Miércoles 6 de Junio de 2007, Ip nº 194

Study in green
Por Julia Hailes

The typical student lifestyle isn't exactly eco-friendly, writes the New Green Consumer Guide's Julia Hailes, but universities are changing for the better.

"It's really great to have clean dish cloths - actually to have any dishcloths at all," said my student friend when she was staying with me. Apparently, in her digs, which she shares with 11 other students, they quite often throw away drying cloths when they are dirty, rather than putting them in the wash.
This is not the only wasteful practice she identified. Others included washing up under a running tap, leaving their laptops on all the time, being oblivious to recycling and wasting huge quantities of food. For example, they might cook far more pasta than they eat in one sitting and leave it to go dry in the pan. Or leave perishable food in the fridge or freezer until it is well past its sell-by date.

Energy wasters

But I discovered that some of the worst eco-crimes of student living were the responsibility of the university itself. The students had a large kettle urn that provided boiling water whenever they needed it and yet very few of them drank tea or coffee, so the continually hot water was wasted. Also the heating for their building was still on in May and the system was centrally controlled. So if the students were too warm they would simply open the window and let the heat out.

Apparently the higher education sector in the UK emits 3m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. I'm not surprised with these sorts of wasteful practices. It's far less efficient that the business community in terms of its carbon emissions.

University green league

The good news is that some universities and colleges are changing for the better and becoming beacons of good practice. The bad news is that there aren't yet many of them.

People & Planet is a campaigning organisation for students that has identified the main drivers for environmental improvements in universities. And it claims that those institutions that have taken these measures, including recruiting staff to work on green issues, actually save money over a relatively short period.

Encouragingly, it also appears that sixth form students are interested in the eco-credentials of universities and colleges - it's becoming an important factor in choosing where to study. And it's now a whole lot easier for them to find out which institution is doing what.

According to People & Planet, the following universities are all making efforts to reduce their carbon footprints:

· Bath
· Bradford
· Bristol
· Edinburgh
· Loughborough
· St Andrews

On June 7, the organisation will publishing its first Green League. This will rank all 122 British universities using a range of information, including figures for renewable energy, recycling and CO2 emissions and award them university grades from a first to a fail for their environmental performance.

Paper change

One area of university life that doesn't seem to have had any eco-scrutiny is paper use. For example, there are very specific requirements for students in relation to how they present their theses. Currently this means creating wide margins, one-sided printing and using pristine virgin paper, which doesn't have any environmental accreditation.

If you want to avoid a lot of time, hassle and possibly mistaken print runs, you can send your theses to an online service like Ethesis.co.uk. It will convert your document into a PDF, print, bind and deliver it back to you within two working days. But the company says universities need to change their spec to make it possible to use less paper, for example by allowing double-sided printing and recycled paper.

Green student power

It strikes me that students should be campaigning to get universities and colleges to improve their eco-credentials. The most effective way of doing this is through student unions or People & Planet. But even before joining campaigns students should be looking at their own green practices and seeing what they can do to improve.

  21/05/2007. The Guardian.