UCL’s Positive Impacts

By Alex Green, on 17 July 2014

We know that UCL has a lot of impacts; carbon emissions, energy use, the effect of our purchasing and the way we deal with waste.

But we also know that through research, volunteering, participation and public lectures, UCL creates a huge positive impact.

We’ve created this infographic to celebrate the effect that we all have on the local community, on London, and on the wider world.

Click on the infographic to see it full-size.


My work experience on the Sustainability Team: Tabitha’s report

By Alex Green, on 10 July 2014


travel infographicTabitha is studying for her GCSEs at a school in Westminster. She recently spent some of her week’s work experience with UCL’s Sustainability Team, finding out what they’re doing to improve the environmental impact of the university.


Photo caption: Tabitha (middle) with Sustainability Manager Stephanie Chesters and Director of Sustainability Richard Jackson.

As a student in my first year of GCSEs, I have becoming increasingly interested in Geography and Maths and the world around us. I chose to spend my Work Experience working with the UCL Sustainability Team to discover more about what being sustainable means to me and everyone else, including UCL.

During my time here I have discovered UCL to be a huge university, made up of people from across the world with very different experiences and backgrounds. As UCL is so large, the need for it to become more sustainable is ever increasing and is required in every aspect of the university.

“Through working together to make these small changes, we can help make the world more sustainable”

The size of UCL is constantly increasing, which despite its benefits comes with its challenges. UCL currently uses the equivalent energy of 11,000 homes and energy bills have reached an astronomical cost of £14million per year. This not only has an impact on the environment, but also on the university’s finances. Moreover, a huge amount of carbon is produced during the academic travel, which generates 160,000 tonnes of carbon per year. This is a big part of UCL’s contribution to global warming and rapid climate change.

Fortunately, the Sustainability Team are working to find and develop solutions to the problems that UCL face. Of the 3,672 tonnes of waste produced by UCL from 2012-2013, 69% of it was recycled and that number is continuing to rise through the new installation of recycling bins across campus (coming soon!). The team is also encouraging more students to take cycle safety training to advertise a more sustainable commute, which is why more bike racks more showers and safe cycle routes will be installed. The use of renewable energy has also increased and they’re exploring the possibilities of installing an energy efficient cooling loop around the university campus.

Energy infographics

From my time working with the Sustainability Team, I have learnt how we can do small things every day to help the environment and make it more sustainable. Simply by using recycling bins properly we can help reduce our carbon footprint and turning the plug off when our mobile phones have finished charging. Pestering our parents to mend a leaky tap could save money and thousands of litres of water a year. Through working together to make these small changes, we can help make the world more sustainable.

Greening Education Conference 2014: report by Anne Spira

By Alex Green, on 7 July 2014

greening education conference 2014

Anne Spira is studying for an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism at The Bartlett School of Planning. She recently attended the Greening Education Conference and wrote this summary of the event.

The Greening Education Conference brought together academics and researchers, scientists and policy-makers, technology companies and education providers working to find solutions for a greener future.

According to Tom Reynolds, coordinator of the Greening Education 2014 conference, there is no better instrument through which to lead by example than the part of the establishment young people have most contact with: education. Through their educational ethos, universities are able to nudge successive cohorts of students into being more sustainability conscious. Additionally, universities themselves have the great opportunity to green their business approach and buildings.

Overall, the conference sought to tackle a variety of questions to the issues of more sustainability-conscious behaviour and institutional change: how can discussion about greening universities be framed to trigger more interest among students and university staff? How can those active in the university’s greening initiatives be made to feel their voices count? How can universities develop effective carbon investment strategies that cover projects, from building retrofit to decentralised energy?

In line with these questions, two of the take-home messages of the conference with regard to behavioural and institutional change include:

greening education conference 2014 V2

  1. Taking a more inclusive approach to sustainability: to trigger sustainability-conscious behaviour change and to motivate students and staff to become part of this change, Louise Hazan from People & Planet suggests reframing of the discussion around sustainability. Currently, the logic of becoming a greener institution does not cut across the entire spectrum, but rather focuses on a very small area: the university’s operations. According to Hazan, more power needs to be given to the individual in coming up with ideas on how to tackle issues like climate change and environmental degradation in the individual’s every-day life.
  2. Taking advantage of new technologies and modeling software: for new buildings, 3D building information modeling (BIM) schemes like COBie, which provide all project and asset information, documentation and data electronically, will become mandatory in the UK by 2016. 3D BIM makes it possible to document knowledge about a facility’s spatial and physical aspects, as well as the costs across the building’s entire life cycle. Overall, this technology allows for more informed decisions regarding. For instance, the materials used and their embodied carbon, as well as the installment of more energy-efficient technology and better insulation to reduce the building’s long-term resource consumption and costs. For existing and old buildings, SaveMoneyCutCarbon.com presented some products, such as tap aerators or light controls. Tap aerators or light controls allow to cut energy and water consumption, and costs.  At low instalment costs and short payback times, because of increasingly reduced resource consumption, these appliances are probably the most effective, cheapest and easiest solution for universities without lowering the comfort.

Overall, the conference offered some good solutions to institutions of higher education to lower their environmental and social impacts and again highlighted the imperative of education providers to tackle issues around climate change and environmental degradation. Amongst the attendees was a variety of academics, university building managers and consultants. I hope they took similar messages home from the conference!

Take Five Small Steps this World Environment Day

By Alex Green, on 5 June 2014

This year, World Environment Day focuses on the impact of climate change on small island states. Together with Sustainable UCLU, we’ve put together these five small steps to help you start improving your environmental impact. Find out more about World Environment Day here and download the poster here.

five small steps for environment day - share image

Goodbye to the disposable age at UCL?

By Alex Green, on 29 May 2014

New Scientist recently published an article featuring the work of UCL academics from CASA and the Department of Anthropology entitled ‘Stuff: Goodbye to the Disposable Age’. The article explored a growing movement towards alternative approaches to production and consumption, in particular towards what are termed ‘sharing’ and ‘circular’ economies. This prompted lots of discussion on the Sustainability Team about what these ideas could mean for UCL.

Sharing is caring

Ever used eBay or Airbnb, or taken part in carsharing? The ‘sharing economy’ is about finding ways to connect underutilised or unwanted items, equipment or space with those who need them. In an increasingly connected world, technology is allowing this process to take place locally, nationally and internationally, empowering ordinary people to become providers of goods and services.

The circular economy is about closing and optimising the loop between those items and materials that have reached the end of their useful life, with the processes of creating new items and materials.


Closing the loop

Circular economies aim to provide an alternative to the traditional, linear model of production; a process which takes resources, uses them to create goods or services and then disposes of them, generally through incineration or landfill. In a world of finite and rapidly depleting resources, this approach is at best inefficient, and at worst, arguably extremely reckless.

The Great Recovery project’s Circular Economy diagram


Optimising and moving beyond recycling

The circular economy is about closing and optimising the loop between those items and materials that have reached the end of their useful life, with the processes of creating new items and materials. This goes beyond the traditional idea of recycling. While recycling focuses on reprocessing of materials in some form, it’s a process that can result in high-quality and energy-intensive materials (like glass) being reprocessed into a much lower form (for instance, bottles being crushed for use as road aggregates).

So while recycling largely deals with the end product of production (waste), the circular approach is about considering the whole process. It recognises the importance of designing goods and services with constituent parts that can either be reused or reprocessed with little loss of quality and energy expenditure, or alternatively be harmlessly reincorporated back into natural systems through processes like composting. A good example of this process can be found in those UCL labs that use take-back schemes for their chemical bottles. Suppliers take back, clean and refill used bottles up to three times, before recycling the glass to make more bottles.

Sharing Chemicals and Equipment

The ethos of the sharing economy has been built into the core of UCL’s Department of Chemistry. Using an online database to keep track of chemicals and equipment, staff and students are able to massively reduce purchasing of duplicate resources and share specialist equipment with other departments and institutions. They approximate that this is also saving them around £90,000 a year.

Reducing waste and purchasing costs with WARPit

UCL WARPit is another platform via which staff can give, share and loan unwanted or underutilised resources and equipment. It makes the process easy, reducing both procurement and waste disposal costs. It has already saved over 20,000 kg of CO2 and over £80,000.

Catering for reuse


Ever noticed the glass bottles that UCL uses to provide water at events and meetings? By using high quality glass bottles, Sodexho, our caterer, is able to refill them with filtered tap water and use them again. And so are the wooden and plastic trays that food is delivered on too. By making sure they’re returned after your events, you can help make sure that these items are reused again and again.

Making good use of what gets left behind

‘Junk in the Trunk’ is an annual UCL programme run by student volunteers that prevents thousands of unwanted items ending up in landfill (almost 5 tons of goods were saved in 2012).  Volunteers collect saucepans, cooking utensils, clothes, bedding, books and furniture, and ensure that they’re reused or properly recycled.

What about you?

These are just a few steps that members of UCL are taking to prevent large amounts of unnecessary waste and purchasing. We hope it shows that we all have an opportunity to make positive choices to improve our environmental impact.

What examples can you identify in your department? Tweet or email them to us and we’ll share them with the rest of the university community.

Want to find out more about UCL’s approach to waste? Contact Sustainability Manager Tony Overbury.

Guess how much paper UCL used last year?

By Alex Green, on 23 May 2014

Paper use poster med


Click on the poster to download a pdf version to display in your own department!

Big Easter Switch Off impact: infographic

By Alex Green, on 1 May 2014



Congratulations to all who took part! Find out more about the Big Easter Switch Off here.

Jeremy Bentham’s No Spring Chicken…

By Alex Green, on 14 April 2014

Everyone needs a break at Easter time (even Jeremy Bentham). But often, people forget about their lights, heating and appliances. So be good to your gadgets – give them a break for Easter too!

During the holidays, the Big Easter Switch Off is happening across UCL. It’s all about saving energy by switching off the things we’re not using. Find out more and pledge to switch off here: www.ucl.ac.uk/greenucl

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