Making a green impact

Posted on Tuesday 15th April 2014

By Emily Aveyard and Khadija Jabeen, our Green Affairs Correspondents

Acknowledgements: Tom Garrood, Wesley Richmond, Douglas Cragg, Vy Tuong Tran and Patricia Nistor

Did you know that leaving a computer on overnight for a year creates roughly 120m3 of CO2,  enough to fill a double-decker bus, whilst a photocopier left on standby overnight will waste approximately 0.6kW of energy, an amount equal to that needed to make 30 cups of tea?! What makes these facts shocking, in our opinion, is not the amount of energy that is wasted; rather the fact that in both cases simple tasks can prevent this wastage. Small changes in attitude and practice can literally lead to big changes in how much energy and money are saved!

Green Impact actively promotes and enables this type of sustainable and energy-saving behaviour through the collaboration of higher education establishments with their wider communities to set out and accomplish achievable goals! Run by the National Union of Students (NUS), Green Impact is a nationally accredited scheme that takes place at universities, colleges, students unions, NHS trusts and local authorities across the UK. Teams consist of about a dozen members, but the size will vary in accordance with the department they are based in. Departments at the University of Birmingham with their own Green Impact teams include corporate services such as Careers Network and Library Services, the Guild of Students, and individual academic schools.

Good environmental practice is encouraged and rewarded through Green Impact’s accreditation scheme; teams are awarded Bronze, Silver or Gold depending on how much positive, environmental change they have implemented in their respective department. This article hopes to chronicle the experiences of all students involved in the Green Impact Scheme at the College of EPS through our Green Affairs Correspondents, Emily and Khadija.

We start off with an informative interview of Tom Garrood, a Sustainable Behaviour Assistant at the University of Birmingham, as he tells Emily what the main successes of Green Impact have been over the years.

Firstly there has been the success of national campaigns, raising the profile of sustainability in universities and getting staff to be more engaged with the process. NUS has all kinds of statistics and figures showing that there is action being taken and carbon being saved directly as a result of Green Impact.

A specific success of Birmingham is that it is one of the universities that have been the longest involved in the project and also the student union has been involved for a long time as well. It is one of the universities with the most Green Impact teams in the country.

Before teams have only comprised of staff members; however Tom remarked of a new change for this year.

One of this year’s successes is the involvement of student Project Assistants. The NUS had previously piloted it, but Birmingham has taken the scheme up with more enthusiasm than any other university. I have been pretty impressed with how much the students have gotten involved with everything!

As someone who firmly cares about the environment, when Emily found out about the Green Impact scheme shortly after she arrived here, she was incredibly keen to get involved! Getting to work with like-minded people on a project that really mattered to her was incredibly exciting, especially when she found out these like-minded people comprised of both students and staff!

As the Physics department were setting up a new Green Impact team this year, she joined this team which was ideal as she’d be able to comment on and improve upon things that she saw and was affected by on a daily basis. She attended an informative training day in November where she met fellow students Douglas Cragg and Wesley Richmond, who were also joining the Physics team. After they had completed the session, they became official “Green Impact Project Assistants”, or ‘GIPAs’, and their work began. Wesley remarked,

Meeting up with other people during the training day was one of my favourite parts of Green Impact, as it gave me great encouragement and hope for the future. It showed to me there are more people than I originally thought who care about the environment.

Becoming GIPAs at the training session

Photos: Tom Garrood

Each team is assigned an on-line workbook, in which the criteria for the different tiers of award are set out. As Emily and her team were starting from the very beginning, in old, listed buildings filled with electrical and laboratory equipment, they decided to firstly aim for the Bronze award. The work and effort could not entirely come from the team, so it was important to inform and engage staff and students to help them – there would be no point if no-one used the new recycling bins that were put in place or if no-one actually read any of the hundreds of stickers we had put up reminding people to switch lights off or turn the heating down.

EcoCrimes: Unnecessary lights left on!


Photos: NUS Snap It Off

One criterion of the workbook completed by the GIPAs was to carry out an Energy Audit of each building in the department, assessing the current energy usage and wastage and making recommendations for improvement. Douglas told Emily that it was, in fact, his favourite part about being a Project Assistant!

Writing down what needs to be improved upon allowed me to feel how I could make the most difference and identify the areas that need work. These include water running from taps. For lighting motion sensors could be installed and natural lighting could be used a lot more effectively. Also, we should try and take more accurate control of the heating instead of it just being on or off.

Energy audits take between half an hour and an hour, depending on the size of the building, however are simple to complete and give an immediate assessment of what is taking place and what needs to be done. Anyone can carry out an energy audit, even if they aren’t in a Green Impact team, by downloading the form here

The criteria of the workbook are by no means exhaustive; teams are free to implement innovative and inventive ideas that stem from their own creativity. Emily asked Tom what the “craziest” idea he has seen implemented was.

The Toilet Twinning Scheme, which has been really good fun! In the basement of Muirhead Tower is the Cadbury Research Library, which is an archive of really interesting artefacts! The Cadbury Research Library Team gets very involved with charity work, organizing events for their department.

The idea is to spend a penny when you “spend a penny”, and make a charitable donation in a small box located in the bathroom. They raised over 60 pounds, and a charity organises for this money to pay for a toilet to bring sanitation to a community in a developing world. The first “twinned toilet” was in Bangladesh, and when the toilet was built, a picture of it was put up in the bathroom of the Cadbury Research Library!

Green Impact is fun and easy to get involved in, as there is no prior experience required, just a passion for caring for the environment. 

There are a few reasons why students want to sign up.” according to Tom. “They care about sustainability and the environment, and want to get involved with a project like this. They think it sounds interesting, and many students are looking to get involved with schemes like this.

There are also many employability benefits. You will gain multiple transferable skills from aspects such as the Audit Training, such as project management and communication. It is invaluable experience for when you come out of university looking for a job, as you are working with professional people in a professional environment. You can also claim valuable PSA Points!

In addition to ticking the box of work experience, I’d also say that for some students it is a chance to experience a part of the university they would not normally experience – such as when students are working in a department they would not study in!

If you want to get involved in Green Impact next year, there are currently three teams in the EPS College. These are Physics and Astronomy; Electronic, Energy and Computer Engineering (EECE) and EcoTech from Computer Science. EcoTech currently hold the Bronze award, whilst EECE have attained Silver in recognition of their achievements. The results of this year’s efforts will be announced at the Green Impact Awards Ceremony, scheduled to take place on 30th April 2014.  We wish all the teams the best of luck in reaching their desired levels, and will keep you posted as to how they do!

If you aren’t in any of the aforementioned Schools, but feel work needs to be done; there is no reason why you should be afraid to ask your department to join the scheme! The Computer Science team was created after two students successfully lobbied their department to make their School more sustainable, and despite the students having now graduated, the Computer Science Green Impact Team is still in existence today!

Green Impact isn’t the only environmental initiative taking place at the University of Birmingham. According to Wesley, there were other green projects that he was involved with as well.

I am part of the Green Bike Project (GBP), for which I am the director of IT and systems. I have also done mechanic training there. The GBP initiative is to decrease the amount of cars on the road and encourage cycling through the sale of bikes, workshops on repairing and maintaining and cycle rides.

Khadija, our Green Affairs correspondent spoke with Patricia Nistor and Vy Tuong Tran, both Green Impact Project Assistants to catch a glimpse of the exciting environmental initiatives being spear-headed in the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering by the EECE team.

As part of the student-led Go Green Week which ran from the 10th to 16th February 2014 on campus, the School of EECE organised a number of exciting events and activities to raise staff and student awareness on environmental issues.

On the 11th and 12th February, a novel initiative called the “Wear a Jumper day” was pioneered, when the base temperature setting of the Gisbert Kapp building was reduced by 2°C. This move was expected to save 2.5% of the energy utilized by the whole building. Staff and students were encouraged to wear extra jumpers to keep them warm and active throughout the day.

On the 12th February, the EECE team welcomed all to join a workshop presented by Dr Stuart Hillmansen from the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering titled

""How to calculate your own carbon footprint”. The aim of this workshop was engage participants in an interactive software-based activity where they would compute their carbon footprint themselves. Another interactive workshop scheduled right after this was to be presented by Professor Richard Williams – Head of College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. This exciting workshop was of a more technical and theoretical nature, and called “Energy storage – the missing link in a green economy”, aiming to educate young students about the importance of constructing techno-economically feasible grid energy storage procedures for the success of a green economy in the UK and EU as a whole.

In addition, the EECE Railway Research group displayed their Model Hydrogen Train during the week in the foyer of the Gisbert Kapp building. This model is just one example of many local research efforts seeking alternative energy solutions.

Last but not least, Patricia and Vy are working with the café in the building to promote vegetarian meals during Go Green Week. 

Farmed livestock, particularly cattle and sheep, produce volumes of greenhouse gases much larger than you’d expect! Consisting mainly of methane, their production accounts for approximately 10 per cent of all human-derived emissions, a portion larger than that created by driving cars! Due to these environmental benefits, they hope to encourage everyone to forego meat for at least one or two meals during this week, and hopefully into the future.

All of this is set in the context of the University working hard to reduce its carbon footprint by at least 20% by 2020 from its 2005/6 baseline. It is well on its way to achieving that, and with the added engagement of everyone, particularly more enthusiastic students from the College of EPS, should well be able to exceed this target. Khadija and Emily hope the activities mentioned in this article will tickle your green conscience, awaken the green guru inside you and that you will join them in the upcoming years to take small steps to keep our university clean, safe and environmentally-friendly. 

Facts: www.carbontrust.com/media/252410/carbon-trust-poster-calculations.pdf