New universities are pioneering the use of environmental policies. Julia Hinde reports
Sunderland University was the first university to produce an annual green report, highlighting its environmental strengths and weaknesses.
The exercise, now part of the university's main annual report, was the idea of PhD student Julia Walton whose research degree concentrated on the Talloires Declaration, an international agreement drawn up in 1990. The declaration, initiated by the European campus of Tufts University, was an attempt by a number of international universities to sign up to environmental standards. Ms Walton was keen to see how universities had progressed and particularly how Sunderland, the first UK university to sign up in 1994, was progressing.
"My recommendation was that a report should be produced each year that would show how the university was doing environmentally compared to certain goals it set itself," she explains.
The report looks at ten areas of university operations, including utility use, waste minimisation, transport and purchasing. It analyses what action has been taken towards a green agenda in each area. According to Tony Alabaster, head of the centre for environmental informatics at the university, the report enables the university to see its everyday operations from a different perspective.
"We don't exist in isolation but as part of the city," he explains. "We, as a university, have a social responsibility to look at how we operate. We want to help the environment, but not in an altruistic sandal-wearing way. Rather we are doing it from a business approach."
He says that the green agenda has led to "not insignificant" financial savings. Utility costs have been reduced and recycling is now part of everyday university life. Charges for cars parked on campus have raised money that has been pumped into a subsidised bus service so that students and staff can travel between campuses.
As well as being a good business venture, the greening has won credibility with students and businesses, says Dr Alabaster. "If students see our house is in order, perhaps then they will take these ideals back into their own lives."