Arriving at a more sustainable future

Dr Katrina Henderson describes the practical actions Cardiff University has taken to embed sustainability in everything they do

After the final episode of the BBC’s extraordinary Blue Planet II series aired on our screens at the end of last year, we witnessed something of a watershed moment for environmental sustainability. It’s hard to forget the shocking images of marine life battling against swathes of plastics that had ended up in the oceans as a result of human actions.

It was an issue to which many had been completely oblivious, and has since kick-started a global revolution in sustainability.

Whilst this has caused many businesses to re-evaluate the way they work, it has consolidated the excellent environmental management programmes that have been ongoing at Cardiff University for more than ten years.

With the recent launch of our brand new strategy ‘The Way Forward 2018-2022’ we’ve taken the opportunity to build on our successes and further embed sustainability in everything we do for the next five years.

Of course, implementing such an ambitious plan requires buy-in from across the University, and our staff and students have been integral in setting the direction we wish to follow. Similarly, we have considered the bigger picture and our goals have been adapted from the United Nations sustainable development goals and the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act.

The resulting Environmental Sustainability Strategy, which is being launched this week at the Volvo Ocean Race in Cardiff Bay, is developed around seven key priorities for the next five years.

Included in the strategy is a reduction of single use plastics such as plastic water bottles to the fullest extent possible, something which the Vice-Chancellor has long been an advocate for. To go hand-in-hand with this, we will also strive to improve recycling facilities of all kinds throughout the University.

We are also committing to align with Welsh Government to decarbonise by 2030. This indicator relates to the direct burning of fossil fuels within buildings and vehicles owned or operated by the University and the indirect burning of fossil fuels to supply electricity and water to University buildings.

We have already had considerable success in reducing our carbon footprint on these measures: in the ten-year period from 2005/06 to 2015/16 our carbon emissions fell by 6.7% from 31,795 tonnesCO2e to 29,663 tonnesCO2e.

One of the key areas that arose from our discussions with staff was an overreliance on air travel, so we’ve also committed to measure and reduce carbon emissions from travel by using less polluting modes and promoting technological alternatives.

We will also source goods and services responsibly, taking into account their sustainability impact and being ethical in our business practices when dealing with our supply chain.

We have also committed to ensuring that the hundreds of internal and external events that we organise each year adhere to the international standards for sustainable event management.

The University is fortunate to have some of the brightest academic minds working in the area of environmental sustainability, who have provided novel ideas and initiatives for the University to become more involved with.

One such example is the award-winning Pharmabees project, which is embedding specific plants and beehives around the University campus in order to identify bees that will produce honey with antibacterial properties.

As such, we will increase the area of the University estate covered by wildflower meadow in order to increase local biodiversity, provide additional forage from pollinator friendly plants and increase carbon sequestration.

Through all of these endeavors, we want to build an inclusive, sustainable and resilient University and empower our students, graduates and staff to become more sustainable citizens.  

It is an exciting and challenging time and there is a real optimism that we can not only transform the way the University operates, but also make a real difference to the city, to Wales and to the wider world.

An IWA-Cardiff University debate entitled ‘Phasing out single use plastics – how does Wales get there?’ will be taking place on Thursday 14 June. More information can be found here


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Dr Katrina Henderson is Environmental Safety Adviser for Cardiff University

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