Top 10 tips to start improving your department’s environmental impact right now (for staff)

By Alex Green, on 10 April 2014

The Sustainability Team are often asked what actions staff can take to start improving their department or division’s environmental impact. And while these are often specific to the huge variety of activities undertaken at UCL, we think there are some basic steps that are likely to apply to everyone.

So, here are our top 10 actions to get started saving money, energy, resources and carbon in your department.


 1. Identify your impacts. You know that phrase, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’? Well, it’s often true. Building up a picture of your impacts on the environment (purchasing, travel, building use, etc.) is an important step in tackling them. And you may find some unexpected impacts when you speak to others in your department. Download a template to help you identify your impacts and get started.

2. Get connected. Making change happen can be a challenge, so don’t go it alone. There are a huge number of staff across UCL taking action. Find colleagues who share your interest and identify your department’s Green Champion and Departmental Environment Officer. If you don’t have one, why not consider becoming one yourself? Even if you don’t fancy the responsibility of becoming a Green Champion, you can join the mailing list to be part of discussions and receive updates.

3. Switch Off. It’s a simple act, with a big impact. Whether it’s switching off non-essential lights, monitors or lab equipment, get into the habit of doing it where possible. If other staff repeatedly leave things on, why not ask your Departmental Administrator to include a reminder about it in one of their email updates? You could even consider getting timers for some equipment.

4. Spread the word. Getting the word out is an important part of improving your department’s environmental impact. Whether it’s putting up posters or stickers to remind staff to switch off lights and computers, sending out regular eco-updates or using your department’s social media or website to show off your green credentials; this will all help remind staff and students that this is a priority and something they should all be involved with. Get in touch with the Sustainability Team if you’d like any help or resources to do this.


5. Use WARPit. We don’t half buy a lot of stuff at UCL. WARPit is a free service for all staff to loan, lend and give equipment and resources. It’s all about reducing what we buy, spend and waste. Watch a short film about the service and sign up now!

6. Get informed. We’ve put together an Environmental Awareness e-learning package, to boost your sustainability literacy and give an introduction to sustainability at UCL. It only takes 20 minutes to complete, and you’ll get a certificate to show off your participation. And if you undertake procurement in your department or division, why not take some sustainable procurement training too?

7. Lug your mug. Are you a tea fiend or coffee addict? Get through a lot of disposable cups? Bringing in your own reusable cup will help save a lot of waste, and you can even get 10p off drinks from UCLU cafes. 


8. Travel actively. Making your journeys more active is a great way to improve your health, save money and reduce your environmental impact. Why not start walking or cycling to work once a week? If you cycle already and you know someone in your department who might like to try it, be a bike buddy and help them get comfortable with the roads.

9. Book a departmental environmental induction. We’d love to come and say hello to your department. If you think you can get enough of your department in a room together, why not book a 15 minute slot for us to come and present an introduction to sustainability? It could be a great way to start conversations, and perhaps get those all-important senior staff engaged. We could event come and speak to new students in the department or you can adapt the induction slides on the Green UCL site

10. Be part of the Green Impact programme! Green Impact is a UCL-wide environmental competition and award scheme. It’s all about staff and students working together to improve their department or division’s environmental impact. Your department may already have a Green Impact team or you might want to start one. It’s based on an easy-to-use online workbook that breaks down the challenge of making improvements into manageable chunks. Green Impact 2012-13 finished in April, and the new programme will begin in September ’14: be ready!

Can you think of other actions that all staff could take that should be added to this list? Let us know! Email green-ucl@ucl.ac.uk or tweet us @greenucl.

200 Creme Eggs…

By Alex Green, on 8 April 2014

egg poster v1

Are you ready for the Big Easter Switch Off?

By Alex Green, on 8 April 2014


Care about saving energy?

If you’re UCL staff, then the holidays are nearly upon us. During the holidays, the Big Easter Switch Off is happening across UCL. I know wasted energy is a pet hate for lots of you. And this is all about saving energy by switching off non-essential lights, appliances and equipment.

After all, one light left on for the full duration of the holidays could create around 7kg of CO2 (that’s the weight of nearly 200 Creme Eggs). And that’s not taking into account fridges, printers, chargers, heaters and all of that specialist equipment in labs too.

Find out how you can take part

Get ready for the switch off. Get loads of  tips, checklists and resources to help you safely switch off and promote your involvement!

Make the pledge


The department or division with the highest proportion of their staff pledging to be part of the Big Switch Off will win some great Fairtrade prizes. To be in with a chance, make sure to sign the pledge yourself and then share with friends and colleagues. We even have posters and other resources that you can use to promote it: pledge to switch off now.

Earth Hour with Jeremy Bentham at UCL

By Alex Green, on 31 March 2014

To celebrate Earth Hour we produced this (very) short film, featuring the indomitable Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832). We hope you like!

And here’s the before and after picture, in true Earth Hour style:

Bentham vertical earth hour

WARPit: Saving money, energy & resources

By Alex Green, on 5 March 2014

We’ve put together a short film to show off WARPit, an easy to use online portal which allows staff at UCL to redistribute (give, loan or share) resources legally and conveniently within UCL and beyond.

WARPit is all about making savings on purchasing and waste disposal costs, as well as avoiding landfill and carbon emissions. It only takes a minute to sign up to use the service and there are new items listed every day.

Why not get started now? Sign up at: www.warp-it.co.uk/ucl

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.

Mind the gap image

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

Give your feedback and get a £10 Waterstones voucher

By Alex Green, on 12 December 2013

we need your views

This year we launched NETpositive, a new online platform to help connect students with opportunities to make a positive social, environmental and economic impact during their time at UCL.

This year we launched NETpositive, a new online platform to help connect students with opportunities to make a positive social, environmental and economic impact during their time at UCL. The tool can be found at www.ucl.net-positive.org

We’re giving away £10 Waterstones vouchers to students that attend this feedback session and give their views about the tool. 

  • Where: Grant Museum of Zoology
  • When: Thursday 23rd Jan ’14
  • Time: 12-1pm

Spaces are limited, so please book early.

Please RSVP to alex.green@ucl.ac.uk


Better World Books

By John M Draper, on 25 November 2013

Better World Books are a charity that work with other charities and organisations in the UK and across the world to promote literacy and the pleasure of reading.

They were involved in the PALS Green Impact last year where we sent them any left-over books from our Green Awareness Day. We have also set up book-collection ‘bins’ in our buildings and would like to further improve our working arrangements.

They’d like to be involved with other Green Impact teams this year. Further information about Better World Books is at: www.betterworldbooks.co.uk where you can see that ‘Helping the Planet’ is one of its key aims. Their contact is Andrew Parker at: aparker@betterworldbooks.co.uk so please contact him.