The expert panel
John Bailey: Environmental manager at the University of London
Robert Meakin: Senior EMEA marketing manager at Sony
James Hsu:Director EMEA operations, Vivitek Corporation
Amy Edwards: Energy director at Energy for Education (E4E)
Does the education sector have a duty to ‘go green’?
John Bailey: Absolutely, the sector has a duty to ‘go green’ for a number of good reasons. Universities are centres of excellence for teaching, research and the place for new ideas to be tested and good ideas to be championed. Universities should be pushing the boundaries in research and teaching surrounding sustainability and hand in hand they should be implementing the best ideas in their estates. There are 170,000 students in the University of London community, many of whom will become leaders of businesses, public sector organisations and governments – if we can influence these students so they leave the university understanding sustainability and the challenges we have globally then we can be positive about the future and how our students will make their mark on the world.
Aside from that reason, which is probably unique to the education sector, we have all the other reasons for going green that make good business sense. Initiatives that reduce carbon emissions and cut waste will inevitably make the business more efficient, reduce costs and ultimately improve the university as a place to study, live and work. Doing nothing would be shirking our duties to our staff, students, funders and ultimately the environment as well.
Robert Meakin: Whilst there is no ‘duty’ as such for the education sector to make a full commitment to sustainability, education institutions are under increased pressure to prove their environmental credentials. Their greater and more important obligation is to teach, and offer the students the most engaging and effective education experience possible, but having said that, this often goes hand in hand with sourcing the latest and best practices/tools to do so. Ultimately if there are multiple solutions meeting the needs of the customer, it is wise and forward-looking to invest in the most ‘green’ solution.
James Hsu: You can’t just educate how to ‘go green’ if you don’t lead by example. The education sector should be showing their pupils how to be conscious of the environment and how our choices can impact our planet and eco system.
Amy Edwards: Absolutely. The only way to combat climate change is to alter our own habits and attitudes, and that should be instilled in children from a young age. Schools have a vital role to play; they have the opportunity to produce a generation of responsible energy users, who view energy as a valuable resource, not a disposable commodity. The teachings of a green school impacts at home and in the community, it should be one of the easiest initiatives to embrace but have the greatest impact on students’ lives and the world around them. Done properly, going green should save schools money.
Are technological advances helping or hindering the sector from becoming sustainable?
JB: Technological advances are hugely important in helping the sector become more sustainable. That said, there are interesting developments, particularly in the field of IT, that could lead to far more sustainable operations. The University of London has a large data centre that uses a huge amount of energy to keep cool, however, in the coming years I would expect we will see new cooling technologies becoming widely available at more attractive prices. We have visited a company based in Yorkshire which is developing liquid cooled servers, which could potentially cool your IT at the fraction of the cost of air cooling and potentially heat your building in the winter with the warm water as an output. It is this sort of joined-up thinking between services that will become more popular in the future and continue to push the sector towards being more environmentally sustainable.
JH: There are always pros and cons to using new technology, but if technology is implemented wisely and durable investments are made, technology can indeed assist in making the sector sustainable. The use of paper for hand-outs can be reduced by teaching via interactive projectors; tablets could replace or reduce the needs for books; just some small examples of technology that is already frequently implemented. Moreover, the distribution of digital content is quicker, more reliable and less expensive, and doesn’t depend on transportation/logistics, which is an advantage in large countries.
AE: Technology has opened up endless opportunities for the education sector to become both more sustainable and self-sufficient. It is allowing us to create new and cheaper ways of producing power, as well as finding ways to use less power. Although technology is a significant consumer of power, it is only power from fossil fuels which is unsustainable – the alternatives are there to explore and technology is helping us do so.
How can we use technology to go green?
JB: There is really obvious technology that is available to us. LED lighting is now of a good enough standard to be used in all areas of the estate, modern boilers, building management systems and metering software means that we now have much greater control over what the estate uses and gives us good opportunities to make savings and efficiencies. On top of that the advances in communications can do so much for sustainability, good ideas can spread faster than ever before and we can link with people from all over the world but equally we can communicate on a local level much more effectively.
RM: The green technology market is rapidly evolving, particularly in the education sector, where decision makers are under pressure to not only keep within strict budgets, but also lead by example with energy-efficiency. Technologies like video conferencing have long been solutions of choice for those looking to minimise business travel, and – in turn – their carbon footprint.
Technology can only go so far in driving a green future, as ultimately this requires buy-in and commitment from the heart of the organisation, as well as a behaviour shift towards more environmentally sound practices. Yet utilising the most eco-friendly products is one important step in the right direction that can have a positive impact on reducing environmental impact.
JH: There are many examples – technology can help us ensure that all the lights are switched off to save energy if no one is in the classroom, changing the light bulbs to new LED lighting will reduce pollution, implementing solar energy systems on the school rooftop will create green energy even starting off with very simple things in how we run our schools can have a significant impact.
AE: Technology provides the chance to engage and connect with what is happening. It gives us the real-time information we need and explains it in a way everyone can understand. Whether it’s lighting timer switches, climate control sensors, remotely controlled ICT systems, video conferencing or solar panels – the data we collect thanks to technology can help every school plan its energy needs more effectively and efficiently.
Does more need to be done to educate children on environmental issues?
JB: I think more needs to be done in educating everyone on environmental issues – especially some of the political leaders we currently have. The problem we have with educating people in the environmental challenges is that it can appear so daunting – we need the people that are doing the teaching to demonstrate how change and progress will lead to a better, more efficient world in the future. It is important to understand the consequences of doing nothing but it is equally, if not more, important to show what can be done to address those issues.
JH: For kids growing up today it is very easy to get inundated in the digital world. Although some attention is given to
the environmental issues in the classroom, there could be more attention given to simply ‘enjoying’ nature and spending more time outside to learn about our ecosystem in an experiential way.
AE: I’d like to see environmental education as part of the national curriculum. Educating the current generation is the only long-term solution to creating a sustainable global environment. It’s a fantastic opportunity for cross-curricular project work – science, maths, technology – energy and the environment covers so many of the core subjects. Schools should be investing in a creative and integrated curriculum, using their own energy efficiency projects and actual data in the classroom. As a co-operative, up to half of our profits will be invested into educational resources to help schools promote energy awareness and that’s something we’re really excited about.