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A “quiet revolution:” report outlines ongoing sustainability efforts across the University

A report by the Conference of Colleges has been published about existing college sustainability. 

The report details sustainability efforts in Oxford colleges and aims to use its evidence “to collectively and individually set meaningful targets for reducing environmental impact”. It also has the ambition to “make Oxford a truly environmentally sustainable city”.

The report details the “quiet revolution [which] has been occurring in the colleges and PPHs with the implementation of numerous actions and activities to make them more environmentally sustainable”. Oxford colleges set their own environmental targets as they are a “semi-independent entity” from the central University. 

Within the 494 actions made by the 44 colleges, energy saving initiatives were the most common, made by 95% of colleges. Energy saving actions include draught proofing and insulation improvements, put in place by 21 colleges. Energy efficient designs were adopted by 5 colleges. These 5 colleges, including Hertford and St Peter’s College, are adopting or have adopted Passivhaus buildings which provide “a high level of occupant comfort while using very little energy for heating and cooling.” 

30 colleges reported undertaking energy saving initiatives which include “replacing traditional incandescent lighting with LED equivalents or low energy lightbulbs”. Wadham “recently changed all lights to LEDs in the main Library, including desk lights. The lights automatically dim when there is no activity in some area[s].” The chief challenge for completing such energy saving initiatives was “expense associated with implementing these higher environmental standards.”

The report details Oxford college’s use of renewable energy sources. Both Christchurch and Wolfson college made use of Air Source Heat Pumps. The report states that their high cost was offset by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) which provides government payment for 20 years. Use of solar panels were reported to be in the process of being installed, or are being installed by 9 colleges. LMH and Somerville both use solar panels to preheat student blocks. 

Efficiency controlling energy use was also a subject of the report. It details the use of Building Management Systems (BMS) by 13 colleges which manage boiler performance. Furthermore, smart TRVs which control the heating of empty rooms are used by 6 colleges. Heating controls also improve thermal efficiency. One college reported an 18% reduction in gas usage after installing heating controls. 

Colleges are reported to have used behavioral tactics to improve their environmental sustainability. Audits have been used by across 6 colleges: Merton college is reported to have “used the services of a specialist energy surveyor to audit the college estate in terms of carbon, natural capital and biodiversity.” St John’s took part in the government’s CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme which is reported to have helped reduce the college’s carbon footprint. 

Carbon footprint reduction is detailed in the report’s investigation of adaptation to green transport. 10 colleges, including Keble, University College and Oriel, disposed of or replaced vans in favour of electric transport. Some colleges have installed charging points for electric vehicles. 

Water saving initiatives were also outlined in the report. Water saving devices are reported to be in place in colleges across the university. These include: “traffic light shower heads” which operate on a timer in St Edmund Hall and Wadham and a “rainwater harvesting system” in Christchurch college. 

The report details efforts to maintain and create biodiversity within Oxford college environments. Wadham College “installed two British National Standard bee hives in 2019. The starter colonies came from a bee farm in Warwickshire and the bees are wonderful for pollinating the flowers.” Christchurch college created a wildlife corridor for small animals, including badgers, to utilise. 

Plant diversity has been ensured by 8 colleges who have begun planting native species and wildflower gardens. These include Jesus College’s action to wild parts of their gardens and avoiding grass cutting. Furthermore, 6 colleges have taken part in “greening” areas. St Edmund Hall created a green wall “which offer[s] both visual improvements and habitats for insects”, though maintaining these environments is reported to be challenging. 

Many colleges are reported to have made waste-reducing efforts. Recycling amongst Oxford colleges is widely reported in an effort to “minimise waste being incinerated off-site”. St Edmund Hall are reportedly planning a Winnow Waste management system which measures food waste created by college diners. 

Food sourcing initiatives have also been undertaken by a variety of colleges. Among others, LMH and Keble are Fairtrade accredited. A herb garden is also being grown at St Hugh’s for the college kitchen. Fourteen colleges are reportedly reducing their meat consumption, taking part in ‘Meat-free Mondays’. The report states “most colleges have had a positive reception to these [meat-reducing] initiatives, with members regarding the changes as healthy and facilitatory of a flexitarian diet. Others have been met with resistance, with pushback from staff and students on restricting choice.”

Image Credit: JR P / CC BY-NC 2.0

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