Archive for February, 2014

Closing the energy performance gap with CarbonBuzz

By Alex Green, on 13 February 2014

UCL’s sustainability team have created this short film to show off how CarbonBuzz was developed and the impact it’s already having on closing the building performance gap.

CarbonBuzz is a unique online platform that is used by architects, engineers, property owners and operators in the public and private sector. It helps identify and close the energy performance gap between design stage predictions and operational use. 31 universities already use the platform, which has the potential to dramatically change the way higher education buildings are designed and used. Find out more about CarbonBuzz and the UCL Energy Institute.

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Saving money, resources and energy with UCL Chemistry

By Alex Green, on 13 February 2014

Dr Charlie Dunnill from UCL Chemistry tells us about his successes in saving money, resources and energy by using a free chemical and equipment cataloguing service.

Within the Chemistry Department, our chemical inventory is very large. We knew this, but really had no idea of the extent to which it was LARGE. We had guessed between 6 and 10 thousand bottles,  and to be honest, we could not be specific about locations, quantities or qualities. Each group had their own database or spreadsheet and nothing talked to anything else and many of them were stored on only one computer. All were out of date.

This was a problem for a number of reasons: we needed to be able to provide lists of certain chemicals to various people due to regulation; we were probably buying and throwing away the same chemical at the same time in different parts of the department; and, worryingly, there was quite a risk associated with not actually knowing what was in the department.

We (UCL) had talked about this a lot – I mean a LOT –but could not agree on a ‘Perfect’ solution. I found Quartzy – an online database where our research group could log all of our chemicals and manage bookings for equipment. This let people see what was stored where, so they could speak to one another and share chemicals and equipment on a cloud based platform. This was logical but pretty revolutionary in our department. Once it was up and running, it started to gain interest from other labs as people could see the efficiencies working and after discussions with the more influential members we decided to roll out Quartzy across the entire department, making for a greater pool of chemicals (frightening thought) to share. We now have a database of twenty thousand bottles of chemicals, each individually labelled and located, representing a vast financial resource (~£50 per bottle… you do the maths!).

Every member of the department is responsible for logging their own chemicals so there is not a huge admin burden on one person. The key is to be really specific in locations (which lab, which shelf, what does the bottle look like?) as it makes it much more efficient when you are trying to find that bottle later. Each bottle has its own Bottle Reference which is an easy to remember three letter reference followed by a year of purchase, e.g. ABC14, so that each bottle can be uniquely identified and located without the need for bar code scanners and long reference numbers and Group Owner so you know who to ask if you want o borrow some.  Keeping it simple is important.

The safety and sustainability benefits have been huge and we are also saving money. If you think about it, we pay for the chemical when we purchase it and then we pay again to get rid of what we don’t need. That’s two costs we can eliminate through sharing as well as the time saving for the researchers who are no longer waiting 3 days for chemicals to turn up. For our department, we have estimated the savings to be up to £90,000 for a year.

Quartzy is also used to manage all the departmental shared kit so that trained users can book time on equipment, maximising the hours of use that the equipment is available for and minimising down time.

All pretty good for an initiative that’s free. No wonder other departments are adding themselves to the system all the time.

Five tips for getting started in green communications and advocacy

By Alex Green, on 6 February 2014

5 tips for getting a job in green commsAlex Green works on UCL’s Environmental Sustainability team, with a focus on communications and stakeholder engagement. Previously he worked for an international development charity and interned at a climate change campaigning organisation. Here he shares some tips for getting into the sector.     




1.       Get experience:

It’s a predictable point, but essential. Luckily there are a growing number of paid internships and graduate placements in the sector, such as those promoted by environmental recruiters Change Agents. That said, especially when it comes to the NGO sector, your best bet in getting work experience is unfortunately still through volunteering or unpaid internships. If you’re unable (or unwilling) to work your socks off for the price of a sandwich, there are still some other routes to getting the experience that’ll be essential for you to get started.

  • Take full advantage of opportunities to get experience alongside your study. Getting involved in societies or campaigning and advocacy organisations like People & Planet or Amnesty is a fantastic way to get a taste of the highs and lows of working to create positive change.
  • Fit your experience around your work or study. There are a growing number of micro and virtual volunteering opportunities available. These may consist of blogging, copy editing or research from the comfort of your own room, or one-off opportunities at the weekend. Have a look at what UCLU’s Volunteering Services Unit has on offer and search sites like Do-it.
  • Go it alone. Care about an issue? Write articles for your local or student newspaper, start an online petition and get out there and start organising. There’s no better way to develop essential skills, while making a really positive impact.

2.       Learn how to really communicate and persuade:

An essential part of jobs in this field is about persuading busy, disinterested, often ill-informed people to engage with complex issues, and then give you their time, money or support. This is no mean feat. I certainly haven’t cracked it, and when you look even at large NGO campaigns, you realise that few others have either. That said, it’s essential that you’re able to simplify complex issues, bring the facts to life and most importantly, enthuse people into action. Visit great websites like Talking Climate to read up on the theory and get practice by creating opportunities to write and speak about the issues you care about.

3.       Start making connections:

For better or worse, connections are often the key to getting your foot in the door. It’s a small world and you’ll find that if you’re part of campaigning groups or societies, it’s brilliant (and terrifying) how often you’ll later encounter these people in your working life. If you’re volunteering or interning, always take advantage of opportunities to go to events and engagements. What starts as an awkward conversation over rubbish canapés may end up as a brilliant surprise opportunity. And don’t be afraid of being a little opportunistic; while emails are easy to ignore, get someone on the spot and they’ll likely be a lot more helpful (although always be nice about it – you may meet these people later and you’ll want them to remember you as enthusiastic and personable).

4.       Develop a diverse range of skills:

Especially in a small organisation or team, being a generalist is a distinct advantage. So get loads of strings to your bow. You may want to develop skills in web design, learn to take a mean photograph, get experience of making short films or sharpen up your use of social media (to name just a few). These skills will likely make you invaluable to your employer, potentially save money on outsourcing work and will generally give you something fun and creative to do alongside the more everyday aspects of your job. What’s great is that you can develop these skills in your own time. It’s practically guaranteed that they’ll come in useful and could easily be what sets you apart from everyone else in getting that job. Check out the Sustainability Team’s ‘Green Resolutions’ short film to see an example of how multimedia skills have be used to communicate the scale and diversity of environmental action at UCL.

5.       Consider whether your passion for the environment will survive the transition into work:

This is a slightly odd one, and won’t apply to everyone. But it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a world of difference between caring about the environment and working an environmental job for 35 hours a week. Unless you’re very lucky, you’ll find a fair amount of your energy is funnelled into Excel spreadsheets, trying to make the printer work, etc. and you may need a certain amount of resilience to retain the passion that got you started in the first place. There are a huge variety of roles, employers and ways of working out there. Find the approach that suits you and makes best use of your enthusiasm for the subject! And even if you don’t get your ideal job straight away, remember that it’s a step towards that goal. Hopefully that’ll make the spreadsheets a little easier to handle.

For more information about the Careers Service Environment Week, head on over to the website:http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/students/events/getinto/environment