14,727 glowing ideas to help save the planet

April 14, 2006

UK institutions are developing a range of inspired initiatives to preserve forests and songbirds, reduce water use, cut fuel costs... and strike a few cheeky poses into the bargain. Olga Wojtas looks at the winners of the Green Gown Awards 2006


Sheffield Hallam University

The 1995 drought led Sheffield Hallam University to focus on water conservation by developing techniques to identify potential leaks and reduce the amount of water used. Between 1996-97 and 1999-2000, it cut its water consumption by a quarter, winning a national water and waste management award. But costs continued to rise, and the university realised that it had to achieve sustained savings.

Energy manager Charles Morse "had to understand how water was being used within a building before we could determine where water was being wasted".

A quarter of all the water used in the university was on a single site, its 645-bed Student Village.

Sheffield Hallam has now achieved savings averaging 24 per cent in its "top five" targeted sites, without any major investment in metering or other capital equipment. It has fitted washbasins with flow restrictors and isolation valves costing only a few pounds. It has made 15 per cent savings across all its sites within three years, amounting to more than £35,000 a year and offsetting the impact of price rises.

Morse says: "We focused on the areas where we felt we could make the most impact. We did this using simple techniques and basic materials, but the most important ingredient was the dedication of the staff involved."

Sheffield Hallam continues to check for changes in water consumption anywhere on the campus. Morse says: "Money that isn't paid to utility companies is available to spend in ways that benefit our students and staff. We think that our experience could be applied at many other institutions."


Bradford University

Bradford students are playing a key role in the environmental management of the campus thanks to an innovative module that lets them carry out practical case studies. They have surveyed travel patterns, investigated car park management and carried out a review of grounds maintenance, including a litter survey and baseline information on the use of pesticides and chemicals.

The module, now in its third year, is a core part of all undergraduate programmes in geography and environmental science, and land and water management. The module was established through a partnership between environmental science academics, the careers development service and the university's environment manager.

Liz Sharp, senior lecturer in environmental management, believes that the joint approach has been crucial in making the module work, enabling real-life environmental issues to be used as a learning tool.

"We see skills such as working in groups, report writing and critical reflection on personal practice as core to the curriculum. It's motivating for students if they feel that the work they do is utilised."

Clive Wilson, Bradford's director of estates, says: "It is partly because of the enthusiasm shown for the environment by students on this module that we have been inspired to push forward the regeneration of the university campus along ecologically sustainable lines."

Highly Commended

Hertfordshire University

Hertfordshire University has reinstated coppicing to protect an ancient 10-acre hornbeam and oak woodland on its campus. The university has created a biodiversity masterplan, which safeguards 35 species of wildflower and 22 species of bird, including bullfinch and song thrush.

Hertfordshire believes many universities overlook biodiversity, concentrating instead on issues such as waste, energy and transport. But, says a university spokesperson, the sector owns more than 11,400 hectares of land in England alone and can play an important role in conserving the nation's natural heritage.

Highly Commended

Sussex University Environmental Society

Higher education's version of the Women's Institute calendar involves a bevy of Sussex University's most outgoing students revealing (almost) all in the name of ecological awareness.

The Environmental Society's 2006 calendar features eye-catching photographs and highlights green themes. A student feeding chickens promotes organic food, while a student lying in autumn leaves is used to warn against buying goods made from tropical hardwoods.

The calendar was photographed by students, using student models and artistic directors. It was produced on recycled paper for £2,100, and has made a £3,000 profit for three charities, including a sanctuary for former battery hens.


Harper Adams University College

Shropshire's Harper Adams University College is using pioneering technology to produce energy for its campus from crops grown on the college farm.

The college has joined forces with Talbott's Heating in Stafford, a firm that has developed a prototype biomass generator. Talbott's combined power unit, producing electricity and heat, provides the base-load electricity supply for the entire campus. The college estimates that using fuel generated on the college farm will lead to significant savings in carbon emissions, equivalent to installing 14,7 energy-saving light bulbs. It also expects financial savings from annual energy costs for non-residential buildings of about Pounds 178,000. It hopes to reduce its expenditure by 14.5 per cent in the first year but, more importantly, looks to a high degree of security from external fuel price rises.

College principal Wynne Jones says: "We aim to undertake research on the system and to demonstrate the practical benefits of biomass as a sustainable and secure source of energy."

Highly Commended

York St John College

York St John College student union has taken an innovative approach to the age-old town-versus-gown tensions in cities with a large student population. It uses humour to tackle the problems of noise and litter. Its SSHH! (Silent Students-Happy Homes) campaign featuring Zippy from the children's television programme Rainbow encourages students to "keep it zipped" when returning from late-night events. The "Pick It Up Girls" - students in pantomime outfits armed with megaphones - star in a poster campaign to discourage campus littering.


York University

York University's National Science Learning Centre is the hub of a national network offering innovative continuing-development courses for science teachers.

The £11 million purpose-built centre offers practical examples of sustainability in construction. It features a geothermal heating and cooling system that saves an estimated £11,000 a year and a sedum roof, a low-maintenance "living carpet" of plants that absorbs rainwater and reduces heat loss. Much of its pipework is made from recycled material.

Natural ventilation, low-energy high-efficiency lighting with a state-of-the-art control system and rainwater flush systems all feature.

There is an on-site recycling centre. Office waste is recycled, and pencils are made from recycled plastic cups. A roof-top weather station contributes to climatic change study alongside a greenhouse for biological science. A science trail runs through the grounds and webcam links with schools are planned so that children can study owls, moths and birds.

The centre was set up by the White Rose University Consortium with funding from the Wellcome Trust in response to the concerns about the dearth of young people studying science after the age of 16. Director John Holman says: "It is part of the national network of Science Learning Centres that Wellcome has established in partnership with the Department for Education and Skills, with a mission to inspire a future generation of young scientists by inspiring their teachers.

"Our vision is to create a place of quality and atmosphere to show science teachers the importance of the job they do. The centre is a striking building full of light with the latest facilities for teaching science. It is itself a science teaching aid but also gives us a fascinating context for the teaching of energy transfer and earth science."


Glasgow University

Glasgow University spends an average of £30 million a year on capital projects and is committed to cutting energy costs and environmental pollution in the process.

Since 2003, it has beefed up the energy conservation brief it gives to design consultants using the Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (Breeam) benchmark for assessing buildings'

environmental performance. Designers have to show after the first year that the buildings have achieved the projected targets for energy consumption.

Glasgow's four newest buildings, costing more than £51 million, have all had an energy assessment. A biological field station at Loch Lomond has won an "excellent" rating, while a cancer research facility and computing science building are rated "very good".

The £31 million biomedical and cardiovascular building was planned before Breeam was adopted, but energy conservation was seen as crucial.

Biomedical research is energy intensive, but installing energy-efficient equipment, ranging from condensing boilers to occupancy detectors, has cut consumption by 25 per cent. The investment will be recouped in three years.

Carbon dioxide emissions have also been reduced by 457 tonnes a year. Staff were involved in regular meetings to ensure that the design met their needs as well as fitting into Glasgow's business plan.

The university believes that staff and the local community take pride in sustainable buildings, which also boost Glasgow's environmental credibility and help attract students to its environmental science degrees. The buildings also make good case studies for students. Glasgow was the first Scottish university to gain energy efficiency accreditation in 1998, and reaccreditation in 2001 and 2004. Nearly 45 per cent of campus electricity is drawn from renewable sources.

Albert Young, energy conservation officer, says: "We were proud to be shortlisted for this prestigious award. This will complement the Green Gown energy efficiency award we received in 2005 as it recognises our continuing commitment to be at the forefront of sustainable construction."


Bournemouth University

A few years ago, Bournemouth University faced severe parking problems.

There was no incentive for staff to consider alternatives to driving, and local councils would not grant planning permission for developments on its two campuses without a travel plan to cut car use. So Bournemouth introduced a "carrot-and-stick" travel plan for staff and students.

Stuart Laird, site operations manager, admits there was initial opposition.

It was crucial to persuade senior management to ring-fence parking fee income for alternative travel schemes, and to keep staff and students informed about the plan.

The university website explains the reasoning behind the plan and outlines the travel options available. Income from parking charges, expected to total Pounds 150,000 this year, has enabled Bournemouth to appoint an environmental officer and to support a range of "carrots" including cycle shelters, shower facilities, a business mileage rate for cycle use and improved bus services. Subsidised Unilinx services link Bournemouth's two campuses, and there are ticket machines in university reception areas.

Staff and students get reduced fares on other Wilts & Dorset Bus company services. An interactive website gives real-time information on the timetable.

Laird says: "The Unilinx bus operation was ranked in the top five fastest growing bus companies in 2005 and has had a very positive impact on the local travel plan for the conurbation, making a strong contribution to both boroughs' passenger targets."

An online car-share scheme is also in operation. Senior staff no longer have reserved parking, and sections are set aside to ensure availability for late starters and shift workers.


Leeds University

The UK's second-largest university has removed 5,000 office waste bins to encourage staff and students to recycle and reduce waste management costs.

Leeds has installed 2,000 recycling bins for paper, plastic, cans and glass across campus. Before the scheme, only 240 tonnes of waste were recycled, while 1,200 tonnes went to landfill, incurring a tax of £20,000 as part of £104,000-a-year waste management costs.

Keith Pitcher, the university's environmental officer, says: "We have seen a doubling in recycling over the past two years, which, for a large university, is a fantastic response. Cleaning staff time is now spent more on cleaning rather than on emptying individual office waste bins."

Recycling has saved £14,000 over ten months and from this year annual savings will be £47,000. The scheme's total cost was £92,000.

Some 32 environmental co-ordinators - appointed from among the staff - help promote and advise on the scheme.

Students research waste management and carry out energy management, procurement and transport audits and attitude surveys.

The university and Leeds City Council have installed recycling facilities in student accommodation, achieving a 20 per cent recycling rate in the first few months. Items being recycled range from batteries and furniture to mobile phones and grass. Recycling toner and printer cartridges raises money for charities, while unwanted computers have been sent to schools in Lesotho and Kenya.

Recycling paper, cardboard and wood has saved corresponding amounts of raw material from tree-felling, and Leeds has changed its purchasing policy in favour of recycled paper products. The university no longer needs 77,500 replacement liners for the bins removed from campus.

Leeds has met its first recycling target of 25 per cent of its waste, which is set to rise to 30 per cent by 2010.

Pitcher says: "A lot of people making a small change has resulted in this success."
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