The green teams are coming to your town

March 31, 1995

Institutions are increasingly concerned with their environmental impact. Peter de la Cour explains. The environmental importance of the higher education sector is put in perspective by the following comparison. There are about 1.9 million people (including part-time students and all categories of staff) working in the higher education sector which comprises some 200 institutions. This is roughly equivalent to the combined populations of Birmingham, Bradford and Liverpool.

For several reasons, this is not an exact comparison. But it does show, that if we are considering the environmental impact of higher education in terms of carbon-dioxide emissions, the amount of fossil fuel consumed, quantity of waste generated etc, then we are talking about a very substantial ecological "footprint".

Higher education can reduce its environmental impact in a number of ways. New building programmes provide an obvious opportunity for adopting best environmental practice and using the latest technology to build greener buildings which will, in many cases, also result in very cost-effective buildings, both in terms of capital expenditure and particularly in terms of maintenance costs.

In an article last year (THES, June 24), I commented on the environmental features of new buildings at six universities. Two of the buildings - a large student accommodation block at the University of East Anglia and a much smaller one at Linacre College, Oxford - were under construction at the time. They are now occupied and monitoring shows that their energy-saving and other environmental features are performing well.

About Pounds 2 billion a year is spent on buildings in higher education. Most of them are, in the words of one well-known environmentally-conscious architect, cheap and nasty, and fail to embody good ecological design.

Among recent buildings that have been designed with environmental considerations very much in mind, are a set of three new buildings at the Francis Rose Hall campus of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education. The college has a large faculty of environment and leisure that offers degrees in environmental policy and management, geography, countryside and landscape and related fields. The buildings were designed by Feilden Clegg Design, one of a growing number of architectural firms specialising in environmentally conscious design. The building is not particularly innovative, nor need it be. Its virtue is that care has been taken at every step in the design and construction process to take environmental impacts seriously into consideration. Thus, the building is south-facing, double-glazed, well-insulated and condensing boilers have been used. The servicing is quite simple and cost-effective. There is no air conditioning; instead natural ventilation is used. The lighting is quite heavily controlled, for instance through the use of presence sensors. Wherever possible natural materials have been used, and for the most part they have been left close to their original state. Hardwoods have been avoided where possible.

Cheltenham and Gloucester's new buildings are an expression of its environmental policy. Since about 1989 many universities have adopted such policies. The Toyne report on environmental education in further and higher education provided an additional impetus for institutions to prioritise the environment. But as often as not, implementation lags behind. Cheltenham and Gloucester is unusual in having adopted a very comprehensive strategy and in moving fairly fast on its implementation, not just with respect to new buildings and energy efficiency, but also in other areas, such as transport policy.

In several ways Farnborough College of Technology is particularly interesting from an environmental point of view, not least because its environmental consciousness preceded the current wave of environmental concern.

John Potter, the principal, a dedicated environmentalist (he even edits a respected journal called The Environmentalist) is the driving force behind a whole-institution approach to environmental management and education which has put Farnborough at the leading edge as regards the sustainable management of the campus plant, cross-curricular greening and effective external relations. The college co-operates closely with the corporate sector and its local authority regarding environmental matters, not least through its environmental consultancy service.

The college runs some highly regarded postgraduate courses on environmental technology and environmental management. But Farnborough is also keen to practise what it teaches. Many of the buildings have been built to high eco-design standards.

Particularly evident is the emphasis on passive solar heating, but environmental considerations have also governed the choice of building materials. The buildings are visually pleasing, containing an abundance of shrubs and plants. Farnborough's approach to environmental management is nothing if not comprehensive. Major energy savings have been made through the use of sensors, compact fluorescent light bulbs and a sophisticated energy management system.

The college is unusual in running its own comprehensive, effective and profitable recycling programme, rather than plugging into a council-run programme as is common elsewhere. A number of water conservation measures have been implemented and, as a result, water consumption has fallen markedly. Environmental considerations figure markedly in the grounds management of the college.

Farnborough is also unusual in composting most of its food waste in wormeries where tiger worms help turn it into manure which is used on the college grounds. Altogether Farnborough is something of a model of good environmental management, and it is therefore not surprising that it has won several environmental awards.

The college is an outstanding example of what can be achieved in terms of institutional greening, when it is prioritised by senior managers, when staff are enthusiastic, when an integrated approach is adopted, and when there is a determination to make effective use of the latest innovations in environmental technology. In any one year, new buildings constitute only about 1 per cent of all higher education buildings. The major effort in making the building stock more environmentally friendly must therefore be the refurbishment of existing buildings.

A particularly interesting example of a self-consciously green refurbishment is the Angela Marmot Renewable Energy Laboratory, completed in September 1994, which houses Loughborough University's centre for renewable energy systems technology, Crest.

The laboratory occupies a building on the campus which had been unused for years. It will accommodate 30 staff and students. David Infield, the director of Crest, has made every attempt to ensure that the building exemplifies the goals of the centre. A very high standard of thermal insulation has been achieved and maximum use made of passive solar gain. Most windows are south-facing and high performance double-glazing, incorporating state of the art low-emissivity glass, has been used throughout. Flexible heating controls ensure all round comfort, while minimising the heating requirement. Low-energy lighting with dimmer controls is standard throughout the building. A 2.2 kilowatt wind turbine and a roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) array provides the bulk of the electricity used, supplemented by a further 360 watt PV subarray, battery storage and stand-alone inverters.

The movement towards greening institutions is undoubtedly gathering momentum. A survey on environmental management in the sector that we are in the process of analysing confirms that. Not only is there a growing number of good practice buildings, but university estates departments have become even more aware of the central importance of energy efficiency and other environmental issues.

A small number of universities, among them Edinburgh, Northumbria and Sunderland, have prioritised the recommendations on institutional and cross-curricular greening spelt out in the Toyne report and are devoting substantial resources to their implementation.

Also useful is a recent publication from the Building Services Research and Information Association, Environmental Code of Practice for Buildings and their Services, which aims to provide a strategy to minimise the environmental impact of buildings. It recognises that all those involved in the building process, including clients, architects, quantity surveyors, building contractors and facility operators, can have an influence on its environmental impact. The code therefore encourages an interdisciplinary approach to the design, construction and operation of buildings. A particularly useful feature of the code is that it takes into consideration the total life cycle of the building process, from conception of a new building through its construction, occupation and refurbishment to ultimate demolition and redevelopment. It identifies areas which contribute to environmental pollution and provides recommendations at each stage to reduce environmental impacts.

The higher education funding councils have been invited to endorse the code of practice for use as a means of improving the environmental integrity of existing and new educational buildings and as a foundation document for use by students of architecture, construction, planning and related disciplines.

These developments show that the sector is slowly, but surely, moving towards a situation where environmental issues will permeate most aspects of the universities' mission.

Institutions that have adopted a holistic environmental policy and put in place an effective environmental management system are leading the way. Economic, environmental and social imperatives will force others, willingly or unwillingly, to follow in their steps.

Peter de la Cour is director of the Greening of Higher Education Council.

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