Developing University Campus Sustainability

5058 words (20 pages) Essay

23rd Sep 2019 Environmental Sciences Reference this

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“Design a plan based on literature, policy, and observation, which would enhance the sustainability of a University campus. Focus on transport, waste and energy”

The purpose of this assignment is to make a plan to enhance the sustainability of the University of Limerick campus and to establish it on literature – case studies and scientific journals, policies – the policy of UL and other universities policies, and observations – what is observed on campus.

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To plan how to enhance the sustainability of the campus we must first understand what is sustainability? And why is sustainability important? The answer to the first question is that sustainability “is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations” (EPA, a).

Why is it important? It is important as sustainability is solely based on the environment but instead “it’s also about our health as a society in ensuring that no people or areas of life suffer as a result of environmental legislation”. (Mason M.)

We need to focus on how to maintain balance between moving forward economically and our needs and the needs of the environment. “Humanity meanwhile uses about 40% more resources in one year than nature can regenerate within a year.” (Lorek S. et al., 2011, 2).

Is UL a sustainable campus? We will find the answer to this as we look at the University of Limericks transport, waste and energy and the policies around this. As well as this I will also design a plan on how to make the campus more sustainable by looking at other college policies and case studies based on sustainability of colleges all over the world.

Transport:

There are many related problems to transport such as pollution, noise, congestion, accidents that leads to casualties and fragmentation of habitats. As well as this the dependence on oil and its oil constituents can be added to this list. (Kemp R. et al., 2004). It is a major contributor to global warming, CO2 emissions and energy consumption. That is why we must implement a sustainable way of transport, especially in universities as they “have a significant impact on society and can play a key role in sustainability provisions”. (Dagiliūtė R. et al., 2018).

The University of Limerick has policies based on each mode of transport such as walking, cycling, travelling by car, buses or taxis. It has adapted to the different modes of transportation. With the support of Limerick Smarter Travel the university tries to promote alternative transportation instead of using cars to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the university.

The University has constructed several cycling facilities inside and outside the campus as a response to the increase of cyclists travelling in and out of campus. UL has encouraged the use of bikes by having a variety of cycle routes the students and staff can take. They have also built a bike hub and numerous bike racks all over campus to make it easier for students to park their bike. UL Smarter Travel has also partnered up with the UL Laundrette to run a free initiative that allows cyclist commuters to borrow a towel for free so they can use them in the on campus showering facilities. The university also has a “bike doctor” that comes in every Tuesday to help fix bikes, however in my opinion I think that this is not convenient as the “bike doctor” is only there for a limited time and one day a week and it could be an inconvenient time for those who want to get their bikes fixed as they may have to skip a lecture. UL Smarter Travel has put forward initiatives to get students and staff active, there is competitions and challenges with the prospect of winning different types of prizes. As well as this the university also gives away free walking or cycling gear with the support of the RSA.

UL has promoted walking and cycling through all their social media platforms and especially by doing events and competition mostly during the first and second week of college. While the University of Limerick has promoted these events, and implemented actions to build bike racks it still is not enough.

Fig 1. CO2 emissions of in tonnes per year. (EPA, b).

From the graph, it shows the different sources of greenhouse gas emissions, it can be seen that most of our emissions comes from road transport. There is an increase in road transport emissions in 2006 and 2007 but because of the recession it had dropped.

In comparison to the University of Limerick, University College Cork has put more time, effort and planning in their transport that promotes sustainability. “UCC has developed a comprehensive Commuter Plan. Led by a dedicated Commuter Plan Manager” (UCC, a). The Commuter Plan contributes to the active car park management and to facilitate and promote different modes of transport. As well as this, UCC has installed a bike pump on the main campus in the reception area, making it accessible to students or staff that need this. UCC also has a cycle to work scheme which allows employees to save income tax and PRSI when they purchase their bike and safety gear.

“The cycle to work scheme continues to be popular among UCC staff, with in the region of 1,000 bikes being purchased.” (UCC, b). University College Cork still believes that there is room for improvement when it comes to a more sustainable way of transport. However, the University of Limerick continues to lack in this area. The university does not continue to look for ways to improve transportation in a more sustainable way unless the issue is raised.

Outside of Ireland, we can compare these universities to the ones like the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands who believe that it is the universities “job to create the conditions that will foster sustainable behaviour within the academic community” (UvA, 2018). They have supported a more sustainable approach in many ways including transport. Since bikes are a part of the Dutch culture it is used in everyday life and travel. It is found that in Amsterdam it is faster to cycle than use the public transport especially since with a bike they can access places cars are not allowed in.

Fig 2. CO2 emission in tonnes per year. (UvA, 2017)

This chart shows the different sectors that contribute to CO2 emissions. It was only in 2013 that commuter traffic contributed to around 5,000 tonnes or less of CO2 emissions.  It also shows that the transport of the University contributes less than the other 3 sectors. This means that they have a more sustainable approach in transport within the University.

We can follow this example of these two universities, University College Cork and University of Amsterdam, by integrating bike culture more in the social structure of the campus. As well as this by having our own Commuters Plan and having a team of people that are continuously updating this plan to benefit not only the students and staff but also the environment, this then allows the balance between transport and the environment to occur.

When it comes to transport in these two different countries the policies are very different. In Ireland “the Government approach to sustainable transport is set out in ‘Smarter Travel – a Sustainable Transport Future’, which aims to improve our current transport and travel patterns.” (EPA, 2013. c). The Smarter Travel goals are to minimise the negative effects of transports and to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels. This policy was only implemented in 2012 in 3 different places in Ireland (Limerick, Dungarvan and Westport). These 3 counties were funded a total of €23 million over a period of 3 years to promote cycling, walking and to reduce the use of transport by car. This includes improving cycling and pedestrian lanes and secure bike racks in the town. The aim of this policy in terms of using bikes for transport is to use bikes for 10% of journeys by 2020.

While Ireland is trying to reverse its current unsustainable transport and travel patterns, the Netherlands are looking to improve their public transport in a more “fast, comfortable, reliable and affordable way” (Government of the Netherlands, a). In the Netherlands, they are going to implement a new policy in the nearby future which aims to create a high quality and innovative public transport system. The “Vision on the Future of Public Transport for 2040” plan has already been complete by the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management along with the help of different companies and provinces. Even with this policy that is already underway the Dutch government are still committed to “to international agreements to combat climate change and improve air quality. Public transport plays an important role in this. For instance by switching to alternative fuels, the use of sustainable infrastructure and sustainable materials.” (Government of the Netherlands, b).  The Dutch government also want to make this sustainable public transport a part of the lives of the people, this will not only benefit the environment but also the health of the people in the country.

To conclude, to make the University of Limerick a more sustainable campus in terms of transport we must adapt different ways of transportation such as cycling more into the social system on campus like they do in the Netherlands. We must also avail of the facilities and the initiatives set out by UL Smarter Travel and to continue looking for ways to improve them. The university must also keep looking at other universities that are going in the right direction in terms of transport and sustainability and follow from their examples. And as well as this we all must change our or adapt our personal behaviour in terms of sustainable transport.

Waste:

Waste is regarded as something that cannot be reused and is thrown away after it has served its purpose. An example of waste is municipal waste which is everyday items that are thrown away. In the University of Limerick there is an excess of waste that is being produced daily, not just from students and staff but also people from the community that use the facilities of the university.

Campus waste is easily spotted from broken beer glasses on the ground to squished cans of cider placed in the bushes or plastic wrappers on the ground. While the university is trying to promote the reduction of waste by reducing the price of coffee if you have your own cup, it is simply not enough. Everyday thousands of wrapping materials are still thrown away to be incinerated as they cannot be recycled because they are contaminated with food.

Throughout the year, especially during the semester, the university will always be producing waste. There is an increase of waste build up in the university when the campus hold events such as the open days. In just these two days the waste produced would equal to a normal week in college due to the amount of people on campus.

The Building and Estates Department has the responsibility of collecting and disposing the waste that university generates. According to the Waste Policy it “sets out to achieve best industry practice in waste management whereby the reduction of waste generated on campus and its segregation at source into recyclable waste streams aims to ensure targets set by the Regional Waste Management Plan are met and exceeded.” The University’s Waste Management strategy aims to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill (University of Limerick). In accordance to the Waste Management strategy the waste that destined to go to landfill was reduced to up to 65%.

As well as this the university put forward a waste management trial. This is to encourage students and staff to separate out their rubbish into general waste, recyclables and compost. This is part of the ongoing work happening on campus to improve waste management process, the aim of this trial project was “to ensure that all steps of the waste process are addressed, starting from waste points of entry into bins on public corridors and in staff offices, and UL cleaning staff removing internal bin waste out into external bin compounds.” (Collins S.M., 2017). There was a lot of thought and effort was put into this by the Environmental Society, they thought of where to get started and what design to use for the bins. In addition to this the Environmental Society also collaborated with Mr. Binman, the university’s waste removal providers, to see if the signs used for the different bins corresponds to their waste removal. The trial bins were put in the Kemmy Business School and the adjoining building the Schumann building. This trial proved successful and so the bins were placed all over the campus improving the waste management of the University.

In comparison to the University of Limerick, University of Nottingham in United Kingdom tried to reduce the amount of waste that they produce. According to the university, the campus produces around 3,000 tonnes of waste per annum and most of it goes to landfill. The university tried to “reduce waste and maximise recycling.” And because of this “we’ve significantly increased our recycling rate from 5% in 2005 to 99% in 2017/18 (includes recovery by the waste contractor).” (University of Nottingham, a). The university provides surveys to students to find out their thoughts about waste especially plastic waste, they also provide information to the public on the services that they provide in the university as well as the how they reduce landfill waste. The university website provides different resources to the public on how we can reduce our plastic waste. Not only will this benefit the campus sustainability but also provide information for incoming students to help them learn about how they can help in reducing waste on campus. The university also does different projects to help reduce the waste that goes into landfill such as “working with contractors to help reduce waste during construction projects, reusing spare furniture, composting 500 tonnes of garden waste each year to reuse within campus grounds as soil improver and the Waste Nott plastic challenge.” (University of Nottingham, b). By doing these different projects it helps reduce waste and gets students and staff involved in making a difference.

As well as this we must think of the food waste that is generated daily in the canteens on campus.

“Food waste has important environmental, social and economic impacts” (Pinto R.S., et al., 2018).

This is because the production of food cost millions of euros and it food waste is associated with unfavourable impacts on the environment as well as socio-economic impacts. Its effect such as greenhouse gas emission and the loss of capital from the production of these food and having to pay for service to dispose of the waste being generated.

In the University of Nottingham there is an increase in food waste yearly.

Fig 3. Food waste collected per annum. (UoNSustainability, 2016-2017. a)

According to this graph, the food waste that is collected each year is increasing in a rate of around 45 tonnes. However, in the collection of food waste in the year 2016/2017there was less than 40 tonnes collected. This could lead to a decrease of food waste being collected due to the projects being done on campus such as specific locations for food disposals located in canteens especially.

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While there is an increase in number of food waste, the University of Nottingham has a solution to convert food waste into reusable energy – “waste to be processed and its energy recovered via anaerobic digestion thereby creating usable energy.” (UoNSustainability, 2016-2017. b).

This not only lessen their impact on the environment but also allows them to save money in terms of energy as they can convert this food waste into their own usable energy.

While talking about waste such as municipal and food, we must take into consideration waste management. Prevention is the preferred method to any waste management option. So, by using the method of prevention “we can eliminate the need to handle, transport, treat and dispose of waste. We also then avoid having to pay for these services. ‌” (EPA).

And in order to take into consideration waste management we must look at the policies from these two countries. Since Ireland and England are both still in the EU, the policies on waste are based on EU concepts. One concept that both countries share is the waste hierarchy.

Fig 4. Hierarchy of waste management. (Boysan F. et al., 2015).

From the waste hierarchy diagram, it “requires anyone managing waste to consider first prevention, preparing for reuse and recycling followed by other methods of recovery, for example energy recovery and, lastly, disposal.” (UK Environmental Law, 2017). From this preventing waste is more preferred than disposing of waste, and if prevention cannot be avoided then we must aim to look at other option when it comes to managing waste. Prevention is given priority in both Ireland and England when it comes to waste policies. But while most of the policies in Ireland and England are similar, they are both enforced very differently. While England, especially in universities such as the University of Nottingham, have more implemented policies on campus and different ways of counteracting waste production the University of Limerick does not. In my observation of the two universities, the University of Limerick is lacking in this waste management. However, the University of Limerick is trying to build for a more sustainable future and is collating and challenging current waste management practices to ensure that waste is avoided, upcycle, reduced, reused and recycled, where possible. (University of Limerick, 2017).

In conclusion, in order to make the campus more sustainable in terms of waste we can follow the example of the University of Nottingham when it comes to managing our waste. By doing so, we can reduce our waste and maximise recycling. As well as this raise awareness to not only students and staff but also to the public about generating waste and how to get involved when it comes to reducing our waste at home and on campus.

Energy:

Energy is something that we need in order to produce electricity and heat for our homes, school or businesses and power machines in order to get work done. The main source of energy that we use are fossil fuels, however using fossil fuels causes adverse effects on the environment as well as our health. So, to lessen these effects on the environment we must look towards sustainable energy. Sustainable energy is “energy that meets the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Energy Alabama, 2018). This means we need to find other sources of energy such as renewable energy – sources that renew themselves instead of sources that can be exhausted due to the increasing demand for them. Renewable energy such as wind, solar, water, geothermal and bioenergy.

Since the university is over 40 years old the designs are outdated, such as single glazed windows. This impacts the university energy wise as it takes more energy to heat up the building because the windows cannot keep in the heat. As a result of this it costs more and the university’s carbon footprint is increased. This also lets more noise in, which is very inconvenient for lectures that happen especially in rooms in the main building that are near the Stables bar. Additionally, the lights in rooms are used when it is not necessary because of the design of the building.

While the university does not have any sustainable energy projects, they are involved in the research for developing technology for clean and renewable energy. This includes ESB partnering up with the University of Limerick to support the on-going research for clean energy, not only for the campus but also for the country. “ESB is leading the transition to a low carbon future by investing in low carbon and renewable generation, pioneering smart grid technologies to connect intermittent renewable generation with technology enabled customers and by supporting the electrification of heating and transport as a way of reducing Ireland’s dependence on carbon intensive fossil fuels.” (University of Limerick, 2018). By working with students from the university ESD will receive innovative and ground-breaking results. In addition to this the university is also researching “to make light bulbs ‘smarter’, greener and more efficient using digital control.” (University of Limerick,2015). Enterprise Ireland has funded over €380,000 to the research team in order to develop this technology to create sustainable energy not just on campus but in homes all over the country as well.

In comparison to the University of Limerick, University of California Davis has many different projects that enhances their campus sustainability in terms of energy. From energy efficient student accommodation to saving energy in campus buildings.

The student accommodation project or the Tercero Phase 3 has obtained the highest rating of platinum in the U.S Green Building Council ‘s Leadership in Energy or Environmental Design also known as LEED program. LEED is used a “green building rating system that is used all over the world, it provides a foundation to create healthy, highly efficient and cost saving green buildings” (LEED). In addition to this it helps building save energy, water and generate less waste.

The Tercero 3 buildings includes features such as “space heating and hot water systems that derive their energy from steam formerly lost to the atmosphere; water consumption that falls well below norms indoors (34 percent less) and outdoors (64 percent less)” (Jones D., 2014). These features allows the student housing save move energy and consume less water. This heating mechanism also contributes to the heating of houses, providing energy for the building and supplying water for sinks and showers.

In addition to this UC Davis also use biodigesters to turn campus waste into energy. In 2014 the university and its partner, CleanWorld, unveiled the UC Davis Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester or READ for short. Professor Ruihong Zhang and her research team designed the technology for the biodigester that converts 50 tonnes of organic waste into 12,000 kWh of renewable energy on a daily basis. This in turn redirects around 20,000 tonnes of waste from landfills each year. The biodigester “create a total of 5.6 million kWh per year of clean electricity. It is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13,500 tons per year” (Kerlin K., 2014). With this technology we can move forward economically while providing for our needs and the needs of the environment.

Another university that is active in sustainability projects is Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. They have many sustainability projects to reduce its climate impact and CO2 footprint in terms of energy, waste and transport. Wageningen also produces renewable energy “with windmill turbines in Lelystad, bio-CHP’s, thermal storage on campus and solar panels” (Wageningen University & Research). From using the renewable energy that Wageningen produces their CO2 emissions in terms of energy was reduced by 79%. As well as this the geothermal system heats and cools buildings in a more sustainable way and in turn reduces carbon emissions.

Fig 5. Energy consumption and performance in reference year (20005) and in 2014-2017 of WUR (Veiligheid and Milieu, 2018)

From the table it shows the energy consumption and performance of the university. From the reference year which was 2005 the CO2 emission was very high, however throughout the year as the Multi-Year Agreement 3 was implemented WUR is committed to accomplishing 30% energy efficiency. So from 2014 onwards the CO2 emissions have been decreasing ever since the MJE-3 was put into effect. From 2016 to 2017 there was an 8.1% reduction in energy consumption, meaning the target of 2% from the MJE-3 target in 2017 surpassed its expectation.

Fig 6. Elements that surround sustainable energy. (Safety and Environment, 2014)

According to WUR there are different factors that surround achieving sustainable energy. Factors such as costs, operational reliability and national legislations and regulations. And within sustainability there are a preferential sequence. the most important step is “Energy savings” as it has a beneficial effect on both cost and sustainability. By increasing sustainable energy we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and other sources of energy that is harmful to the environment.

While UC Davis has around 35,000 students and the University of Limerick has 20,000 less we can still take as an example from this university but only on a smaller scale.

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