Aiming high

4th September 2014


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  • Education ,
  • Sustainability


Nicola Small

the environmentalist reports on the energy-efficiency projects being employed at the University of Brighton

The government has identified higher education (HE) institutions as key to helping to deliver carbon reductions in line with Climate Change Act targets, and the University of Brighton (UoB) is helping to lead the way for the sector. The university has already scooped several awards for its environmental work. In 2013, UoB was ranked fifth out of 143 HE institutions in the annual People & Planet green league.

The university’s vision for influencing the climate change agenda goes beyond reducing its own carbon footprint as an organisation. As an HE institution, the university recognises that it can have a much broader reach, aiming to become a centre of excellence by building sustainability into its research and learning practices, and engaging the hearts and minds of its 23,000 students.

UoB has attracted national recognition for “c-change”, its cultural change programme to engage and inspire staff and students to reduce their own carbon emissions. Sustainability is integral to the university’s strategic plan and its carbon management plan outlines a plethora of technical projects to reduce emissions across its infrastructure.

Halving emissions

The university’s carbon management plan sets a target of reducing its residential and non-residential CO2 emissions by 50% by the end of the 2015/16 academic year. The target is set against a 2009/10 baseline, which amounted to 12,111 tonnes of CO2. “Aiming for a 50% reduction is an ambitious, even aspirational target. We believe in aiming high to try to get the best out of everyone,” says Abigail Dombey, environment manager at UoB and IEMA member. “As far as we know, our target is the highest of any HE institution in the UK.”

UoB faces a number of challenges to achieving its carbon-reduction goals, some of which are peculiar to its history and development as an HE institution. Rather than being conveniently situated on one campus – making communication and project management activities easier to control – the university’s 100 buildings are scattered over five campuses located as far away as Hastings and Eastbourne as well as in Brighton. Further, the university is doubling its provision of university-managed residential accommodation in the same five-year period covered by the carbon management plan – prompting an unavoidable increase in emissions. To overcome this, the university has set a relative target for its residential sites to halve their carbon footprint by bed space.

A strong factor that helps to counteract the challenges faced by the university is the strong and active support for sustainability on the part of senior management. Carbon management is embedded into decision-making across throughout UoB. A multidisciplinary carbon management team, led by chief operating officer Sue McHugh, meets every eight weeks to monitor all significant carbon-related projects.

“Top-level commitment to achieving the 50% target is ingrained at an operational level but it goes beyond governance,” says Dombey. “Support from senior managers is very visible on campus, with directors taking an active part in awareness-raising events as part of our c-change campaign – even going as far as wearing our c-change t-shirts and riding our ‘smoothie’ bike.”

Plan of action

UoB’s five-year carbon management plan is the blueprint for its CO2-reduction programme. The plan aims to be broadly self-financing, with any initial investment due to be repaid over a maximum period of 10 years – although some renewable energy and new technology projects may have an individual payback period of more than this.

“The university is committed to using the savings arising from the efficiencies we make, against a ‘business as usual’ profile, to fund further carbon reduction projects,” says Ed Bending, environmental communications officer.

The UoB plan identifies a wide range of projects across the university, both large and small, that will contribute to reducing carbon emissions. The sustainability team held carbon-saving workshops across its sites, as well as a number of in-depth engineering and building fabric surveys, to help identify projects from across the university that could reduce emissions. Feasibility studies and cost-saving analyses were carried out to determine which projects should be included.

The plan identifies more than 30 projects, for which the capital investment, projected efficiency and estimated cost savings vary considerably. Some key achievements so far include the installation of an automatic meter reading system across the university estate, and combined heat and power and district heating in one of its halls of residence. A large-scale LED refurbishment project is also planned, and a newly recruited energy management engineer is now instrumental in optimising the estate-wide building management system.

Dombey points out that some of the greatest energy efficiencies can be realised from the more basic programmes, such as better insulation, rather than the more attention-grabbing enterprises such as renewable energy. She quotes the energy hierarchy from the London plan, the capital’s energy strategy: “First, be lean: use less energy. Then be clean: supply energy efficiently; finally, be green: use renewable energy.” That said, the university’s Moulsecoomb site has the largest photovoltaic (PV) array in Brighton and Hove.

One of the largest-scale projects at UoB is the £25 million refurbishment of its biggest structure, the 10-storey Cockcroft building in Brighton. The project aims to reduce the building’s carbon emissions by 240.7 tonnes of CO2 a year, contributing 4.8% of the university’s overall reduction target. As well as featuring the installation of the PV array, the refurbishment of the 1960s building includes a groundbreaking low-carbon aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) system to heat and cool the building.

ATES is based on energy conservation rather than energy production, through the seasonal storage of cold and warm groundwater in an aquifer. Installing the ATES system in the Cockcroft building – probably the first of its kind in such a large-scale retrofit project in the UK, according to Dombey – involved boring two 50-metre thermal wells. The pioneering system, far more common in the Netherlands, will keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer, radically improving energy efficiency and reducing energy costs.

Energy-saving technology

Two projects outlined in the carbon management plan relate to optimising the energy efficiency of the university’s computer network. The first, completed in 2011, involved replacing UoB’s inefficient datacentre in its Watts building. The additional capital cost for the project to deliver an extremely low-carbon datacentre was around £150,000; it saves the university just over £100,000 in energy costs and around 800 tonnes of CO2 a year. This means the payback on the project was realised in less than two years.

The new centre has modern, power-efficient cooling equipment, resulting in an impressive power utilisation effectiveness (PUE) score of 1.2. PUE is the ratio of the total energy used by a computer datacentre facility to the energy delivered to the computing equipment. An ideal PUE is 1.0. Anything that is not considered a computing device in a datacentre – for example, lighting and cooling – falls into the category of facility energy consumption.

Dombey says UoB is extremely pleased with how the project has contributed to a significant reduction in its carbon footprint. Rather than cooling the entire room as the previous air conditioning system did, the new water-cooled system only cools the racks, monitoring each one individually to determine how much cooling is necessary.

Another ongoing project is the installation of power management software on every one of the university’s 5,000-plus computers. The capital investment for the initiative is around £70,000 but the payback period is estimated at between 12 and 18 months. The information services department worked with members from the environment team and finance in a four-month pilot to help inform the project and procure the best software.

All change

By implementing its carbon management plan, the university aims to embed cutting-edge reduction practices into its culture and daily life. Engaging staff and students is central to this vision and, in October 2012, UoB launched its c-change project. As Dombey says: “The goal of the project is to raise awareness and change behaviours around sustainability issues on campus and in staff and students’ personal lives.”

The project is estimated to cost the university around £100,000 over three years, with an annual payback of just over £60,000 every year.

A great deal of thought and attention to detail went into designing and launching the c-change awareness-raising programme at the university. The environment team, in collaboration with external agency 7creative, decided to brand the campaign and its supporting material with a bright red colour, instead of the more traditional green associated with sustainability. The campaign material is peppered with distinctive and simple icons representing key sustainability areas such as heating, lighting and water use.

Aiming to shift the entire culture of the university by recruiting teams of champions to lead on carbon reduction projects, the launch events across all campuses in November 2012 attracted more than 1,000 students and staff.

The launch kicked off with an innovative “teaser” campaign, taking a less traditional approach to university awareness-raising initiatives by the use of window stickers, floor mats and ceiling hangers. “The teaser element of the campaign was reflected in the half-hidden c-change text and graphics, prompting staff and students to wonder what the bright red posters and signs signified,” says Bending. “We wanted to entice and engage people as a prerequisite for changing their attitudes and habits around carbon reduction.”

The teaser campaign was followed by a series of campus events, with the environment team making a big investment of time and resources by travelling around every one of the five sites to interact with staff and students. Rather than adopting the more mainstream approach of having stands offering leaflets, the team orchestrated a more interactive, fun-based campaign.

Promotional material was very much in evidence – including bright red t-shirts worn by senior managers sporting amusing slogans such as “huge turn off” – with the emphasis always on new ways of engaging staff and students. Events included a smoothie bike that people could ride to make their own low-carbon drinks and a “play your carbon right” card game.

The campaign is ongoing, and interested parties can download c-change stickers and posters from the university’s website and become involved in a number of different sustainability initiatives across the five campuses, including the NUS initiative “green impact”.

“There are three principles that every campaign must adhere to,” says Bending. “It must be fun, be supported by staff time and have the necessary resourcing.”

On track?

Having set such an ambitious carbon-reduction target, the university is managing a myriad of projects and initiatives to achieve its 50% cut in emissions by the end of the 2015/16 academic year. “I think we are brave in setting such an aspirational target and it is not going to be easy,” says Dombey.

While the contributions that some projects will make to the overall target have already been achieved or exceeded, inevitably with a programme of this scale others will face unforeseen challenges and encounter some slippage. As Dombey comments: “We are doing very well but are not quite on target at this point; some of the larger-scale projects are taking a bit longer but we have already raised a huge amount of awareness across the university, which will help to boost momentum on other projects.”

She continues: ”We’re really excited here at the university. We have the opportunity to make a real and lasting change and put Brighton at the forefront of cutting carbon in the UK. We’re aiming to enable and inspire everyone, staff and students alike, and give them the chance to make a difference.”


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