Going green

01 May 2013

Dr Lesley Stone, Manager for the University's Sustainability and Environment Programme.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – these are the new 3 Rs. And The University of Auckland’s pioneering sustainability and environmental programme has added another one: Rethink.

From simple steps such as giving staff paper recycling trays, to the large initiative of monitoring energy use in all its buildings, the University has made significant strides in using energy, water and paper more efficiently.

“We’re so far ahead in energy saving,” says Lesley Stone, manager of the University’s Sustainability and Environmental Programme. The energy use per square metre of floor area is well below the average for a tertiary institution in New Zealand. The University uses 47% less energy per student than when monitoring began in the late 1980s and has shaved $100m off its energy bill during that time.

Lesley says the key to this success has been having a dedicated Energy Manager and installing meters to monitor what is happening in each building. That information is used as part of a central building management system. “We have 200 buildings and now we can shut down or put to sleep the heating or cooling systems as needed.”

Campaigns to engage staff and students have also paid off – small steps such as switching off the computer before going home become meaningful when there are 13,000 computers on campus. A similar campaign to turn off the lights adds to the savings and cleaners have been contracted to work earlier rather than late at night to save on electricity.

Another simple measure – switching printers to double-sided printing – has been part of the drive to save paper along with putting more course material online and giving staff tiny rubbish bins at their desks. Since 2006 these changes have saved a colossal amount of paper, equivalent to reams of paper stacked up to the height of three Auckland Sky Towers.

“Our recycling has tripled in the last five years,” says Lesley. “A lot of this comes from engaging and motivating people through the Sustainability and Environmental programme and building awareness, involvement and responsibility with senior managers and academic staff.”

Water efficiency has improved by 63% since 1980 thanks to replacing corroded pipes, controlling how often urinals flush and recycling water. As part of rethinking and reducing the University’s CO2 emissions, senior students have paired up with staff in “Living Laboratory” projects. PhD student Bing qin Xu measured how much carbon is absorbed and stored by the trees on the University’s City Campus.

She found that 400 heritage trees in the Conservation zone next to Old Government House could play a role in offsetting the University’s carbon emissions. The trees store 737 tonnes of carbon dioxide at the moment, and that’s expected to rise to 800 tonnes by 2031.

Some of those trees were planted back in the 1860s and Lesley and her team want to emulate that foresight by working to improve the University environment for future students. “From initial savings in energy and waste disposal to the gradual development of a sustainability-savvy organisational culture, the University has set ambitious targets for becoming more sustainable as part of its 2013-2020 Strategic Plan,” she says