whittingham, LSBU sustainability manager and team presided over a feast of fun – including an unsurprisingly popular truffle-making workshop – at this year’s fortnight, which ran from 20 February to 3 March.

The team organised and delivered over 20 events, activities and workshops plus a daily ‘roadshow’ on each of the 10 business days across both Southwark and Havering campuses. Some excellent discussions took place, as was reflected in some of the sustainability pledges made. More than 100 staff and students had structured conversations with the sustainability team during the roadshows – the team felt this was the best set of conversations to date at events like this on campus.

The engagement during the fortnight focused on growing Facebook likes/follows as well as downloads of the Elephant Application – an app developed by a student with support from the team. The size of the following/likes and downloads doubled in size and now stands at around 200 for Facebook. LSBU was informed at the end of the fortnight it also had successfully recertified to FairTrade – a great achievement.

Recycling – when possible – comes naturally to students, according to Matt White, The University Caterers’ Organisation (TUCO) chair and The University of Reading’s director of catering, hotel and conference services. “Waste has emerged as one of the defining sustainability issues of our modern food system. In a bid to tackle this growing issue, costing the education sector an average of £250m annually, TUCO members have implemented a range of innovative food waste reduction initiatives encouraging staff and students to act sustainably.

‘The University of Manchester’s award-winning food waste reduction scheme follows the results of a ‘catered’ students’ survey establishing 88% of catered students would use leftovers recycling facilities if made readily available. Consequently, the University introduced a food waste-only recycling system, treating waste and using it to produce gas for energy and crop fertiliser. The catering department saw a reduction in average weekly waste of 27% after removing canteen trays and giving students the choice between a variety of portion sizes.”

Additionally, the University of Wolverhampton has introduced an organic waste logistics system as part of its drive to prevent food waste being sent to landfill. Staff have seen an improvement in hygiene levels as rubbish is no longer left to collect throughout the week but sent to an anaerobic digestion plant where it is converted into energy and organic fertiliser.

Recycling – when possible – comes naturally to students

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has just celebrated the awards for 2016/17 Green Impact. This saw staff members from across the University meet sustainable criteria within an online workbook, with the overall aim of making their workplace more sustainable. Teams worked hard throughout the year to reach their Bronze, Silver and Gold awards. Some departments took on projects and focused on particular areas of interest such as minimising food waste, encouraging building users to recycle, promoting donations to food banks as well as collecting unwanted clothes and sending them on to orphanages in Africa.

Students have been getting sustainable too, sending in pictures of the environment they study in via social media, using the hashtag #NaturalTrent. The final winner was chosen by students and received a £50 shopping voucher.

In addition students have been putting forward their ideas to help the environment at NTU, with applications for the Green Leaders competition included teams wanting to reuse and recycle scrap fabric, a bench made from recycled plastic for the University’s Greening the City scheme and plans to introduce insect hotels along the nature walk on one of the University’s four campuses.

This summer NTU has also opened an outdoor classroom to encourage staff and students to make the most of the outdoors. The scrapping of surplus assets is financially wasteful and can be a massive reputational risk in the current economic climate, but peek into any skip on any estate across the public sector and you may see reusable assets being thrown away.

While working as a waste manager in the university sector in 2011, Daniel O’Connor observed this issue time and again. He said: “Estates and procurement managers do not like waste, and nothing frustrates them more than seeing equipment go to waste as a result of departmental ups and downs or the opening of a new building. To solve this issue, assets need to be matched with new users for their second life before they need to be disposed of – either within the organisation or beyond.”

Daniel set about creating a system matching needs and wants in real time and in the future, meaning if you are clearing a building in September… all of the assets can find new homes before the vacancy date arrives. His system is used by about 50% of universities in the UK and members have already saved nearly £10m by sharing resources such as furniture and other equipment through the Warp It online scheme.

The savings are great but there are other significant benefits include 4.5 million kilogrammes of carbon and 1.5 million kilogrammes of waste avoided, as well as £1.3m value of assets donated to charity!

University customers include the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Newcastle, Nottingham, City of London, UCL and UEA. “Universities have a fantastic opportunity to make a difference through reuse – the University of Glasgow has been saving over £8,000 per month, while University College London has made total savings of £311,715. The university sector as a whole has donated over £500,000 to charity, and traded a similar value in equipment between universities.”

Award-winning Better World Books is committed to providing literacy opportunities to people around the world and to keeping books out of landfill. As a global bookseller Better World Books collects and sells books online, raising funds for literacy with every sale. Any books that cannot be sold are donated or recycled; none go to landfill.

In May, Better World Books launched a new partnership with the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EUAC), the environmental and sustainability champion within further and higher education in the UK. They will work together to locate book banks at university and college campuses across the UK. These book banks will provide students, staff and the wider community with a convenient and easy way to donate books, driving sustainability and book re-use. Funds raised by the sales of these books will support the EAUC’s mission.

Since opening in late 2008, Better World Books has raised over £2.6m for literacy and libraries, reused or recycled more than 31 million books and donated 450,000 books. They have been successfully operating book banks across Scotland since 2013 including 13 in Fife that have collected almost a million books.

Sustainability many not be a new issue, but universities, their students and staff continue to come up with new methods of operating environmentally, thanks to a consistent crop of good ideas. Great minds think alike – great minds think green!


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