UoL has a sustainable spring in its step

Most people understand that to live sustainably we need to change, but that can only happen when we create a balance between the three dimensions of sustainability – the economic, social and environmental.  Rethinking a lifetime’s worth of patterns is challenging, but it can be done. At the University of London (UoL) there has been huge positive change in the way it operates on a sustainable level.  Ambitious goals have been exceeded and a new culture of working is being seen across the university’s estate.

By breaking with the dominant culture and building sustainability at the heart of university life, UoL’s interim milestone to cut CO2 emissions by 20% by 2015 was exceeded by 12%.

  • Carbon emissions have reduced by 32% since 2010
  • Over £1,000,000 is being saved in energy bills every year

The sector-level target, set by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to reduce carbon emissions is 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, against a 1990 baseline. A commitment to reduce emissions relating to travel, procurement, waste and water has also been established. Though driven by government policy, UoL recognises that it has a responsibility as pioneers in higher education to meet or exceed these targets.

The university’s sustainable journey, since the HEFCE targets were set, have included a number of creative ways to save money on energy, whilst making a positive contribution to the environment by reducing its carbon footprint.

The introduction of a network of staff champions to promote and encourage positive environmental behavior has resulted in a steady year-on-year reduction in emissions.

  • Staff were responsible for saving 190tCO2 over six months
  • Savings of over £52,000 in energy bills
  • Recycling rates have risen from 55% to 72%

Recognition for the champions’ innovative work came in the form of a “Team Green” award from the Camden Climate Change Alliance.

By making technical improvements across the estate, the university has maintained its ISO14001:2004 accreditation.

  • All UoL’s energy is now procured from renewable sources. It uses 100% smart meter coverage allowing it to identify energy wastage and make more savings across the estate. 
  • All major building projects follow a sustainable building specification developed in line with a BREEAM outstanding accreditation.

The University’s Master Plan – a 20-year vision for University and College development in Bloomsbury – incorporates low carbon technologies, an extended Bloomsbury Heat & Power network, more green spaces, increased biodiversity and better routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

Though the majority of the university’s estate is in an urban environment, there are green spaces where a more diverse natural habitat can be supported.   The introduction of honeybee colonies on the roof of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies has proved a success and continue to pollinate the local area.

The university continues to focus on reducing student energy use. Its current halls of residence campaign to ‘Reduce the Juice’ has engaged students to live more sustainably.

  • Recycling rates of over 80%
  • Energy savings of over £18,000
  • 872 bags of unwanted clothes donated to the British Heart Foundation raising over £12,000

UoL’s Sustainable Food and Fair Trade Policy ensures that sustainability is embedded into its catering services and that it contributes to the global community by trading fairly.

Sharing best practice, projects and communications both within the university family and outside is key to understanding the importance of sustainable development and implementing greener ways of working throughout the education sector. UoL is an active member if the London University Environment Group and The Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges.

The next phase for the university will be to cut CO2 emissions by 43% by 2020, updating its accreditation to ISO 14001:2015 and continuing all the good work through the network of staff and student champions.

John Bailey, Sustainability Manager for UoL, said: “The achievements made so far are just the beginning of working towards becoming a world-leading sustainable university. By bringing together ideas from universities across the globe, as well as UoL’s own staff and students, a Sustainable Universities 2020 and 2050 document will be created with the aim of contributing to sustainable development throughout the education sector.”

For more information please see the University of London’s 2015 Sustainability Report.