Towards a Greener University

Greenspace: The Sustainability Coordinator Katie Ridley tells us about how to ‘go Green’ at university.

[Interview by Rory Tingle]

What are your plans for Environment week?

There are lots of great events scheduled for this year’s Environment Week, including a bike maintenance session, a poetry workshop, green formals and film showings. There will also be the chance to meet a range of exhibitors at the Environment Fair – as well as offering a range of competitions, your chance to try out an efficient-driving simulator and even the opportunity to buy specially discounted free range eggs, this fair also provides the opportunity to have your environmental questions answered.

How do you intend to engage students?

A key emphasis of this year’s Environment Week is that everyone has a part to play in supporting the environment. The ‘every small step’ competition encourages students and staff to make a pledge of one new step that they will take to continue to the University’s environmental sustainability – whether it be recycling a certain item, using your own mug in YUM, taking the bus instead of driving… You could even win from a range of prizes just by making your pledge.

The People and Planet Green League ranked Durham 100 out of 143 universities for environmental and ethical performance, down thirty places since 2012. What steps are being taken to improve on this position?

Durham University is strongly committed to its environmental performance and consequently has a number of policies and plans in place to help achieve this. The People and Planet Green League highlights a range of areas that all universities should consider when looking at their environmental performance, however it does not take into account the nature of the institution when looking at the institution’s utilities usages.

We are a research intensive residential university and our energy use per head will of course therefore be greatly higher than that of universities which do not house nearly 7000 students, utilise super computers etc. As such, much of our good environmental work is not reflected in the scoring of the Green League.

The same table praised Durham’s target to cut carbon emissions 30% in the five years until 2014, but noted that emissions have actually increased by 1.77% since 2005. Is it still possible to meet this target?

The 30% target was for the University’s interim carbon management and took the ambitious aim of a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by the end of 2013/14 compared to a 2008/09 baseline. At the end of 2012/13 we had achieved an absolute reduction of emissions of 4%. When you break down the figures however, there have been some excellent achievements: electricity usage reduced by 11% and water reduced by 12%. We must look at what we can do to reduce carbon whilst maintaining the University’s development. Meeting carbon reduction targets at Durham University will not only require consideration and implementation of new technologies, but will depend heavily on the behaviours and practices of our thousands of students and staff.

People living in college would have noticed the introduction of the ‘Green Move Out’ scheme, has it been a success?

It has been hugely successful this year, thanks to the hard work of numerous staff and students. It diverted over 4400 bags of items from landfill – that’s nearly 1000 more bags than last year. These bags were collected not only from colleges in Durham and Stockton but also from numerous livers out. Particular congratulations go to Ustinov College, St Cuthbert’s Society and Hatfield College who were the winners of this year’s Green Move Out trophies. The volunteer-led Reuse Events raised over £2500 for charity and saw a record turnout from students clearly grateful for the chance to get what they needed but without the high costs.

With every day getting colder, what advice would you give to livers out who are having trouble staying warm at home?

I think the top three tips would be:

1) Layers! It sounds obvious but wear multiple layers, whether you opt for thermal layers, your best woolly jumper or even a onesie! (Don’t forget to put plenty blankets on your bed too and just set the heating to come on for when you get up).

2) Stop the draughts: Keep all doors closed to keep heat in your room and shut curtains as soon as it gets dark (thick curtains are the best for this). Use draught excluders to keep even more draughts out and if you have significant draughts from poorly fitted windows, talk to your landlord to see if these can be fixed.

3) Focus the heat: You do not need to heat all areas of your property 24 hours a day. Turn down radiators in vacant areas and set your heating to come on just 30 minutes before you get home – this could result in large financial savings on your bills.

You can of course also reduce the impact of a cold house by being out and about during the day – make the most of the University’s libraries and communal spaces.

How can first time livers out ensure that they consider the environment when shopping for groceries?

There are many ways of minimising your environmental impacts when shopping for groceries and the good news is that many of these can save you money too!

– Travel to the shops by walking, cycling or by public transport rather than driving – there are a number of bus journeys free to University members on the production of a valid campus card.

– Take along your own reusable bag too in order to avoid the use of single-use plastic bags – why not use a Durham University bag available from the online retail shop?

– Look for foods which are local and in season. Vegetable box schemes and local markets are great for this – try Durham Indoor Market (every day), Stockton market (Wednesday and Saturday and a small one on Fridays) and look out for Farmers’ markets too (in Durham every third Thursday of the month). Also try the Durham University Food Co-op which takes place in the DSU every Friday in term time between 11.00 and 16.00.

– Look for items in as little packaging as possible as this reduces waste.

Finally, make a list before you go shopping as that way you only buy what you need which avoids food waste and saves you money!

The full schedule for environment week can be found at:

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