You might know Durham as a UK top 10 university, but some people think differently. In the People & Planet UK university league tables released on Tuesday, Durham came 67th, in what the survey calls its ‘2:2 class’.
So, what are we doing wrong? On the rankings, we do badly in recycling, ethical investment, education for sustainable development, carbon management and reduction, and water use reduction. While other universities have taken steps to divest from fossil fuels, Durham has only recently reached the consultation stage, which invites students to submit evidence and opinions for and against divestment by email.
Meanwhile, this year Nottingham Trent opened its first carbon-negative building, securing it the top place on the People and Planet rankings. It is working on building the first carbon-neutral laboratory in the UK, as well as other low carbon buildings. Brighton University came in second, having made sustainability one of its four core values, and installed 893 solar panels, which will reduce its carbon footprint by over 100 tonnes a year according to The Guardian.
Our own buildings aren’t doing so well, with the Calman Learning Centre only just in band D of the energy efficiency charts you can see in every university building, and the maths department dangerously close to the lowest band, G. However, there have been successes with the new Physics building. It is expected to receive an ‘A energy performance certificate’ according to Modern Build Serve as it will have solar panels, rainwater recycling, ground-source heat pumps and LED lighting. Sounds good, but its unusual shape will make air-tightness and insulation challenging.
In addition to sustainable building design, People & Planet say that renewable energy, sustainable waste disposal, use of locally produced food, green transport and awareness events are important factors in environmental sustainability.
“None of the Bailey houses in Cuths have recycling because the council don’t collect it, and the uni doesn’t have room for any more big recycling bins,” says Pj Cameron, the environmental rep for St Cuthbert’s. Whilst trying to set up a small recycling scheme within the college, she has had problems because recycling would violate the waste contract that the college has. She says that many University policies prevent students from making changes for the better.
There are some areas we’re doing well in, and the university has won a number of environmental awards in the last few years. Recently, Durham was highly commended in the 2016 environment rewards for the new data centre, and won the Green Gown Award in 2015 for continuous improvement in the Greeenspace branding. The catering department has been awarded three stars for commitment to sustainable food provision and the university has won many awards for sustainable tourism, though it’s a bit of a mystery why we’re a tourist attraction.
There are also University-wide awareness events, from pub quizzes to move-out schemes at the end of the year, but you could be forgiven for not noticing these amongst the long list of events also on those emails. Competitions between colleges mean that due to our ‘college pride’, lots of people get involved, but there are few unified campaigns. A lot of the responsibility is passed on to the college environment reps, who can do as much or as little as they want.
It is possible for Durham University to ‘clean-up’ its sustainability act. UCL used to languish low down the tables but has since risen by 32 places owing to the introduction of campus-wide programmes such as ‘The Big Easter Switch Off’. The campaign involved encouraging everyone to turn off all their electrical items over the Easter holidays.
At the University of Lancashire, there is an annual green week to raise awareness.
With new, government-required carbon reduction targets now coming into place, maybe now is the perfect time for Durham to pull its (thermal) socks up, and start to work its way up the energy efficiency ladder.
Photograph: Wikimedia Image, Creative Commons.