Environmental policies writ large on campuses

March 24, 2000

Energy efficiency is good for the environment and business, writes Camille Lane

Grazing sheep may seem a strange departure for a university campus, but it is part of Sussex University's active environmental policy. In a programme to restore a downland area of campus, a flock of 30 sheep was introduced. "We are also introducing student allotments and encouraging cyclists as part of our environmental grounds policy," says Tony Middleton, director of estates at the university.

One of the first campuses to be environmentally audited by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in the late 1990s, Sussex has been enhancing the environment and increasing efficiency on campus through numerous initiatives ever since.

Although environmental policy is not a new idea, green issues are edging their way up the higher education agenda to attract funds, students and research. Campuses across the country are now starting to reap benefits from the earlier environmental pioneers and advances in technology in the day-to-day running of estates.

The University of Northumbria at Newcastle began the Northumbria Solar Project in the early 1990s. This involved the refurbishment of the south facade of one of its buildings with photovoltaic panels.

Built as both a scientific research project and a working building, the project benefited from research funding from sponsors such as the Department of Trade and Industry and Northern Electric. At the time, it would have been difficult for the technology to pay its way; however, the project has emphasised the university's commitment to alternative sustainable energy research and led to other photovoltaic projects.

"Technology is improving all the time," says Colin Jackson, estates director at the University of Northumbria." He points out that in countries such as Germany, governments now give incentives for the use of alternative energy sources, which make them a viable business plan option.

Northumbria is continuing the practical application of environmental policy in the development of its new campus at Coach Lane, which has been designed by architects RMJM to achieve optimum energy usage. "By using special engineering techniques, we can use the thermal properties of the building itself to control internal temperature fluctuations," explains Mr Jackson. Solar overheating during summer is limited by specially coated double-glazing and minimising the amount of glazing used in the structure. The buildings make maximum use of natural ventilation.

At Leeds Metropolitan University, there is a campus-wide programme to minimise energy waste. The university is about to open what it calls "one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the UK". The new Pounds 20 million Learning Centre and Campus Gateway has been designed for low levels of energy consumption and low carbon emission.

Trevor Hudson, estates director at Leeds Metropolitan, says of the project:

"It is a major development for the university, and we wanted to reflect our growing interest and involvement in environmental issues. It is also practical in terms of running costs."

Mr Hudson ensured that performance criteria and possible energy-saving solutions had been thrashed out before being incorporated into the design of the new building. "Our project team selected annual energy targets of 120kW per square metre, which is pretty ambitious. This had to be applied to the initial brief for the building," he says.

Architects for the Leeds project, Bowman Riley Partnership, also incorporated an existing redundant building into the learning centre, which at 25 per cent of the total space occupied by the scheme, has had to be brought up to the environmental standards of the new building.

The external envelope of the 10,000m2 centre is constructed from thermal-efficient aluminium and glass curtain walling, and an acrylic resin-based render with high-insulating properties.

Special acoustic isolation measures have also been taken to prevent transmission of noise from the nearby student union to the learning centre and to minimise noise pollution from the surrounding environment.

As with Northumbria, specialist glass and insulation is used for the centre to minimise solar gain in summer and heat loss in winter. Other features include controlled lighting systems and automatic light dimming.

All the physical elements of green building design and ground policies can work together to create a stimulating environment in which to learn.

Commitment to green issues on campus does more than that, however - it can cut running costs, advance technology and learning and promote the awareness of efficiency issues among staff and students. Implementing environmental efficiency is therefore anything but green; it makes excellent business sense.

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