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Durham University plummets down environmental league table

23 June 2013

Library-SamuelSpencer-12by Rory Tingle

Durham came 100th in a league table which ranks universities for environmental and ethical performance, down 30 places since 2012.

The People and Planet Green League of 143 UK universities awarded Durham 29.5 out of 70 for its environmental performance, the equivalent of a 2:2 grade.

Manchester Metropolitan University, which topped the table, gained a mark of 59.5.

The rankings – which are the most comprehensive of their kind in the UK – judge the green credentials of universities on the basis of thirteen different criteria, including renewable energy, carbon management and ethical investment.

Durham scored well for its ambitious target to cut carbon emissions by 30% over the five years until 2014, but gained 0/10 for carbon management – as emissions have actually increased by 1.77% since 2005.

This uncomfortable revelation comes just months after Palatinate research revealed that the university spent over £6 million on utility bills from August 2011 to June 2012.

The accompanying report also noted that Durham’s carbon emissions calculations exclude important factors such as trips abroad by academics and sports teams, travel by students and staff to the university on a daily basis, and emissions from goods purchased from external sources.

Ben Allcock, a first year student from St Aidan’s College, commented: “The fact that a great university with top-class research and bright students is in the bottom third of the league table is shocking, really.”

The table in particular exposed the high levels of resource consumption among students. Each Durham student uses on average 23.31kl of water per head – over four times as much as one at Manchester Metropolitan University where the corresponding figure is 5.56kl.

Similarly, per capita waste production at Durham is more than three times the amount at Manchester Metropolitan, although Durham was praised for high recycling rates.

One student, Dominic Dukes, suggested that these figures may be indicative of a lack of concern for the environment among students:

“The university’s green policy is relatively poor and I feel more should be done to try to promote environmental awareness.”

Professor Ray Hudson, Durham University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, commented:

“We are strongly committed to improving our environmental sustainability through a series of initiatives as part of our comprehensive Carbon Management Plan and the progress we have made is reflected in the University maintaining the Carbon Trust Standard.

“We have seen a six per cent reduction in colleges’ electricity usage over the past three years and six of our colleges have Gold Green Tourism Awards with two currently nominated for Gold Star awards.

Unfortunately the Green League scoring does not particularly reflect this commitment or the immense effort made by numerous staff and student members in improving environmental sustainability.

“Investment in the University estate is also bringing improvements and a variety of building projects have achieved Durham County Council Altogether Greener Awards.

“The environmental targets and features built into the Palatine Centre are typical of new build and refurbishment projects being carried out around the estate, including low zero carbon technologies such as solar panels and rainwater harvesting, and helped it achieve an ‘excellent’ rating on the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

Reflecting on the methodology of the People and Planet Green League, Ray Hudson added:

“Unfortunately the Green League scoring does not particularly reflect this commitment or the immense effort made by numerous staff and student members in improving environmental sustainability.

“The scoring also does not take into account the residential or research intensive nature of the University which sees us house 6,500 students, provide lab space, power super-computers and continue to grow, with the related energy requirements this brings.

“The challenge for Durham is to ensure that planned growth and maintaining excellence in research is achieved while enhancing environmental sustainability.”

Newcastle University, Durham’s Russell Group neighbour, came 15th in the rankings.

Photograph: Samuel Spencer

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