Durham University secures top environmental ranking

Durham University has recently been awarded a top ‘Platinum’ level environmental award as a result of its participation in the EcoCampus project, a scheme which aims to assist higher education institutions in implementing ‘a formalised Environmental Management System’ (EcoCampus) and in evaluating their environmental impact.

What is the EcoCampus scheme?

The EcoCampus scheme is a project which ‘offers a flexible phased approach to implementing an environmental management system for the higher and further education sectors’ and which helps colleges and universities in the United Kingdom to manage and assess their environmental impact and footprint.

Past and Present Achievements  

The University holds environmental sustainability as one of its core goals and aims to continue to be an institution which is active in finding solutions in order to combat the problems caused by the current climate crisis. Over the last 15 years, the University has been working to make its operations more environmentally sustainable and adaptable for the future. This environmental work turned to focus on the EcoCampus accreditation system in the early part of 2020. During the course of a single year, Durham University has achieved the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards; recently adding to this success with the confirmation of the highest Platinum level of the scheme.

David Loudon, Director of Estates and Facilities at Durham University, said: “Durham is a beautiful place to live, work and study and we’re working hard to keep it that way. So we’re very proud to have achieved the top Platinum award for EcoCampus.

“This is a great credit to the work of our Energy and Sustainability Team and students and staff across the University, part of what we call our Greenspace movement, who by their individual acts can together make a great change.

“We are determined to go further still, including by working with the Carbon Trust to set an ambitious new carbon reduction target for the University, so we look forward to delivering more positive environmental change in the year ahead.”

Durham University’s environmental work encompasses both its student population and the local community. Some examples of its recent progress on the path to creating an environmentally sustainable institution and community are:

  • Investing in renewable technologies. For example, using ground source heat pumps and solar panels on campus to generate electricity. In 2018/19, over 300,000kWh were generated – enough to power 80 homes for a year.
  • Ensuring that staff and students can bid for funding for projects to reduce carbon emissions. Since 2011, the University has awarded £670,000 to over 100 projects. These have saved nearly 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Using zero carbon electricity, which is generated by off-shore wind farms. This has helped the University to reduce the carbon footprint of its electricity use by nearly half since 2005.
  • Not investing in companies involved in fossil fuel extraction.
  • Performing a three month biodiversity survey of the University estate in 2020, which recorded 416 plant species, 99 bird species and 24 mammal species including otter, badger, roe deer and fox. 
  • Utilising rainwater to flush toilets on campus, and staff and students are encouraged to use recyclable cups and recycle of furniture across Departments and Colleges.
  • Managing the Durham Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site together with Durham Cathedral.
  • Undertaking environmental volunteering with staff and students, including litter picks and gardening of public spaces.
  • Striving to be a Fairtrade champion and has been accredited by the Fairtrade Foundation since 2007.

What’s next?

With the strong platform and foundation of a ‘Platinum’ EcoCampus award, the University’s future plans for sustainability move to cover a plethora of environmental issues and projects. Some of these include:

  • Continuing its Green Move Out project, which enables students to donate belongings they no longer want to charity at the end of the academic year, rather than throw them away. The project has been shortlisted in the Student Engagement category at the Green Gown Awards 2020.
  • Delivering its recently agreed Integrated Sustainable Travel Plan, to enable staff and students to choose active transport.
  • Working to cut single use plastics from its operations, as part of its support for the County Durham Single Use Plastics Pledge.
  • Working with the Carbon Trust to agree an ambitious new carbon reduction target across the University.

Another aim of the University is to become a leader in advocating a more environmentally sustainable society through world-leading research. Examples of research projects include experts from the Durham Energy Institute researching methods of heating homes and workplaces by harnessing the warm water in abandoned coal mines, Durham physicists looking at how to reduce the costs and increase the efficiency of solar power, and Durham surface scientists working to develop a coated mesh as a way to help clean up oil spills.

In addition to this, in May 2020, Durham University was named among the world’s top universities for its contribution to a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.

The source for this article is from a press release provided by Durham University. For information and enquiries, please contact Durham University Communications Team: communications.team@durham.ac.uk.

Featured Image: ‘EcoCampus3’ from Flickr, by Durham University. All Rights Reserved. https://www.flickr.com/photos/155289790@N07/50807654096/in/album-72157717759971052/.

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