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The University of Cambridge’ Green Impact awards are entering their 8th year later this month, with a launch event at the Sainsbury Laboratory. Over recent years, Green Impact has supported many departments, colleges and labs to improve their sustainability performance, with a focus on incremental improvements each year. Many participating teams of staff and students have reached the highest award levels of ‘Gold’ and ‘Platinum’. What could they do next?

The answer is an ‘Excellence’ project, an opportunity for advanced teams to move away from the recommended sustainability actions in the Green Impact workbook to develop and deliver their own sustainability initiative. The result is fantastic and innovative ideas for making sustainability change at a local level within the University!

In this article, we report on the six Excellence projects last year that took on the challenge of creating a sustainability-themed project of their own design.

CISL take the wraps off waste

Ask any member of staff or student what action they take in the workplace to consider the environment, and 9 times out of 10 they will say ‘recycling’. However audits of the University’s bins have shown that staff aren’t brilliant at sorting their waste into the right bin, while there are also many items of waste that can be prevented, reused or reduced before going in the bin. The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership therefore decided to carry out a project to understand more about the waste they are producing, how to avoid producing non-recyclable waste, and how to reduce and reuse before recycling. The team started with a waste audit, which identified a number of common contaminants of their waste streams. By sharing the results of the audit with colleagues, they were able to identify problem wastes, share best practices for avoiding waste, and set up new collections for hard-to-recycle wastes – in particular a KP/Terracycle ‘snack wrapper’ collection. The project was a huge success, with the amount of waste put into the wrong bins by staff dropping to just 2%, far below the University average of roughly 40%!

‘Pen’ding office move for the UCSUCS with pens

The University Counselling Service have a well-established recycling scheme for pen and writing instruments. Started as an Excellence project in a previous year’s Green Impact, the initiative was in doubt due to a pending office move to the new Student Services Centre. While at least 9 Colleges and 19 Departments, as well as some local organisations such as primary schools, regularly collect writing instruments and send them to the Counselling Service to be collected for recycling through a Terracycle scheme, the change in office presented a problem. As well as needing to ensure everyone knew of their new address, the UCS had to make sure that their new building could accommodate the logistics required for the scheme’s operation. The UCS contacted all of their regular ‘pen-friends’ to let them know about the change of address, as well as to thank them for their support of the initiative.  They also worked with the Student Services Centre facilities team to confirm the arrangements for collections going forward, all while continuing to promote the recycling scheme to other departments and even beyond the University. Thanks to the hard work of the UCS Green Team, they have successfully ported the recycling initiative to their new building. As a demonstration of their success, the team recently sent off a recycling shipment of 67 kilos – yes 67 kilos - of pens!

PDN take flight with travel projectPDN poster

The University is already taking significant action to measure and reduce its carbon emissions from energy use. However carbon emissions from travel, particularly that related to academic travel and conferences, is more difficult to measure and to reduce. This didn't put off the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience who were keen to look at air travel as the topic of their Excellence project. Initially, the department undertook a data collection exercise to determine the extent of air travel by members of the department. They then used this information to calculate the carbon footprint of this travel, and began an awareness-raising campaign to let staff know about the alternatives available to flying. The project has given the wider University useful insights into the challenges and opportunities afforded by tackling this significant environmental issue.

A turn up for the books at the University's LibrariesBook flyer

The Green Libraries Group carried out a project to establish libraries as spaces to engage in ‘EcoLiteracy’, with librarians acting as facilitators to engage and educate students and the wider academic community in conversations about climate change and global warming. Through communications activities such as displays and film screenings, as well as a successful book group open to both staff and students, the project has not only helped foster conversation on the issues surrounding sustainability, but also gained significant attention for its trail-blazing approach. The team even had a peer-reviewed paper on their project accepted for publication!

Counselling talk seriesTalking the talk at Sociology

The Department of Sociology initiated a project to convene an environmentally-themed seminar series to showcase relevant research in the social sciences and humanities, and engage staff, students and the public in environmental issues. From the role of insects in the circular economy, to reproduction, to the Anthropocene and Arctic communities, the series covered broad topics and was well-attended, with all of the seminars sparking plenty of discussion. The successful and interesting series culminated in a talk by Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who discussed ‘ethics and the fossil fuel debate’.

OIS look good on paper

The Office of Intercollegiate Services provide a range of services to the 31 Cambridge Colleges. Delivering on the team’s remit requires an extensive administrative effort, which inevitably means lots of paper! The team therefore undertook a project to shift to electronic communications and digital business processes for the office’s activities, with a particular aim of reducing paper use for committee meetings and office activities. As well as switchin a whole range of activities to ‘paperless’, the project has also resulted in the development of a series of case studies and best practice examples that others in the University will be able to learn from.

Get involved

All of these projects were carried out as part of the University's Green Impact initiative, which launches for the 2019/20 academic year at an event on 22 October. Register here to attend!