Opinion: Dan Fernbank, Energy Manager

 Back in 2011, the University committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 35% by July 2016; one of the most ambitious targets set amongst our peers over the timescale.  For very many reasons, meeting that target matters.

We have invested over £3 million in energy efficiency initiatives since 2011; already returning almost £10 million in cumulative financial savings.  In a period when the funding model for universities has fundamentally shifted, savings of this size make an important contribution to the university remaining financially as well as environmentally sustainable.  Both the investment and savings to date also fall very much in line with the original expectations of our carbon management programme; and demonstrate we developed and maintained a well-founded programme of work.

We developed our carbon management programme in the context of some ambitious targets set by HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) for the entire sector; to deliver 43% sector-wide carbon reductions by 2020.  As recent evidence has shown, for many different reasons a number of other institutions have struggled to deliver against their own targets; and the sector as a whole looks unlikely to meet their ambitious 2020 target.  Delivering our 35% target, en route to our 45% target for 2020, will demonstrate that targets can be achieved in the right circumstances and with the right resource.

The University is a world leader in climate change research and sustainable construction, and it really does matter that we lead by example.  We still have much more we can do, but our sustainability credentials in our internal operations increasingly support a reputation for sustainability leadership in our research and teaching.

This year is a crucial year for international climate change negotiations, with all eyes on the Paris conference in December hoping for a strong international agreement on tackling global climate change.  At the University, we have cut our cumulative emissions since 2011 by over 42,000 tCO2 (equivalent to around 16 months’ emissions from our entire operations).  We hope that on a local, a sector and perhaps even a national scale, our achievements can inspire others to emulate us.

Back on a more local level, improving the efficiency of our estate goes hand-in-hand with improved comfort; whether through better insulated buildings, better controlled heating and ventilation, or better lit spaces.  Energy and carbon considerations have become integral to major development plans on the estate, promising a continuing path to a lower carbon future.

As our new financial year (August – July) begins, we are just finalising our end of year carbon figures, and expect a total carbon reduction against our baseline of around 23% – 25%.  With our new district heating network being completed over the summer, £1 million investment in science lab efficiency and a major behaviour change programme just some of the initiatives we have planned for this year, we are buoyant, but not complacent about our ability to hit that 35% target during 2016.  Whether it’s the environmental, financial or comfort drivers that matter most to individuals, the benefits of meeting our target are clear.

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