How green can you go?

An investigation carried out by Cherwell finds that between Oxford colleges there is a large discrepancy between environmental approaches.

Trinity was the only college in the survey who had a specific environmental budget which is set at £50,000 annually.

When asked how much they spent on environmentally orientated matters, most colleges said but that refurbishments, alternate energy sources, and recycling facility costs all came out of their normal maintenance budget. Hertford said that last year, £101,000, 25% of annual maintenance budget was spent on environmental measures and they pledge this year to reduce food waste and use sustainably sourced products.

Jesus College claim to have spent far more than this however, citing over £500,000 on environmental measures on average per year for the last five years. They concluded that they have, “the ambition of spending £500,000-£1,000,000 per year on projects with key environmental impacts.”

A student at Jesus told Cherwell that while the figure was “a lot”, he thought that the environment was important and that therefore “while the college can afford it, it’s a good idea.”

 

‘Trinity has a £50,000 annual environment budget’

 

Roberta Iley, Chairperson of the OUSU led Environment and Ethics Committee, commented: “At Oxford we contend with a very difficult college system that is unfortunately not very accountable relative to the university as a whole. “Inevitably, this means that many of the colleges’ environmental standards are lagging behind those seen in the departments and at other universities.”

61% of the colleges who responded to us said that they did have recylcing bins in student rooms.

However, in other colleges such as Harris Manchester this is not standard, a spokesperson for the college said, “Recycling bins are available in rooms for a deposit and it is the responsibility of the student to empty them. “There are no current takers for this.”

Winston Featherly-Bean, the college’s JCR President told Cherwell that “At Harris Manchester, a lot of students look for opportunities to recycle and help the environment.

“I suspect that not everyone was aware of this option and so the next step is for the JCR Committee to make sure everyone does.”

OUSU’s E&E Committee are currently carrying out a survey of Oxford colleges dubbed “Recycling with Honours” whereby colleges are rated on their facilities and given a tailor-made advice pack accordingly.

Natalie Haley, the Recycling and Waste Officer, said, “We looked at the current state of recycling facilities in Oxford colleges and we were shocked at how bad the provisions could be hence decided to start this campaign.”

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St Peter’s E&E Rep, Sinead Lane revealed, “We’ve been trying to get comingled recycling for about a year and a half.

“However after informing the bursar about the OUSU E&E committee’s campaign to rank all colleges by their environmental standards they’ve been much more helpful and now we’ve got comingled recycling.”

Almost half of the colleges who responded to our survey had renewable energy on the table: most of them as part of new developments which are required to generate 20% of their own energy under Oxford City Council building regulations.

 

 

One such construction is the Ship Centre owned by Jesus which has solar panels on the roof, providing an estimated 5-10% of the energy used for space heating and hot water. The college has further announced plans of a project to install solar thermal, solar photovoltaic or geothermal systems at all the student residences.

Exeter have installed on their facilities air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, solar thermal panels, and solar photovoltaic panels which together produce 25% of the college’s energy requirement.

One Exeter student commented, “I think it’s good that we’re doing all we can and even if things are slightly more expensive for a while, I’m happy to pay if that means we’re doing our best for the environment.”

Other schemes in the pipes, no pun intended, include plans to generate energy from food waste at Catz, and installing ground source heat pump coils in the lake at Worcester.

Another issue which arose from our survey was how colleges were to become more energy efficient without defacing their buildings.

Built in the 1960’s, St Catz was the only college in the survey which can boast to being 100% double glazed, only 23% of the colleges asked said more than half of their student accommodation is double glazed.

Merton and St John’s both stated that this was due to having listed buildings as college room but secondary glazing has been used.

 

‘Oxford has a really exciting potential to go green’

 

St John’s student Domonic Parikh said, “Double glazing seems like a win-win, especially in student accommodation. “I’m not sure how bad double glazing would really look – certainly my building at John’s is hardly pretty in the first place.”

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Daniel Lowe, a member of the OUSU E&E committee, told Cherwell, “Double glazing in colleges is often very difficult due to many college buildings being listed, but King’s College London have shown how a grade I listed building can become energy efficient.”

The 1829 building in London was refurbished in 2007 to maximise the effect of natural light and solar heat. It now saves around 383 tonnes of CO2 per year and £77,000.

Other less conventional methods to encourage green thinking include OUSU’s Beds for Bees Campaign” which aims “to establish a network of ‘nectar beds’ across Oxford.”

The flower beds planted at colleges and other sites will contain native plants that will provide nectar and pollen from March to November, making Oxford “a great place to bee!”

Andrew Campbell Black, E&E Rep for Mansfield who are participating, said of the scheme, “I think it is quite important and something that Oxford colleges can do very easily. “They often only need to order a new batch of seedlings and the differences to the bees will be large.”

Linacre, regarded by the E&E Chairperson Iley as “the most environmentally-college by [her] standards”, took some different approaches.

To encourage students to do their bit, the college held a competition between different accommodation blocks which meant that some buildings have decreased their energy usage by a quarter.

The winning students will be awarded with a, “free low carbon dinner in the small dining room”. Niel Bowerman, a physicist and environmental activist at Linacre told us, “In the past year we have cut our carbon emissions 13% compared with last year.

“Everyone at Linacre has been working together to drive down our energy usage from students to the cleaning staff to the Principal himself.”

Patrick Kennedy, from the E&E Committee, told Cherwell, “With the university ranked 89th in the national ‘Green League’, it’s more than clear that there’s definite space for improvement.

“Oxford has a really exciting potential to turn green, and it’s great to see some colleges make positive changes.

“However, many colleges are clearly lagging behind, and need to start thinking urgently about sustainability.”