Wednesday, 11 September 2013


As well as changing technology, changing behaviour is crucial to cutting carbon and the fifth ECRP pilot has shown how well-planned initiatives can result in significant savings. Set up in 1989 to support research into cancer and developmental biology, the Gurdon Institute uses around 5 million kWh of electricity a year, giving it the third highest CO2 emissions in the university.

Deciding to focus on behaviour change for the pilot, the Gurdon held an exhibition in 2012 and asked staff to sign a pledge to be more energy aware. Then, between March and September, it ran a competition to see which laboratory could reduce its energy use most each month.

The results were impressive, says Kathy Hilton, facilities manager at the Gurdon: “You see places lit up like Christmas trees and wonder what the point is of saving a couple of kilowatts on your computer. But we’ve shown that little savings from everyone make a big difference.”

The winning laboratory is led by professor Andrea Brand. “They took it really seriously and transformed their whole culture,” says Hilton. “And the reductions persisted after the competition ended. Looking at the year-to-date, 80% of the laboratories have managed to reduce their energy consumption, and the Brand lab (looking at nervous system development) has cut energy use by an impressive 60% overall.”

Next Generation

Headline projects, like the ECRP, sit alongside efforts by the university to encourage staff and students to save energy and to embed carbon reduction in their teaching, learning and research. The university’s network of environmental coordinators and energy champions is helping to support these sustainability aims. More than 180 staff volunteer to take on these roles, and they cover 91% of the university’s departments and offices.

For the past two years, web services manager Sarah Cater has been environmental coordinator at the Cambridge Judge Business School, where she’s examining how to save paper by making more material available online. Over coming months, she will be monitoring paper consumption and the time staff spend producing printouts, and asking users for their views.

“Our executive MBA programme is a great example of how it can work. Delegates are mostly from overseas and the programme is 100% paperless,” says Cater.

Cambridge students are crucial too, both now and in the future. Energy and sustainability are formal elements of many courses, from architecture and engineering to environment policy and manufacturing, but students are also being encouraged to tackle these issues through undergraduate or postgraduate research projects.

In engineering, live data from the energy roof are being used in undergraduate teaching and PhD projects, and an MPhil architecture student is researching energy efficiency in listed buildings – he has 77 to choose from across the university – as a part of the “living laboratory for sustainability” project, funded by financial services company Santander.

According to Simpson: “The project looks at initiatives students could undertake on the estate that will help us reduce our carbon emissions and address wider sustainability issues, at the same time as developing students’ skills and knowledge around carbon and sustainability.”

By increasing awareness of environmental issues, the university is helping to produce a new generation of citizens who are more aware of climate change and more able to tackle it.

“The unique and greatest contribution Cambridge and other universities can make is intellectual,” Simpson says. “Cambridge graduates will go on to become business leaders and politicians of the future, and they could have a huge positive or negative impact depending on their viewpoint when they leave university.”

— Source: Nature GeoScience, National Geographic, BBC Science. 

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