How going green can save your college or university money

It’s a common misconception that decarbonisation (‘going green’) is costly.

Russell Burton is the Director of Hillside Environmental Services, the sponsor of the 2021 Green Gown Awards ‘Reporting with Influence’ category. With a history in corporate sustainability and property management, he has developed CSR agendas for FTSE 100 businesses and Public Sector authorities. Now, he leads the Hillside team, specialising in support for the education sector and SMEs in tackling the climate emergency.

Hillside Environmental Services were the sponsors and judges of the Green Gown Awards 2021 ‘Reporting with Influence’ category. Carbon and sustainability reporting are key to improving and measuring environmental impact. But the cost can be a barrier to progression for colleges and universities. In this blog, Russell Burton, Director of Hillside Environmental, explains how 'going green' can actually save institutions money.
It’s a common misconception that decarbonisation (‘going green’) is costly. Many further education institutes shy away from reducing their carbon footprint as they believe it will eat into their budget. It’s understandable why they are protective over funds, after economic instability following the pandemic.

Yet, becoming a low-carbon college or university can actually drive cost-savings. We’ll show you how in the following myth-busters. We’ll also explain the Hillside Environmental approach to decarbonisation based on increased profitability and mitigated risk.

Myth: Renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels from the grid.
Truth: Renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels.

With energy rates due to double in price by the end of 2022, buying fossil-fuelled energy from the grid is no longer a cost-effective option. In fact, almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year are expected to undercut coal costs.

You can also off-set the cost of installing your own renewable energy systems onsite by cost savings they create; our work with Gloucestershire College is a great case study for how it can be done - see this in practice here.

Green technology enables colleges and universities to balance energy needs and use power at the most economic times. This includes producing heat overnight ready for the next day’s consumption, and storage of surplus electricity generation for use during peak grid electricity pricing. Premises are less reliant on the grid, can produce their own fuel, and choose the most cost and energy-efficient times to use grid-sourced energy.

What’s more, additional energy produced onsite can be sold back to the grid to generate an income. Coupled with cost savings, this is how you can improve profitability by moving to renewable energy.

Our work with Gloucestershire College is a great case study for how it can be done.

Myth: The public sector can’t access the same funding as private organisations, who rely on investors.
Truth: The public sector can also benefit from private finance opportunities to progress projects, resulting in long term cost savings.

The UK government enshrined a new target in law to slash emissions by 78% by 2035. This is part of its sixth Carbon Budget which aims to bring the UK more than three-quarters of the way to net zero by 2050. They have declared the delivery of net zero affordable as a country, with capital available at a national level. It includes over £1 billion government funding to cut emissions from schools, colleges, universities, industry, and hospitals.

The result is Green Finance schemes such as the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme in partnership with Salix Finance (a non-departmental public body). Put briefly, this is a collaboration between the Government and the private finance industry to encourage institutes to ‘go green’ via funding.

You can find out more about Green Finance in our guide.

Myth: Going green is an additional cost added to the budget.
Truth: You can actually cut costs elsewhere by going green.

In a digital age where promotional material is everywhere, it can be tough to get your voice heard. It feels especially difficult when the competition is campaigning hard, too.

It’s not uncommon for colleges and universities to overspend on marketing to recruit students amidst competition. So, competitive advantage and differentiation is key to standing out from the crowd and making you their first choice.

Students are favouring greener colleges and universities: a study by SOS-UK found that 80% of further education college respondents want their college to take sustainability seriously. Hence, going green can become your competitive advantage.

With a clear competitive advantage, you don’t need to overspend on marketing.  If your message is strong, you can be targeted and more strategic without the need to be heard time and time again.

How our approach can help you to go green within budget

At Hillside, we have a specific strategy based on insight from over 100 years of combined experience in the environmental industry. The way we approach projects enables further education to mitigate risk through steps that are focused on energy and cost efficiency.
Our team aligns nature, technology, and finance, empowering you to understand your impact on the planet, find solutions to improve it and meet economic objectives.
We place a heavy emphasis on carbon reduction to help colleges and universities reach net zero through holistic environmental planning.

The funding and support are out there. Hillside is a specialist in Green Finance applications, with a network of sustainability funds that we help you to access. Coupled with funding, our team can help you to build in-house economic models to ensure project affordability.

Get in touch with Hillside if you have any questions about reducing your carbon footprint. We’re personally invested in protecting the planet so will always go the extra mile to support you.

You can also sign up for Hillside's monthly email update, A Breath of Fresh Air, for more environmental know-how. We don't spam, we send curated emails with useful resources and news.

Listen to the new podcast episode where Russell Burton is joined by Dr Alex Ryan of University of Gloucestershire, to discuss how higher and further education links to the climate, the Green Gown Awards, and sustainability reporting in institutions.

The University of Gloucestershire won 'Reporting with Influence' at last year's #GreenGownAwards, a category sponsored by Hillside Environmental Services.
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