Most of us live, work and study in noisy environments and rarely get to experience silent bliss. According to the World Health Organisation, however, excessive noise is bad for our health, stress levels and concentration. Indeed, some studies link noise to decreased performance in the classroom, with high noise levels potentially preventing students from hearing up to 50 per cent of what is taught. Quiet learning environments are of benefit to all students, but most importantly to students with a hearing disability, as loud background noise makes it harder to hear people clearly.
The advantages of quiet learning led Cardiff University to pilot an awareness campaign earlier this year to help reduce noise and disruption, especially in the run-up to exams. Coinciding with the summer exam period, posters were displayed prominently in the university’s libraries, encouraging students to report excessive noise or disruption anonymously.
Sound does not only arise from lecture theatres and seminar rooms – which can include noise from teaching equipment such as computers, projectors and so on. An intrusive din can also come from a range of environmental sounds, including traffic, industrial noise, heating and ventilation systems and washroom apparatus.
Any programme to reduce noise within universities is only likely to be effective if the institution has a positive purchasing policy which takes noise into account when selecting electrical equipment. This should cover a wide variety of products and areas within the university, including hallways, lecture theatres and seminar rooms, libraries, heating and ventilation systems and washroom hand dryers. Consider equipment which has been awarded the Quiet Mark, an international mark of excellence awarded by the UK Noise Abatement Society.
At the same time, European Union targets are in place to reduce carbon emissions and The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), GuildHE and Universities UK have published sector-specific targets in ‘Carbon reduction target and strategy for higher education in England’ (HEFCE 2010/01). Institutions are required to develop individual carbon management plans and to report on progress and the results achieved. Financial incentives, such as capital allocations from HEFCE, are linked to carbon reduction.
Energy-efficient technology and materials should be installed, where possible, on all new-build and refurbishment projects (e.g. presence-detecting lights and lighting controls, energy-efficient hand dryers etc).
Using hand dryers as an example, low-wattage models, with only 1,000 watts, are now available. Of course, the power rating of a dryer is only half the story. In order to calculate the carbon emissions consumed during hand drying, you need to consider not only the wattage of the dryer, but also the approximate time the dryer takes to dry hands, as the longer it’s in use, the higher the carbon emissions. In essence, a combination of low wattage and high speed ensures a low carbon footprint.
Universities are producing comprehensive carbon reduction plans and reporting back on their progress. York University, for instance, has compiled a detailed carbon management plan from 2011-2020. In the foreword to the plan the Vice-Chancellor states: “Climate change is widely accepted as one of the greatest threats facing the world today. The University of York is committed to sustainable development and good carbon management.”
Bearing noise and reduced carbon emissions in mind when purchasing equipment and designing or refurbishing university buildings should ensure students have a smooth passage to the best possible education in a sustainable environment.