That burning question: how green is your campus?

November 17, 2006

As the environment races up agendas, Claire Sanders reports on efforts to transform lifestyles.

Academic lifestyles are set to change drastically as fears for the planet's future and rising energy prices push environmental concerns up universities' agendas.

From travel and energy efficiency to curriculum delivery and even the thorny issue of overseas conferences and attracting students from abroad, campus life is set for a revolution.

Martin Wiles, convener of the Universities and Colleges Environmental Association, said: "Over the past two years there has been a sea change in attitudes towards the environment. The Stern report and rising energy costs mean that senior managers are beating a path to their environmental offices. It has become hard to say 'no' to new initiatives."

Joanna Simpson, policy adviser for leadership, governance and management at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said: "Two years ago, the environment occasionally hit the news; now there are almost daily reports.

Universities have long been developing policies in this area, but the pace is accelerating."

In July 2005, Hefce published a major strategy for campus sustainability followed by an action plan earlier this year. It is seeking tenders for a strategic review of sustainable development across universities so that sector-wide performance indicators can be set in place to measure future achievements. The idea is to publicise examples of best practice.

Hefce has high ambitions. Its website states: "Our vision is that, within the next ten years, the higher education sector in England will be recognised as a major contributor to society's efforts to achieve sustainability - through the skills that its graduates learn and put into practice, and through its own strategies."

Some institutions are setting pioneering examples that point to a very different future for academics. Bradford University has established an Ecoversity Project that will affect every aspect of staff and student life, from curriculum design to buildings and travel.

"Bradford is taking a holistic approach," Ms Simpson said. "There are numerous initiatives in estates or curriculum design across different universities, but no one has yet sought to bring in a policy across the university."

Nick Andrew, secretary at Bradford, said: "We are not only seeking to engage all staff and students in debate but also to ensure that they can put their beliefs into practice. Many say: 'I would like to lead a greener life butI' We are dealing with the 'but'."

The university has collected pledges from senior managers on how they will make their lifestyles greener and lead by example. It is also examining the curriculum. In engineering, 100 students were sent to observe three new green buildings on campus and to present their feedback in a lecture.

Mr Andrew said the university was also looking at teaching. Could students receive the content of lectures electronically and travel in for small study groups?

Peter Hopkinson, curriculum, education and student engagement manager of the Ecoversity project and co-director of Higher Education Environmental Performance Improvement, said: "Sustainability on campus means building bridges between students, academics and the estates function." He said all groups must co-ordinate their efforts.

* A new network of academics who aim to share ideas on how to create eco-friendly, economically viable and socially aware communities is to receive £5 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Academics at University College London are behind the idea.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

A STUDENT VILLAGE CONSTRUCTED ON SUSTAINABLE FOUNDATIONS

A key part of Bradford University's Ecoversity project is its plan to build a sustainable student village. Bradford is seeking bids from developers and architects for the £22 million project.

The idea is to house 500 students in boulevards of traditional terraced houses. Each terraced house will be a self-contained community of up to eight students, and the students will be responsible for their own energy consumption and waste recycling.

Clive Wilson, director of estates, said: "We hope this will encourage a sense of social responsibility and, because of the design and layout, allow students to be more neighbourly."

Nick Andrew, secretary at the university, said: "We will be able to experiment with different policies. So, for example, we may reward students who have been able to keep their bills down. At the moment, students have no obvious incentive to do this."

The terraces are reminiscent of the sort of housing that was knocked down about 40 years ago, but they will adopt modern technologies such as wind and solar power.

WHO AT BRADFORD IS PLEDGING TO GO GREEN?

'I will be adopting a strict recycling and energy-saving policy in my home.

After all, how can we expect our students and staff to to adopt this ethos if I'm not prepared to do it?'

Bradford has asked senior managers to give personal pledges on leading a more sustainable lifestyle. Here are some examples.

Nick Andrew, secretary

I pledge to set up a carbon offset scheme for Bradford.

Why? I drive 24 miles to university every day. It takes two hours by public transport and when I cycled the hills rather did me in. I want to contribute to a carbon-offset scheme to counteract this, but want to pay into a university initiative which will bring local environmental benefits.

Chris Taylor, vice-chancellor

I will be adopting a strict recycling and energy-saving policy in my home.

Why? In a bid to lead by example, my wife and I make an effort to separate and recycle as much of our waste as possible - paper, glass, plastic, aluminium and so on - as well as using energy-saving light bulbs and switching off electrical equipment at night. After all, how can we expect our students and staff to adopt this ethos if I'm not prepared to do it?"

Clive Wilson, director of estates and facilities

I will take part involuntary work in the community, and encourage estates and facilities staff to do so too. This may include environmental initiatives or work with schools and colleges.

Why? To inspire my team to help the institution to become a university at the heart of its community - using our knowledge and skills to contribute to the city's regeneration while enhancing personal and professional development of my staff.

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