It’s no secret that the University has had some bad press about their environmental performance lately, what with the low placing in the ‘Green League’ earlier this year and the predictions of not making its long term carbon emissions target.
When it comes to funding for reducing carbon emissions, it takes a certain kind of institution to prioritise this, and it’s not a top priority for the University of York. If we want to see changes in how the funding is allocated, we need to make some noise about it. There’s no point in complaining to one another, letting YUSU and senior management members know is the first place to start with putting on the pressure. The fact that the University has identified areas where it could reduce carbon emissions but hasn’t allocated funding to it yet speaks volumes about what they view as essential spending.
Although behavioural campaigns like the Student Switch Off and making sure departments get involved in the Green Impact programme are good incentives for student and staff change, structural changes to the university will need to be made if the ambitious carbon reduction targets are to be met. Yes, there would be costs to this but the fine for not meeting their carbon reduction target is going to be the alternative.
For instance, when we tried to approach the university about switching to an electricity company such as Ecotricity or Good Energy to provide the campus with 100 per cent renewably-sourced electricity at a price ‘matched to the top five energy companies in the UK’, we didn’t get a positive response. It was a combination of not being quite sure whether it’s possible to do or that to find out for definite would be a lot of work and therefore not in anyone’s interest. It’s not an easy task to achieve a reduction like 62 per cent by 2020. It is going to need hard work.
I’m sure the University know what they could do to reduce their impact, but if they genuinely are ‘open for suggestions from students’ then there’s a few off the top of my head: regulating the erratic heating, having timed showers in halls, harnessing the immense potential of the wind power that blows across Heslington East, and replacing air travel with conference calls where possible. Other institutions have done these things before and we’re capable of it too.
I realise that the University is expanding, and that does make it hard to control carbon reductions. But I felt a bit of hope when I read about Edinburgh University in the Guardian. “Its first carbon-reduction strategies were published in 1990 and since then have made deep cuts in its energy use, reducing its CO2 emissions by 31 per cent… while the University was in effect tripling in size.”
York may be a small university, but it can make these reductions if it is serious about it. It’s not a case of it not being possible, it’s a case of effective funding allocation, time and effort, and I’m hopeful that this is the year they step it up and lay the foundations in place for meeting their targets.