Durham University: New incentive scheme rewards staff and students for turning green

My Greenspace enables students, staff and alumni to record sustainable actions listed under a number of categories: Get Involved, Energy & Water, Biodiversity, Travel, Waste and Health & Wellbeing. Under these umbrellas, actions users can complete include everything from measuring your carbon footprint, shopping local or environmental volunteering to reporting your exercise or eating your 5-a-day. Naturally, with the range of actions, points vary- with each activity being worth between 150 and 500 points. The platform underwent its pilot phase throughout autumn 2021, and within a 3-month period 100 staff and student participants completed 3000 positive actions, saving around 3000kg of carbon emissions.

To date, the university has made significant progress on its path to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions. Since the implementation of the first carbon management plan in 2011, it has saved around 3.697 tonnes of carbon, as well as funding over 100 projects from the ring-fenced carbon budget launched the same year. Across campus, renewable technologies such as solar thermal, air source and ground source heat pumps and rainwater harvesting are now commonplace, while waste management is improving, with surplus resources such as furniture and equipment reused or recycled through the WARP-IT programme, which Durham joined in 2017. However, a crucial next step is to increase engagement with sustainability in the wider student community, promoting small lifestyle changes which cumulatively across Durham University’s population of roughly 20,000 students and 4,000 staff could facilitate further huge impact on the university’s carbon emissions and waste output. The My Greenspace platform is an integral part of Durham’s Energy & Sustainability engagement strategy, and the team hope to have 1500 students and staff signed up by the end of this academic year.

Student-led environmental action

As Senior Energy & Sustainability Manager Simon Park emphasises; “students are key to achieving change, and many are already hard at work on innovative green initiatives which both complement and help pressure change at an institutional level.”

Some key players include Scoop, a student-run, non-profit zero waste shop, the Ugly Fruit Group, a social enterprise which rescues surplus food and veg and redistributes or reuses it in jams and snacks, and Students’ Union groups such as Sustainable and Ethical Fashion society (DUSEF), Sustainable Finance Society. In addition, there exists a wider community Eco DU, which describes itself as a group of students who ‘hold the University of Durham accountable for its decisions regarding sustainability and climate change, aim to learn and inform students and professionals of Durham Uni and positively influence development plans’, and a council of college representatives who work with Greenspace to implement sustainable practices in colleges, known as the Greenspace Student Environment Group (GSEG).

The Energy & Sustainability team hope that My Greenspace can be an additional tool for collaboration with student environment groups, allowing them to promote their work and expand their reach. At the same time, the platform seeks to recognise and reward the invaluable work student environmentalists are already doing. For example, an action already exists on the platform for environmental volunteering, allowing members of these groups, such as Scoop and Ugly Fruit Group volunteers, to log their volunteering each week and redeem Green Points.

Greenspace

At an institutional level, our Energy & Sustainability team have already achieved a great deal in the past year, with renewal of the university’s EcoCampus platinum status in December, and a huge 66-place jump in the People & Planet University League, from 96th in 2019 to 30th in 2021, gaining them the ‘Most Improved’ award. In many areas, Durham achieved top marks, such as an 100% score for their environmental policy and strategy, which was rebranded under the title ‘Greenspace’ in 2010.

However, evidence of the university’s progress towards the targets set out in this strategy was more mixed. For category ‘Sustainable Food’, Durham scored just 30%, and in ‘Waste and Recycling’ achieved a disappointing 12.5%, which serves as testimony to the work that remains to be done in these areas. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges to sustainable practice. For example, while business travel emissions may have decreased significantly in the past year and half, this may obscure what maintainable reduction in carbon emissions has been achieved, and raises questions regarding what the university’s strategy surrounding business travel and working patterns should be in the future. At the same time, the requirement of ‘test to participate’ across wider student experience activities has led to a staggering increase in the waste produced by the university through it’s Lateral Flow Testing sites, which may impact its capacity to reach the 70% recycling target set back in 2018.

My Greenspace hopes to mobilise the masses, encouraging students and staff make positive lifestyle changes and recognising the importance of these small acts as part of the bigger picture that is making Durham’s sustainability goals a reality.

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