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Sustainability Strategic Framework formally launched

Wednesday, 3 May 2017 11:25am

Sustainability Manager Hilary Phipps and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis at the Launch of the University's Sustainability Strategic Framework: 2017-2021. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

The University of Otago plans to halve the greenhouse gas emissions generated by its energy use and simultaneously cut its total carbon footprint by a third – by switching from coal to locally sourced wood.

A coal-fired boiler provides heat and steam to 40 per cent of the Dunedin campus’ gross floor area, 29 buildings, says the Manager of the University’s Office of Sustainability, Dr Hilary Phipps.

Making the transition to wood will take up to three years, because of physical changes that have to occur to facilitate that, she told the audience at the official launch of the University’s Sustainability Strategic Framework: 2017–2021.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says the nine other priority sustainability actions the University plans to take this year are:

  • Establishing operational sustainability targets – which includes (1) reducing our total greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020, (2) improving energy efficiency by at least 20 per cent by 2025, (3) becoming 100 per cent renewable by 2030, and (4) reducing waste to landfill by 50 per cent by 2021. All four targets will be measured against a 2012 baseline.
  • Launching and supporting a voluntary Green Team network in departments and colleges - to help staff and students to embed sustainable practices by providing support, advice, and resources. They can gain points in nine sustainability categories, including energy, transport, and waste minimisation.
  • Launching a living lab – involves “treating our campuses as ‘living laboratories’ of sustainability practice, research and teaching,” Dr Phipps says. The project focuses on fostering cooperation between operational and academic staff to help the University practise sustainability in its day-to-day operations, perform research on its challenges, and equip its students with sustainability skills to take out into the world. Otago will be “tapping into what we do best as a research-led University, and applying our best and brightest minds to addressing our own sustainability challenges.”
  • Completing a stocktake of sustainability-related research and teaching - to help identify strengths and areas for development. Achieving targets set in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “will require us to harness the strength, breadth and depth of our research, and engage effectively to ensure it is applied,” Dr Phipps says.
  • Setting up a revolving Green Fund – by late this year, to support efficiency projects (from an existing budget). The fund will include clear criteria for applicants, and defined monitoring and reporting requirements. Savings will be tracked and used to replenish the fund for the next round. Established funds have reported 28 per cent median annual returns.
  • Achieving certification from the Certified Emissions Management and Reduction Scheme (CEMARS) - for independent assurance the University’s current carbon footprint estimates are accurate and in line with international best practice. CEMARS is an internationally certified greenhouse gas emissions programme created by Enviromark Solutions Ltd in 2001.
  • Developing a targeting and monitoring programme to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs, involves developing and implementing a clear work programme by building on an existing collaboration agreement with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA).
  • Finalising and implementing ‘green building’ standards, to minimise the University’s impact on the environment throughout the design, construction and occupation phases of building projects.
  • Creating transparency with an effective communications strategy for internal and external audiences, includes building a respected sustainability brand, giving clear and practical advice to staff and students, and providing opportunities for them to contribute.

Dr Phipps says while universities around the world have been working towards sustainability for longer, Otago has a clear opportunity to become a leader in Australasia.

“As a research-led University with an unwavering commitment to excellence and an emphasis on meaningful actions over empty words, we should be striving to be a recognised leader.”

"As a research-led University with an unwavering commitment to excellence and an emphasis on meaningful actions over empty words, we should be striving to be a recognised leader."

Dr Phipps says a large number of people contributed to the University achieving this milestone launch of the framework - including members of an earlier working party, past and current members of the Vice-Chancellor’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, and staff and students who took time to provide feedback during the various stages of the framework’s development.

Dr Phipps gave particular thanks to Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis, and members of the Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Group and University Council for their leadership and willingness to help the University become boldly sustainable.

“The framework provides the foundation for integrating sustainability principles and practices into all our campuses and our activities.

“Working together, we can help Otago become a recognised centre of excellence for sustainability practice and research – we have no time to waste,” Dr Phipps says.

Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee Chair Emeritus Professor Carolyn Burns says the launch of the framework is the culmination of a long and very thorough process of planning, consultation, and negotiation over several years, but is also the launch of an escalated implementation phase.