How green is York?

looks at how sustainable the University is and what improvements are being undertaken

The environment in which you work or live is always a matter of importance and this applies just as much to the time spent at university as any other. However with York rapidly falling down the Green League table, can the University merge sustainability with academic excellence? Phoebe Cullingworth, YUSU Environment and Ethics Officer and Chair of the People and Planet Society, thinks that the University isn’t as green as it should be – but she plans to change that.

York placed 83rd in this year’s Green League and was awarded a 2:2. Cullingworth highlights that: “The Green League is quite respected and the environment is becoming more and more important for students and it is pretty immoral for the University to not be taking these things into account.”

“Recycling isn’t really a solution in itself, by recycling you are still using a lot of energy”

“[We’ve] always had problems with Commercial Services …we always get negative feedback”

Phoebe Cullingworth

In the University Plan for the next ten years “sustainability” is one of four key objectives, but at present: 0 per cent of electricity comes from renewable sources; only 43 per cent of waste is recycled – compared to St Andrews where 68 per cent is – and York scored badly on initiatives to increase the recycling behaviour of students in halls of residence.

But when questioned on its plans to increase its sustainability, the University cited the “under reporting” of its achievements, rather than any lack of measures, as the reason.

Graphic: Jonathan Frost

However, Cullingworth wanted to quell the belief that recycling is the holy grail of all sustainable options. “Recycling really isn’t a solution in itself, by recycling you are still using a lot of energy. Students need to use less and use everything again and change the culture of just dumping it all in the recycling bin.”

The University also gave the planned replacement of boilers with efficient, environmentally friendly ones as an example of their focus on sustainability; though Cullingworth called on them to think bigger and better. “That is just a small focus. They have got all these ideas but seem to be just talking about them and only looking at the different options.”

On carbon emissions, the University has set a target of reducing its level by 48 per cent by 2020 from its amount in 2005; but its average carbon emissions per head is still high compared with many institutions.

Green League: A brief history

The Green League assesses universities on their actions and attitudes towards green living. York gained a 2:2 this year.

York’s positioning throughout the years:
2011 – 83rd
2010 – 48th
2009 – 35th
2008 – 50th

The University has said, “there is much to do” but Cullingworth argues: “This year many student groups have worked hard on various campaigns to reduce the University’s carbon footprint and it’s discouraging to know that the University is not willingly making a concerted effort to work with students on such critical issues.”

One area that York particularly scored badly on was on the provision of sustainable food. The University has no sustainable food policy and food outlets do not currently offer free-range eggs, sustainable fish or differing menus depending on the seasons.

“The University has been under reporting on its environmental performance“
A University spokesman

Cullingworth declared that the People and Planet society have, “always had problems with Commercial Services [in solving this]. We suggested a meat-free monday campaign and have asked them where they source products from -such as their fish. But we always get negative feedback and it feels like these issues aren’t valued.”

University solutions

– Reducing carbon emissions by 48% by 2020 from a 2005 base line

– A new waste management contract

– An increase in the number of staff within the Energy and Environment Department

– Limiting the growth of car journeys

– Renewing Fairtrade accreditation

One idea that may be expanded over the next year is increasing the space for allotments that the University provides. There is currently an area at the end of the meadows to the west of Wentworth college for students to grow their own vegetables or herbs. But Cullingworth wants to roll this out across the University using any available green space to plant potatoes, carrots, basil and much more; these would then either be sold to students or be free to pick up whenever people need them.

“I want to introduce a growing space on campus to grow food which could be sold. I know the ground staff would support us and the Courtyard have said we could use their flower bed too.”

Cullingworth adds that the University missed a great chance in the building of Heslington East to improve the campus environment. But even though sustainability is one of the University’s key policies, architectural design seems to have trumped environmental improvement and this, as Cullingworth puts it, is “immoral”.