How green is your university?

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by Dr Catherine Armstrong

It is important for jobseekers to be aware of the latest concerns within the higher education sector. One of the most important issues at the moment is environmental sustainability. Universities are realising the significance of acting more responsibly. What impact could that have on the sector?

HEFCE, the UK universities’ funding body, launched its Environmental Performance Improvement Project in 2004 and has been giving the institutions that are the most innovative in this field its coveted ‘green gown’ awards.

The categories that institutions are judged on include carbon emissions, green ICT and research. This recognises that universities have a duty to lead research into sustainability and to act as examples of how to behave with environmental awareness. Universities such as Warwick and Loughborough are leading the way in researching fuel, power supplies and transport technologies to change production and operation methods in the future.


The new University of Warwick Digital Laboratory is a good example of innovation in the higher education sector. The latest green technology has been used to build a collaborative, interdisciplinary workplace. This building represents the future of university developments:

• The roof will be a green roof covered in living sedum . This will slow down the rate of water run off in storm conditions and provide additional insulation and protection to the waterproof roof membrane as well as adding to the local ecology.

• Ventilation has been designed to be as energy efficient as possible utilising natural ventilation through out the building. This has developed into a totally open space.

• Constant ground temperatures are being utilised to regulate air temperatures.

• Lighting has been designed to be low maintenance and programmable from a central point. This allows adaptability and total control of lighting throughout the building.

• Under-floor heating will be used for background heating

• The thermal mass of the building is designed to be an integral part of the heating strategy.

Among other examples of innovation in universities, the University of Liverpool has used the latest green building expertise for their £14 million energy centre and the student residences at Lancaster University were constructed using sustainable timber and energy saving technologies.

Green ICT

Green ICT developments are also an important part of the sector’s move towards sustainability. ICT is increasingly central to higher education, but what are the ‘green’ implications? ICT systems need large amounts of power, achieved with ever increasing carbon emissions. The disposal of outdated ICT equipment is another area of controversy. Universities are now being encouraged to recycle and reuse their old equipment rather than simply dumping it when it becomes obsolete. The Joint Information Services Committee (JISC) produced a policy document in 2009 that outlines their recommendations for a greener ICT. See the full report here: Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education.

Other ‘green’ projects

On a smaller scale, many universities are leading the way in developing mixed recycling schemes for their student residences and offices. Where previously a single bin stood, a complex array of cloth, paper, can and plastic recycling facilities now exist.

Students are also becoming more environmentally aware. In 2010, the nationwide ‘Go Green week’ was launched, which involves a series of initiatives and workshops around the country highlighting the ways that the individual can reduce their impact on the world around them. Discussions will take place on the Copenhagen agreement, on practical ways of changing your lifestyle and also on how to tailor activism to green causes.

Transport is a big issue for university students and staff, and both are being encouraged to abandon the car in favour of greener modes of transport. For a campus institution (as opposed to one based in a city centre) this is especially challenging. While initiatives to promote the use of buses, trains and bicycles are very worthy, an increasing number of staff members are facing long commutes and heavy car parking charges and feel that they are being forced to pay more with no viable alternative. Innovative car share schemes seem to be a way round this dilemma. These schemes are run either by the universities themselves or in conjunction with their local region. A university also owns a lot of vehicles, so moving over to electric transport is a good way of reducing emissions.

The issue of biodiversity is also vital. Gardeners and estates workers are no longer simply responsible for ensuring campuses and university parks are kept tidy and manicured. The institutions also have a responsibility to encourage bird, animal, insect and plant life to flourish. Campuses lucky enough to have woodland, hedgerows and tenant farmers on their land are at the forefront of these developments.



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