Wind of change

April 14, 2006

For the past 20 years, Oxford Brookes has not shied away from the fiendish task of putting green theory into practice. Graham Upton explains

Oxford Brookes University has been a major investor in sustainable development research over the years, culminating in the establishment in 2004 of the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development. The OISD is a multidisciplinary body drawing together research from the School of the Built Environment and also from other parts of the university.

Our strength in developing research, consultancies and community links is recognised through the Higher Education Funding Council for England's third-stream funding, via the Higher Education Innovation Fund and the promotion of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

Sustainable development is relatively easy to define. According to the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development, it is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". But as Sir Howard Newby, Hefce's former chief executive, has pointed out, it is "fiendishly difficult" to put into practice.

Oxford Brookes's staff have been engaged this work for the past 20 years. They have fulfilled key roles set out for higher education in Hefce's consultation document on sustainable development last year. OISD research has attempted to find social and technical solutions to the challenges presented by sustainable development, as well as to develop understanding of the social, economic and political barriers to achieving this.

The OISD has more than 60 academic and research staff and about 100 doctoral students. It addresses issues that affect communities all over the world and advises the Government and associated agencies on the way we should live in the future.

With a client list that includes the research councils and charities, the European Commission, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the World Bank, regional and local government and various members of the commercial sector, Oxford Brookes is in a position to make an impact well beyond its boundaries.

Elizabeth Wilson, senior lecturer in environmental planning, has produced guidance for the ODPM on planning for climate change. With her colleague, lecturer Jake Piper, she has also contributed to the South East's capacity to manage climate change by analysing how different organisations are adapting. The research, funded by the South East England Development Agency, is being used to promote partnerships across the region.

At an international level, the OISD was invited to join a European Union-funded expert network on the regeneration of brownfield sites.

The OISD has also worked with industry to promote sustainability. The steel giant Corus has funded a professorship at Oxford Brookes to explore sustainable approaches to steel production. John Glasson, co-director with Mike Jenks of the OISD, and colleagues have undertaken research for many companies in the energy sector on the environmental impact of the construction and also decommissioning of power stations, including the building of Sizewell B, and, recently, large wind farms.

The Centre for Environmental Studies in the Hospitality Industry carries out research and consultancy initiatives in environmental management, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. It is Oxford Brookes's mission to ensure that the university is not a major polluter - initiatives to reduce energy consumption, water management and to manage its waste better are in place. Our School of Technology building is being constructed to the highest environmental standards, with innovations such as solar chimneys to heat and ventilate our workshop and teaching spaces. Oxford Brookes' Green Commuter Plan won a Green Gown Award last year.

The university's partnership with the Carbon Trust has led to the planting of 1,000 trees by geography students. This level of enthusiasm, coupled with serious investment, will enable Oxford Brookes to maintain its green spirit.

Graham Upton is vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University.
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