Many universities have started programmes urging staff to save energy, use less paper, and recycle. It’s a great idea—but what actually works? Here are 10 ways that HE colleagues elsewhere have conserved resources and departmental funds.
1. Use your purchasing power.
Talk to suppliers of products frequently bought in bulk (printer supplies, for example) about any packaging that can’t currently be recycled. As a large customer, your enquiry may spark alternatives.
2. Cut unnecessary paperwork.
This is something we can all agree on—the “paperless office” has not yet materialised. Examine your desk to see what processes are generating unnecessary waste, and ask the ICT boffins how these might be turned digital.
3. Cut carbon emissions by thinking campuswide.
The University of Brighton is halfway through its ambitious programme to reduce its CO2 footprint by half—with a potential savings of £3 million. For example, it’s made big changes to the university’s vehicle types and usage, and targeted Halls for updates like more efficient lighting.
4. Meet online.
Online videoconferencing services like Skype are more energy-efficient than driving cross-country just to meet for two hours. They can allow out-of-town guests to virtually participate in meetings and conferences on campus as well as facilitating one-to-one conversations, including student tutorials.
5. Consider new energy technologies.
Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems generate electricity while they deliver heat, CHP is just one of many sensible new technologies, including cheaper, more efficient solar and wind power generation systems, that should be mandated for new buildings and major retrofits.
6. Recycle computer kit.
“Outdated” computers represent massive amounts of energy used to build them, and can contain hazardous materials. Keep them out of landfills by reselling, or donate them to a local project or hackerspace.
7. Encourage reuse campaigns.
Queen Mary University in London is preventing end-of-year rubbish mounds by facilitating student swaps. What another student can’t use, can be sent to homeless hostels and other charities.
8. Turn lawns into food.
Expanses of green grass are pretty, but cost huge amounts of labour, pesticides and petrol to maintain. Innovative projects have turned lawns and other outdoor areas into productive green space: for example, the permaculture project at University of Massachusetts Amherst turned a grass monoculture into over 200 diverse edible species, resulting in 4500 pounds of local, organic fruit and veg on student and staff plates.
9. Divert waste into production.
Imagine the sheer volume of coffee grounds produced every day on your campus. Then imagine what would happen if they could be used as a mushroom-growing medium, with the results ending up in delicious mushroom risotto in the canteen? It works—creating more closed cycles where “waste” becomes part of future production is a smart strategy.
10. Consider composting.
This is one of the obvious ways to make waste productive, but of course organic waste needs to be dealt with quickly. Ohio University in the US turns food waste discarded at dining halls into rich compost that’s then used by the university landscaping department.