How Green is Lancaster? A Look at the University’s Environmental Policies

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The Divest Barclays event on 23rd January 2020 was organised by Lancaster People and The Planet, a currently-suspended environmental activist group at the University. People and The Planet’s aim is to achieve full divestment in three years. If Lancaster was to commit to this, one of the major implications would be the removal of companies that fund fossil fuel companies from campus, notably the campus branch of Barclays Bank. These issues were raised in a motion for the University to declare a climate emergency at the Student’s Union’s AGM on 28th October 2019, which was proposed by undergraduate student Jack O’Dwyer-Henry and seconded by Postgraduate student Laurie Butler.

People and The Planet have ranked all the universities within the United Kingdom, with Lancaster currently ranked 91st out of 154. This puts Lancaster University towards the bottom of a 2:2 class university, and ranking 9th out of the top ten universities in the Complete University Guide’s current top ten, only ranking above Durham University. People and the Planet evaluate each University’s sustainability rating through 13 different sections. Lancaster University ranking highly in the ‘Environmental Auditing & Management Systems’ and ‘Energy Sources’ sections, however, the University ranked very low in other areas, such as ‘Ethical Investment’ and ‘Carbon Management’. Lancaster’s fourth-highest section is ‘Sustainable Food’, where People and The Planet highlight “continual improvement in sustainable food across the university catering outlets and conference services”.

The University has provided SCAN with a policy document from 2017, which covers a set of Environmental Management System (EMS) objectives and targets held by the University as they went into academic year 2018/2019. General EMS objectives include environmental awareness amongst staff, creating a waste removal hierarchy, reduce carbon emissions from energy and utility consumption, reduce water consumption, and enhance the biodiversity of the lands around campus. Each EMS objective is then broken down into a specific EMS target or targets, which include maintaining the University’s Green Flag accreditation for university’s grounds, achieving BREEAM ‘outstanding’ standard for all new buildings built on campus, and reduce electricity and fossil fuel consumption by 5%.

An older version of the University’s Environmental policy statement, dating from 2013 and working towards academic year 2014/2015, can be found on the University’s website.

Paul Morris (Director of Capital Development) covered advances in university environmental policy at the University’s 2nd Sustainability Conference. These included a decrease in the University’s Carbon Footprint since the beginning of 2013, an increase in LEC teaching, degree programmes, and students, as well as a huge increase in the amount of staff and students using public transport to commute into the University.

One thing not covered within the policy as of yet is the University Management’s response to the Change.Org petition given to them last month. The petition demanded that the University, specifically Interim Vice-Chancellor Steve Bradley, declare a ‘climate and ecological emergency’. The petition gave potential goals for the University, such as aim for Carbon Neutrality by 2030. On 10th December, following the petition’s hand in, several members of staff met with Steve Bradley, Simon Guy (Pro-Vice-Chancellor), and Andrew Burgess (Head of Estates) to discuss this potential policy. On 2nd January, Guy and Bradley produced a statement of intent which involves holding “a big conversation” on how to go forward. The conversation, which is set to take place on Monday 24th February, is open to university staff but not students.

When asked for a comment on the University’s environmental policies and the Divest Barclays and Climate Emergency campaigns, the University told SCAN:

“Lancaster University takes its commitment to environmental sustainability seriously. We have reduced our energy carbon emissions by more than 50% since 2005, reaching our 2020 target two years early. We have achieved this by introducing a Wind Turbine, Combined Heat & Power Unit, Biomass Boiler, Energy Centre and District Heating upgrade.
 
A petition from University staff and students, containing 2,500 signatures, requesting the University to declare a Climate Emergency, was welcome and signifies the strength of feeling and commitment across campus to tackle climate change. The University recognises the challenge, and our approach to sustainability has been presented to the University Management Group, Council and University Leadership Group during the Michaelmas term.  We also plan to hold a “Big Conversation” early February 2020, underpinned by a sustained communications plan that will engage with staff and students.
 
We have not declared a Climate Emergency at this stage while we work to engage our staff and students around how to address targets around travel which make up 70% of the University’s emissions. The University remains committed to continuing action in reducing carbon emissions and, over the next three months, we will investigate the possibilities of reducing these emissions through collective ownership and behaviour change.”

Lancaster University
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