Green Gowns: Making educated choices around the environment

We spoke to Emily Gingell, Marketing Assistant for publication University Business (Green Gown Awards media partner) about how post-16 education can lead the way in embedding sustainability.
In today’s fast-paced HE landscape, universities are focusing more than ever on going greener.

Sustainability is a key strategic issue for today’s universities; not only is it a way for them to proactively contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly society, but it can also help them to stand out from their competitors.

Higher education is one of the UK’s largest non-commercial consumers of energy. Leading institutions know that going green must be managed across all aspects of university life, from teaching and research to investment strategy and estates management.

The UK higher education sector has seen a successful year of energy-efficiency project investment to reduce carbon emissions across their estates. In 2015/16, research by sustainability strategy consultancy Brite Green found that sector emissions fell by 7%, compared to a total reduction of 10% over the previous 10 years.

Brite Green’s University Carbon Progress Report reveals that despite improved performance, the sector is off track of meeting its 2020 carbon reduction target of 43%. If emissions continue to fall at the current rate, the sector is forecast to only achieve a 23% reduction by 2020.

Change is happening, however; universities across the country are demonstrating the benefits of implementing carbon management programmes, with some delivering incredible reductions.

 “We believe universities have a duty to play a constructive role in reducing carbon emissions,” notes Professor John Raftery, Vice Chancellor at London Metropolitan University. Of the 127 higher education institutions analysed, London Metropolitan University topped this year’s league table, having reduced their absolute emissions by an impressive 57% since 2005. He continues; “We have installed 221 solar panels on the roof of our Science Centre this year and run schemes such as Green Week to engage with our community.”

This month the University of Sussex took a key step towards becoming one of the most environmentally friendly universities in the country with its solar project, the largest of its kind in UK higher education. The Brighton-based institution's installation totals more than 3,000 solar panels, aiming to nearly halve its carbon emissions by 2020.
Whipping a campus into sustainable shape involves more than refurbishment and carbon management, rethinking the way that universities teach has been another common sustainability challenge. Facilities need to be able to adapt more readily; buildings should be able to adapt to tech advances through a mixture of modular rooms and traditional lecture theatres which offers them a more flexible way to teach.

Progress will be unique for each HE institution, new research from EAUC has reported. Iain Patton, CEO at EAUC, says: “Just as universities and colleges are unique, so too must be their approach to sustainability. This research serves as a good starting point for other institutions looking to embed a holistic approach to sustainability.”

With so many advancements happening across the UK, HE institutions, rather than industry or government bodies, can lead the way in operating environmentally, while advancing sustainable design.

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