Students Staff
University of Essex

February 16, 2018

Our commitment to the planet and its resources

Our Sustainability Sub Strategy sets out our targets for building a greener, cleaner University. Here our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty tells us more about the work he’s doing to ensure we continue to live up to our commitment to the planet and its natural resources.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jules Pretty.

At the beginning of 2017, the University’s Council approved our Sustainability Sub-Strategy. Through this we made clear our commitment to acting responsibly and positively with respect to the planet and its natural resources. These are under threat: almost all evidence points towards the insidious effects of climate change. Before the industrial revolution, the atmosphere contained 280 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide: 350 ppm is taken to be a safe place for humanity, today levels have passed 400 ppm and are rising at about 2ppm each year. At this rate, we will see 450 ppm by mid-century.

The UK government signed into law in 2008 the Climate Change Act, still a remarkable piece of legislation. It commits us as a country to 80% reductions by 2050 in carbon emissions from a 1990 baseline. This might just save the planet, if everyone did this. Our role as a University is thus to act responsibly and show leadership: it can be done.

Here is a top ten for our recent actions and outcomes in relation to sustainability:

  1. We are committed to reducing our contribution to carbon in the atmosphere: from 2012-13 to 2016-17, our annual carbon emissions fell from 18,850 tonnes to 14,100 tonnes. Emissions per unit area fell from 0.08 to 0.05 tonnes per square metre, and halved per student, from 1.8 to 0.9 tonnes per person.
  2. When the Innovation Centre is complete, we will have a total of 1700 solar PV panels generating about 430 MWh per year. As a registered power station, we are thus feeding into the National Grid. Solar panels are now installed on the Essex Business School, Health and Social Care and Computer Science and Electronic Engineering buildings, the Albert Sloman Library, the new Essex Sport Arena, the STEM building, the Parkside offices, and the Corbett Theatre in Loughton.
  3. Our energy savings and generation has brought a financial benefit to us: if these had remained at 2012 levels, we would be spending £800k more a year on energy.
  4. There are now 35 Green Impact teams across University Departments, Sections and the Students’ Union. Six were awarded Gold in 2016-17, and in one year the 138 active participants completed 1145 actions.
  5. The Colchester campus was awarded a prestigious Green Flag for the quality of the grounds and natural environment. The judges praised the campus for being “one of the best sites for environmental principles.” We have installed 10 swift nest boxes on the roof of the Albert Sloman Library, with sounder to broadcast song to attract them in, and hope to see swifts flying around the buildings and lake this spring and summer, each harvesting 100,000 insects daily.
  6. All new vehicles owned and used by Estates Management Section will be electric vehicles (except where specialist use prevents use of EVs or hybrids).
  7. We have installed 41 plumbed-in water coolers across the three campuses so as to replace water bottle units, thus reducing our use of plastic and the transport of large bottled water to campuses by vehicle.
  8. We replaced 12 boilers in 16-17, increasing our energy efficiency by 15%, and have replaced roof insulation wherever refurbishment has been undertaken.
  9. Total waste production from the University has fallen 19% from 1450 tonnes in 2012-13 to 1176 tonnes in 2016-17. The No Waste Graduation programme raised £42,000 for the British Heart Foundation. We are also trialling a new furniture re-use online tool, Warp-it.
  10. We have amended the approach to how we invest our financial reserves, extending the existing restrictions on investments in tobacco and armaments also to cover fossil fuel extraction.

Every little helps. Here are four actions each of us could do to help the university become more sustainable:

  • To save carbon: switch off lights and power down computers or other energy hungry equipment whenever you can;
  • To enjoy nature and the outdoors: arrange a walking meeting once a month, or just go for regular walks;
  • To ensure waste is recycled: ensure recyclable waste is put in the right bins;
  • To build a community of practice: join the Green Impact team in your department or section.

And much more, if you feel inclined!

Professor Jules Pretty

Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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