By Eloise Young

Over the past few decades, Auckland University has been monitoring their carbon emissions and rates of sustainability to reduce the environmental impact of both the university and New Zealand. Has it been working?

Over the past few decades Auckland University has been monitoring their carbon emissions and rates of sustainability to reduce the environmental impact of both the university and New Zealand.

From 1979 to 2008 measures were put in place to reduce the university’s energy consumption and water waste per student. The results showed energy consumption reduced by 8.4% and water consumption by 73%. Due to consumption savings the university in turn reduced their carbon emissions by 28%. [i]

The Strategic Plan produced in 2012 set out reduction goals between the years 2013 and 2020. Energy was aimed to decrease 2% since their 2011 ratings, water 14%, paper 17%, solid waste to landfill by 21% and carbon emissions by 15%. [ii]

Dr. Lesley Stone, Auckland University’s Sustainability and Environmental Coordinator, said that since the Strategic Plan was put in place “paper consumption has gone down significantly.”

“We were using twenty-three and a half times the height of the Sky Tower in A4 paper. We are now down to about ten and a half, so we’ve literally reduced our paper consumption by half”

Stone relates that the main contributors to the drastic reduction in paper are “digitalisation and online course material” which has enabled some classes to ditch paper completely. Going paper free has also reached outside the classroom as “a lot of offices have gone paperless, including the Vice Chancellor’s.”

Due to numerous building projects the university has not managed to lower its energy levels, however these buildings are designed to be efficient and energy saving. “The kinds of buildings we are building are energy intensive, not because we are letting them be energy intensive, it’s what’s done in them.” Stone said. These are mostly science buildings such as labs, which require fume cupboards and constant air and temperature regulation.

Despite not reducing energy consumption, Stone notes the university has “managed to keep a lid on it despite building more” and that all these buildings will reduce energy usage in the future.

Since closing down the Tamaki campus, water rates have decreased, though levels have been fluxing due to random pipe bursts and construction. According to Stone it is generally decreasing and “we still use less water now than we did thirty years ago”

Auckland University’s waste to landfill has also had positive results over the past six years, largely thanks to “a very successful composting program that’s in commercial kitchen” These commercial kitchens include the university halls of residence and work to separate waste from food that can be composted. However that program has not yet been applied to the University Quad due to the high amounts of contamination, such as packaging, wrappers and non-compostable foods mixed with compostable foods.

A new trial program has been put in place with five to six retailors that sell food and drinks on campus to help eliminate single use containers, along with plastic cutlery and cups.

On the other hand, the university’s carbon emissions have been the greatest challenge since the Strategic Plan was created. Stone notes that “carbon emissions as a result of energy use in buildings has come down” but that emissions due to work related travel is “almost equal to carbon emissions from energy we use in buildings.”

Decreasing this area would be a challenge as the university has a vast amount of international involvement. A budget will focus on a “travel diet,” which will look at where a trip away could be replaced with a video call online. A vast amount of staff networks are domestic making the option of an online meeting easy, efficient, and carbon conscious. The university plans on applying this “diet” to more staff networks in the future in order to bring emissions down.

The next Strategic Plan would have been set up this year but due to the arrival of the new Vice Chancellor (Professor Dawn Freshwater) goals for the next plan have been put off until she joins the university. Stone relates that “it doesn’t make sense to start it now, it will be next year when she’s in place.”

The University of Auckland is also pushing for greater staff and student inclusion on campus through surveys, and through leadership training, such as the New Zealand Sustainable Development Goals Summit – based on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals set up in 2016 – to bring students, staff and universities together.

Earlier this year Auckland University was ranked number one globally for World University Impact Rankings in accordance to the UN’s 17 goals. [iii]

Stone said the Summit was based on the UN goals because “they resonate with everything we do here, they are internationally accepted by 194 countries, so there’s a broad consensus that these are issues important in terms of sustainable development.” Furthermore, the summit “opened people’s sense that sustainability is about more than the environment.”

When Auckland University students were asked if they knew what the Strategic plan was, a majority said no. They were also unaware the university was ranked first in the global University Impact Rankings.

“I had no idea the university was working so hard to make positive changes in their environmental impact,” one said. “The university should make this information available to students because it would give us a positive mindset towards our university and enable us to feel more like a part of the progress.”

Another student commented, “Sustainability is something that most young people care about. The fact that UoA ranks so high in it should be a massive selling point for students to choose it as their University.”

The student also mentioned, “it is vital that we understand what we are contributing to as students at the university. It seems like an odd business decision not to publicise their goals and processes when we can help them reach those goals and see that it is effective by their ranking.”

“I think if we had this knowledge it might help us understand some of the choices they make without jumping to the most unethical conclusion but it would also enforce the importance of sustainability to the students and hopefully impact our own actions on and outside of campus.”

Eloise Young is an undergraduate student at the University of Auckland.

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in this article reflect the author’s views and not necessarily the views of The Big Q. 

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