Earth Day, widely seen as the birth of the modern environmental movement, marks its 52nd anniversary on Friday 22 April 2022.
This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘invest in our planet’. Here in Leeds our Climate Plan sets out the University’s largest single investment of £174m in support of our seven principles for climate action. More than £150m has been set against our ambitious target to deliver net zero emissions by 2030, including improving efficiency in our buildings, reducing energy use, shifting away from fossil gas and enabling sustainable travel.
The work to do this will not be easy, and it will take time – particularly given our complex mix of buildings. But by working together as a University community, collaboratively and with ingenuity, we have the opportunity to not only deliver against our proposed pathway, but even to exceed it. Together, we can speed up emissions reductions and reduce the remaining emissions that will need to be balanced through carbon removal projects.
So what can you do? Whether you are a member of staff or a student, here are some of the ways you can contribute to real emissions reductions, today.
Reduce energy use
Our pathway to net zero includes changes to the source of energy on campus, and improvements to the fabric of buildings to improve energy efficiency. But we also need to reduce the amount of energy we use. We can all help save energy through simple actions like turning off equipment when not in use and making sure that windows are closed when we finish in a room.
If you spot energy waste that you can’t prevent yourself – such as lights left on in buildings overnight or heating set uncomfortably high – you can report it either direct to the building operations team or to the Estates team helpdesk.
Labs are particularly high energy users. Whilst some of this is unavoidable, closing fume hoods and changing freezer temperatures can make a big difference. Where equipment is old and inefficient, funds are available to help upgrade to more efficient models. Check our SLabs network for ideas and support, and consider joining the LEAF scheme to gain accreditation for sustainability initiatives.
Reduce and eliminate waste
Everything that we use at the University has a carbon impact created by its manufacturing, transport and disposal. The simplest way to reduce emissions is to reduce what we use, whether by avoiding entirely or switching to longer life or reusable alternatives.
A good start point could be to carry out a mini waste audit. For a set period of time – which could be a day, week or month – you simply monitor and measure what waste is created in your work area. You can then get a sense of which items could be avoided or reduced. Any items that can’t be avoided should be recycled where possible. For guidance on how to recycle different items see our recycling pages.
Don’t forget that the University has committed to removing single use plastic from its operations – so pay particular attention to any items that are single use! For help in removing single use plastic check the Plastic Free toolkit.
Where you do need to purchase items, first check the University’s ReUse at Leeds scheme. You might be able to buy second hand, or source more sustainable or energy efficient options which could also save money.
Consider your travel options
As part of our Climate Plan, the University has committed to reducing emissions from travel. A participatory process is being developed to inform how we can achieve this fairly. In the meantime the University travel booking process includes guidelines on choosing more sustainable travel options. Booking through the University’s travel supplier, Key Travel, gives the option to select the ‘greenest fare’ option, and means we can accurately account for our travel emissions.
Many staff are continuing to work in a hybrid fashion, which means we may be travelling to campus less frequently. If travel by train is an option, the launch of flexible season passes for those travelling in only a few days a week can help make this more affordable. For those who are able to, active travel like running, cycling and walking has benefits not just for climate but also for health and wellbeing. Check our web pages for information on sustainable travel, including information on hiring and maintaining bikes through the University Bike Hub.
Join or create a sustainability network
There is a lot you can do to reduce your impact yourself, but you can achieve more by being part of a wider community taking action. You could start by talking to your colleagues about the University Climate Plan – you might be surprised to find how many people would like to be more sustainable but don’t know where to start. Letting them know what you are doing to reduce your own impact could inspire them to get involved as well.
You can get ideas and support from others across the University by joining our Sustainability Community on Teams. You could also consider becoming a Staff Sustainability Architect or working with your school, service or department to create your own bespoke Blueprint sustainability programme. If you work in a lab, you can get certification for your sustainability initiatives by taking part in LEAF.
As a student:
Check your own carbon footprint
A really important start point to reducing your impact is understanding what areas of your lifestyle have the greatest carbon footprint. There’s a really easy way to do this, through LUU’s partnership with Giki Zero.
After signing up for a free account, you answer questions about your lifestyle and Giki Zero gives you a score which you can compare with others. It then gives ideas and suggestions on how to reduce your footprint. For example, you could choose planet friendly meal choices with meat free and locally sourced ingredients, buy second hand clothing instead of new, and bring your own reusable coffee cup or refillable water bottle which you can refill at water points across campus.
Grow your knowledge
You’re studying at one of the top universities in the country, so you have an amazing opportunity to learn about sustainability as part of your course. Not only will this help you reduce your climate impact personally, it will also give you crucial skills for the jobs market. Organisations across the world have committed to a low carbon future, and need employees who understand how to deliver this. One way for you to gain these skills is by choosing one of the Sustainable Futures Discovery modules.
You can also focus your own research projects on sustainability, which could see you using the campus as a Living Lab. You can share your own research and be inspired by other students at the annual Student Sustainability Research Conference which takes place in June this year. Applications to take part in the 2022 conference are open until 8th May!
Repair, reuse and recycle
Everything we buy and use has a carbon impact that comes from its manufacture as well as its use. That means one of the most important things we can do is keep items in use for longer. One way to do this is by buying second hand or even borrowing items instead of buying them. As well as the ‘usual suspects’ like Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, Vinted and Depop as well as charity shops and vintage stores, check out student marketplace Hazaar and Buy Nowt LS6 in Headingley.
Try to keep items out of landfill wherever you can. If you have something that’s broken you can fix it at a Repair Café. There are events across the city and the University is setting up its own Repair Café on campus. You could also upcycle items into something new, or pass it on for others to use by selling or giving away. Look out for British Heart Foundation charity collections at University residences, as well as the annual end of term Big Clear Out which aims to pass unwanted items on to new homes. And if something really cannot be repaired or reused, then many items can be recycled – make sure you check what the council can and cannot accept in recycling bins.
Identify opportunities for change
Tackling climate change will need ingenuity and creativity to find new solutions, and no idea is too small to make a difference. If you spot an opportunity to improve sustainability across the University community then there are a whole range of ways the University can help you turn it into reality.
LUU consider policy suggestions at the LUU Better Forums. A previous suggestion from students saw the University switch the default search engine on University PCs to Ecosia, which uses funds raised to plant a tree for every 45 searches made. LUU also offer sustainability grants of up to £1,000 for initiatives that help make the University more sustainable.
The University’s Student Ideas Fund also offers up to £5,000 funding for ideas including those that support the University’ Sustainability Strategy and Climate Plan. So if there’s something you think can reduce our climate impact across campus and beyond, this is your chance to work with the University to make it happen.
This blog was first published on the Sustainability website.