Higher Education - Sustainability and the Factors Influencing its Implementation

Tony Brady
The past 10 years has seen an increased awareness of the relevance of sustainability to all aspects of the design and operation of higher education buildings. This awareness has been influenced by many factors, European Union legislation, UK government legislation, funding bodies and stakeholders.

The public and higher education sectors use significant amounts of energy. Statistics for the public and higher education sectors show they account for nearly 3% of total UK emissions. It is estimated that ICT use alone in the higher education sector generates over 500,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. As the owners of many buildings and vast landholdings there are significant opportunities for them to invest in energy efficient products and services to cut energy bills, generate new sources of income and contribute towards reducing emissions.

The past 10 years has seen an increased awareness of the relevance of the sustainability to all aspects of the design and operation of higher education buildings. Today each higher education institution has a carbon management plan, which moves the sector substantially closer towards the government’s carbon reduction target. In addition, many universities are now committing to achieve minimum standards in BREEAM ratings (e.g. an ‘Excellent’ rating for all new build and ‘Very Good’ for all major refurbishments). This awareness has been influenced by many factors, European Union legislation, UK government legislation, funding bodies and stakeholders.

The past 10 years has seen an increased awareness of the relevance of the sustainability to all aspects of the design and operation of higher education buildings.

The EU and the government both have significant roles to play. The EU through the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, both of which have resulted in changes to UK regulations, requiring buildings and major refurbishment works to meet minimum energy performance targets (Part L of the Building Regulations). The UK government through the Climate Change Act 2008, which commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 80 percent below 1990 baselines by 2050. As recently as October 2017, the government published its report ‘Leading by example: cutting energy bills and carbon emissions in the wider public and higher education sectors’ setting out ways in which the sector can show a lead on implementing sustainability.

As the body responsible for distributing public funds and regulating universities and colleges in England the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) also has a pivotal role. In addition to ensuring investment and policy objectives are implemented effectively, it shares and promotes best practice and acts as the higher education sector champion for change. Its 2014 report ‘Sustainable Development in Higher Education: HEFCE’s role to date and a framework for its future actions’  sets out ways in which the HEFCE can contribute to sustainable development.

Not surprisingly the buildings themselves provide universities with the most visible opportunity to showcase sustainability and let their many stakeholders, staff, students, funding councils, local government, and international communities see sustainability in practice. The buildings provide an opportunity to become living-learning laboratories for sustainable principles. However, sustainable buildings suffer from the dilemma inherent in sustainable development, that is the conflict between delivering and communicating dramatic change whilst working within architectural norms. The challenge for universities is therefore to find ways to communicate, learn and apply sustainable principles.

The challenge for universities is to find ways to communicate, learn and apply sustainable principles.

Faithful+Gould are leaders in the higher education sector. We are currently working with over 60 higher education sector clients on over 180 projects and are currently employed on over 20 higher education frameworks. Our Nottingham office is working with a number east midlands universities delivering sustainable projects including Loughborough University and Nottingham Trent University (NTU). At Loughborough University we have recently completed the STEM laboratories, a BREEAM Excellent building it is one of the UK’s leading centres of excellence for teaching science, technology,engineering and mathematics (STEM). At NTU we are working with our supply chain consultants to deliver the Reception and Environmental Centre (REC) at their Brackenhurst campus, A flagship reception building adjoining the state-of-the-art environment centre; the project criteria for this project is BREEAM Excellent and an EPC rating of A.

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