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Man locking up a bike at the University of Reading

What is the University of Reading doing?

As a leading institute in climate change, sustainable construction and renewable energy, the University of Reading takes its environmental responsibilities seriously.

In 2011 our then Vice Chancellor, Professor Gordon Marshall, signed off our Carbon Management Plan, committing to reduce our carbon emissions by 35% by July 2016, compared to a 2008/09 baseline. We have recently extended our commitment to a 45% reduction against this baseline by July 2021.

Reducing our carbon footprint

Our target covers a range of emissions, as Figure 1 below illustrates:

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Figure 1. University of Reading baseline carbon emissions

As we learned last week, there are three groups of emissions, as defined by the International Greenhouse Gas Protocol:

  • Scope 1 emissions - direct emissions produced by the University.
  • Scope 2 emissions - indirect emissions, caused by the production of an energy source which the University then consumes.
  • Scope 3 emissions - emissions which are caused by another organisation, as a result of supplying a service/product to the University.

The University includes a combination of Scope 1-3 emissions in its carbon reduction target, from building energy use, to waste, water and business travel.

Emissions from commuting and procurement emissions have not been considered so far, but we have begun to report on these on an annual basis. As our understanding develops, we may target reductions in these areas too.

How are we doing against our target?

At the end of our initial target period to July 2016, we had achieved a 31% reduction in our carbon emissions. This compares very well against an average of 12% across the UK University sector, but is a little way behind our ambitious 35% target. We expect to meet that target over the next few months.

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Figure 2. Annual progress towards carbon reduction target

Our success to date has been recognised through winning the Sustainability Leaders Award for energy efficiency in 2014, and being highly recommended for continuous improvement in the national Green Gown Awards in 2015.

How have we done it?

We have implemented a wide range of project aiming at reducing our emissions. These are illustrated in Figure 3.

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Figure 3. Percentage of carbon reduction by project type

Critical project to address at an early stage was to ensure our buildings, and the heating systems within them, were well-insulated; to minimise the amount of heat being lost. More recently our new district heating network has delivered substantial savings. Lighting has been another big focus, and we are rolling out a combination of more efficient light fittings, and intelligent sensors, to ensure lights run as efficiently as possible.

We have also invested in improving our energy metering, so we understand much more clearly our energy consumption across our estate. This will help identify areas for further savings, and will provide the backbone to a new behaviour change campaign we are launching, to engage students and staff in taking our carbon reduction achievements even further.

Encouraging sustainable travel

The University is keen to support less carbon intensive modes of travel and produced its Travel Plan in 2012 with targets to reduce single occupancy car travel to our campuses by improving provision of alternative options.

We work very closely with the local bus company, Reading Buses, to ensure an excellent service is provided that meets the University’s needs, incorporating feedback from staff and students to create service improvements. This partnership working has seen bus passenger numbers increase between 15-20% each year over the last five years. Reading Buses fleet has the largest proportion of super green fuel vehicles in the UK including gas powered and hybrid vehicles.

We also encourage walking and cycling to our campuses, providing improved facilities including covered cycle parking and improved access to showers. This has extended to involvement in the set-up of the new on-street bicycle hire scheme, Readybike, with docking stations on both our Reading campuses.

Managing our waste

In 2015/16, 99.9% of waste from the University’s main campuses was either recycled, or sent for energy recovery. This has been achieved through a variety of initiatives, including:

• A pay-by-weight monitoring system for wheelie bins (paper/cardboard, mixed recycling, and landfill) enables the University to monitor and analyse waste streams produced in each location and identify areas for improvement.

• An online system enables staff to re-use items such as office furniture and accessories.

• Our Sustainable Procurement Policy and whole life costing model, which set objectives to reduce waste production from an early stage.

• Increasing the amount of recycling bins inside and outside the buildings and replacing desk side waste bins in offices with communal waste/recycling stations.

• The majority of non-recyclable waste goes to Energy from Waste (incineration with energy recovery) and some also goes to make Refuse Derived Fuel.

• Food waste is collected from all major kitchens and food outlets on campus and goes for Anaerobic Digestion.

Challenges ahead

Like any large organisation, the University is continually changing and evolving. In attempting to reduce our carbon emissions, it is therefore essential we keep track of wider changes within the organisation. To do this, we have created some tools which track the likely carbon impacts of significant estate or strategic changes, which can then be overlaid with our planned carbon reduction projects, to ensure we remain on track with our carbon targets.

For example, in April 2014, in response to a student-led campaign, the University agreed to open the library 24 hours a day during term time. This has been a great boost to the available study space for students, but has also had a knock on carbon impact. Building such essential developments into our planning means we have a clear view of the challenge ahead to achieve our targets.

You can keep up to date on all University of Reading sustainability news by following UniRdg_Sust on Twitter.

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This article is from the free online course:

Our Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future

University of Reading