At Newcastle University, we work on large-scale projects to decrease our carbon dioxide emissions and other negative effects of our activities. As well as this, we encourage sustainable behaviour from our community, and we want to support you with this action.
Sustainability can be particularly tricky when you’re on the go, so we have pulled together some tips that may help embed some useful habits into a daily routine.
If we have missed any tried and tested tips, write them down in the comments to share with others!
Sustainability when you’re on the move
Use your reusable water bottle and coffee cup.
Use your existing reusable shopping bags – we all have them – it’s not sustainable to buy new ones each time you go shopping.
Bring lunch with you to campus, and if you’ve not had time to prepare lunch, choose a takeaway lunch with less or no plastic packaging.
Recycle waste correctly by following our guidance posters which are located above the bins in our buildings on campus.
Walk, wheel, cycle or take the bus or metro to and from campus – you will be decreasing your carbon footprint and the University’s.
Textbooks: buy online versions, second-hand copies, or borrow them from the library where possible.
Shop second-hand for clothes, accessories, electronics, furniture, books… the list goes on! If you’re after physical charity shops, there are loads in the city centre and Jesmond.
Dress for your comfort level in the autumn and winter: you might feel the cold more than others so please do wear appropriate clothing and extra layers.
Talk about sustainability! Ask what it means to others, chat through sustainability action, and you might inspire them to do more.
If you would like to read some additional sustainable lifestyle tips, check out our lifestyle section on the blog to learn how to introduce sustainability into your kitchen and bathroom.
Want to stay up to date with climate action and sustainability at Newcastle University? The Sustainability Network will communicate information about climate action progress at Newcastle University, empower the community with knowledge on key sustainability themes, and advertise upcoming events.
With the next academic year due to begin, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on the University’s sustainability activity. From buzzing eco-friendly events and collaborations to receiving exciting awards, this year has been packed with sustainable achievements.
We held some great events…
Climate Action at Newcastle University
On the 10th of November 2022, we invited colleagues and students to join us at a conference-style, collaborative event on climate action. This was a great event where delegates were able to discuss future climate action plans and hear more about more about sustainable initiatives in the higher education sector.
In December 2022 the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences held Spudfest in collaboration with the Sustainability Team, Keenan Recycling Ltd, EAT@Newcastle and Newcastle Food Bank. This event showcased some of the exciting research on our farms and helped to avoid food waste. It was a spud-tacular event!
Sustainability Week was a weeklong event in March 2023. We held a variety of activities throughout the week aimed to engage and inspire the University community. Activities included a tour of the National Green Infrastructure Facility, a climate anxiety workshop and a full day festival!
At the end of June, we celebrated the Environment Awards. This was a lovely afternoon where we celebrated the achievements of the University community. From acknowledging the work of LEAF members to celebrating our Grounds Team, there was plenty to celebrate!
We received some exciting awards…
In December we received the news that we retained our ‘First Class’ sustainability ranking by the People and Planet University League for the 10th year in a row.
We were ranked 4th in the UK and joint 24th in the world for sustainable development in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.
In June, we were externally audited on our Environmental Management System (EMS) and Energy Management System (EnMS). We were recertified to ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 respectively. You can learn more about what this means in our EMS and EnMS blog post.
We brought our campus to life…
Our grounds team planted over 1500 m2 of wildflower beds across campus. These really came into bloom in the hot summer weather and have made our campus look great!
A group of volunteers and the Sustainability Team carried out hedgehog surveys on campus. Newcastle University holds a Silver Award from Hedgehog Friendly Campus.
In December 2022, we became a founding member of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance. This initiative was launched at COP15 and requires universities to calculate a baseline of their effects on biodiversity and set targets to minimise their impacts.
And some more great Sustainability activity…
In January we started the Sustainability Network, a place for communicating sustainability news with the University community. The network currently has over 200 members and is still growing! Sign up to the network here.
In October we restarted this blog! This page has become a wealth of information about sustainability in the University and around Newcastle. We currently have over 20 blog posts up on a variety of topics ranging from travel to food. Make sure to watch this space for more posts.
We would like to say a big thank you to everybody who engaged with our activities this year. Our work wouldn’t be possible without your support. Stay tuned for some more great work in 23/24!
Water conservation is an important element of the work that we do at the University to be a sustainable campus. In November 2022, the world’s population reached 8 billion people and this number is continually increasing, therefore the demand for water is also rising beyond the current levels.
Water conservation is important because “Clean fresh water is necessary for drinking and sanitation, providing for our crops, livestock and industry, and creating and sustaining the ecosystems on which all life depends”
What actions is the University taking to conserve water?
We are installing Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) software across the University.
This system is capable of logging water consumption data every 15 minutes. This means we can assess and monitor the University’s water usage data accurately.
Identifying any issues with fixtures and fittings in our buildings
We ask staff and students to report problems such as broken taps and toilets when they find them so they can be fixed quickly. We also use the AMR data to help us with this as the frequent data logging enable us to identify trends and identify anomalies where problems may be occurring.
We are installing push taps across University buildings to reduce our water consumption,
As part of our Environmental Management System we have Operational Control Procedures in place that control significant environmental aspects such as water reduction and trade effluence. These are audited internally and externally annually.
Ways you can help the University to conserve water:
Across the whole of campus:
You can report any water defect, whether it’s a dripping tap, overfilling toilet, leaking pipe or water which is too hot, by getting in touch with the Estates and Facilities Helpdesk
Make sure taps, hoses or cooling systems are turned off after use.
Use water sensibly, think ‘avoid wastage’ when using water.
In labs on campus:
Use recirculating cooling systems. This helps to reduce the amount of water going down drains that have had energy used to cool the water to the required temperature for the experiment. The principle of re-use where possible applies to water too!
Avoid using water vacuum pumps where possible as they use large quantities of water.
Don’t use distilled water when it is not necessary. This can be communicated to all users of your lab by specifying what levels of water purity are necessary for various applications. This helps to avoid the use of pure water for simple applications.
Reduce the water supply to water-cooled equipment to the minimum required to achieve adequate cooling.
Running washers only when they are full, and ensuring the lab has correctly sized equipment for its common usage as this can prevent water wastage by reducing unnecessarily large runs of a half empty washer.
Do you work in a lab at Newcastle University? You should join the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF)!
The framework will provide you with many actions that your lab can take to become more sustainable along with guidance, you can also receive a bronze, silver and gold award.
The need to transition away from the world’s reliance on plastic relates to the global environmental problem of plastic pollution. Plastic is a highly durable material, therefore it rarely completely disappears once out in the environment, it will instead take many years to break down into smaller pieces or microplastic.
“Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic produced from 1950-2017 became plastic waste, ending up in landfills or dumped”
Plastic pollution is causing harm to marine life, the climate and humans across the world, which we have discussed in our World Environment Day 2023 post.
Plastic Free July is a challenge created by the Plastic Free Foundation that aims to help people begin or continue their journey to reduce their use of single use plastic. The beginning of the journey to reduce single use plastic as an individual or family can be daunting, so here are some tips on where you can begin:
Tips on how to reduce single use plastic in your everyday life:
Travel cup: By carrying a travel cup with you every day, you can remove the need for single use coffee cups when you buy coffee out and about. Some coffee cups are now designed to be collapsible, so they take up less room in your bag.
Water bottle: Instead of buying water in a single use plastic bottle, you can carry a reusable water bottle with you and fill it up from a tap when you are on the go, at school or at work.
A great way to reduce plastic packaging is by buying dry food products such as rice, pasta, and spices from refill shops, simply save some containers or take some Tupperware to the shop to bring your purchases home in.
Invest in a re-useable cutlery set to carry for your meals on the go, some even come with a reusable straw, you could even just bring your home cutlery in your bag if you don’t want to buy a travel set!
Reuse what you already own as much as you can, for example do you have plastic takeaway containers that can be used as a lunch box instead of buying a new plastic lunchbox?
Do some research into what food products that you consume may contain traces of plastic, such as tea bags and chewing gum and look for alternatives such as loose tea.
If you would like some more specific ideas for swaps, we have posts on Sustainability that outline small sustainable swaps for your bathroom and kitchen that aim to reduce single use plastic.
Resources to help you with your journey to plastic free:
On the 29th of June the Sustainability Team joined staff, students and members from Newcastle University’s Executive Board in King’s Hall to celebrate achievements and displays of sustainable excellence.
Recipients of the award were from various departments across the university, including teaching, research and Estates and Facilities. We hope this demonstrates how sustainable changes and innovation can be made across any department and be recognised.
LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) members
LEAF lab groups who have achieved a Gold, Silver, or Bronze award at the University this academic year were all acknowledged for their achievements in increasing the sustainability of their labs.
LEAF is a framework that helps to guide lab users through different actions that they can take to make their labs more sustainable across areas like waste, water, travel and energy.
This year, 4 labs at Newcastle University achieved Gold efficiency, 2 labs achieved Silver, and 7 labs started their journey with LEAF and achieved Bronze.
Running on Bronze accreditation and efficiency, a lab can save 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, compared to not completing and running on Bronze criteria.
If you would like to learn more about LEAF at Newcastle University, please take a look at our LEAF information on the Sustainable Campus website.
The Grounds Team for their work on enhancing biodiversity
The 29-person Grounds Team were recognised for the work they do to enhance and protect biodiversity on our city-centre campus. They plant a wonderful array of flowers, trees and bushes to benefit insects, and keep our campus litter-free, which keeps hazards out of the way of any animals that pass through.
The Grounds Team prepped/planted more than 1200 m2 of wildflower beds last year, and they’ve added another 500 m2 this year.
Wildflower planting has many benefits which include:
Boosting biodiversity as it attracts pollinators such as: bees, birds and butterflies.
Wildflower areas on campus bring flowers into the everyday which can encourage people to get outdoors, enjoy walks, take photos and observe wildlife.
Wildflower areas also help us with our aim to be more sustainable, as wildflower areas instead of lawns means that we reduce our cutting frequency, which prevents wear on machines, and reduces fuel use and emissions. This also saves money in the Grounds Team’s budget and frees up time for the team to focus on the detail of their ground’s maintenance tasks and other types of planting.
The wildflowers have been in bloom all month across campus and receive non-stop compliments on social media.
Please let us know what you think of wildflower areas on campus in the comments.
An Environmental Management System (EMS) assists businesses and organisations in improving their environmental performance and their operations that have an environmental impact.
It is worth noting that an EMS can be implemented within any business or organisation, it is not dependant on the size or activity of the organisation/ business.
An implemented EMS would be applicable to a wide variety of areas within an organisation such as a university or hospital, this is due to the extensive range of daily activities that are conducted at these institutions, most of which are likely to have an environmental impact in one way or another.
An example of some prominent areas that are assessed through an EMS include:
Biodiversity gains and loses
Waste generation and disposal.
Once an EMS has been successfully implemented within an organisation, that organisation can become certified. Newcastle University’s EMS is certified to ISO 14001.
We have recently had an external audit on our environmental and energy management systems in June 2023 and we are pleased to say that we have been recommended to be re-certified for both our systems.
How is the environmental management system different to the energy management system?
An Energy Management System (EnMS) is similar in nature to an Environmental Management System however, it has a primary focus on helping the organisation improve energy performance and identify energy inefficiencies.
An implemented EnMS will assess an organisation or businesses daily activity, of which areas that impact environmental performance will be identified and addressed within the system.
In addition to an Environmental Management System, Newcastle University has also implemented an Energy Management System (certified to ISO 50001) and the two have become an integrated system.
Some questions answered by our EnMS manager, Luke Whittaker
Do you have a favourite procedure/ element of the EnMS?
“For a data nerd like me, the Energy review and baseline is my favourite element. It is where we consolidate the entire University’s energy consumption into a single document. This means that we can rank buildings based on their size and type. We can also compare usage year on year, which is really useful for identifying where energy saving projects have been effective (or where there is some abnormal high usage).”
What areas of the University do the EMS and EnMS apply to?
“It would easier to say where it doesn’t apply! Officially it applies to “provision of education and research, and the management of buildings, laboratories and land at the University’s UK sites”, so essentially the EMS and EnMS covers the entirety of the University. This includes our functional farms, marine sites and sports ground. Everyone has a part to play in making sure our EMS and EnMS work as best as they can”.
What is my part to play with the management systems?
Students: The Student Environment and Sustainability Committee (SESC) is a student-led and focused committee who look at areas relating to sustainability at the University. For more information, please look at the student action part of our Sustainable Campus website.
Staff who work in laboratories: Labs are areas where there is a higher environmental impact, LEAF (Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework) aims to improve the sustainability of labs. The online platform has actions for lab users to complete that relate to areas such as waste, travel, energy and water. If you work in a lab at the university and would like to join LEAF, please register.
If you have any questions about the environmental and energy management systems in place at the University, please send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plastic has many uses, unfortunately many of the common products made from plastic over the years are made for single use only. Some examples of common single use items made from plastic include:
Shampoo/ body wash bottles
Plastic cutlery, plates, and straws
Plastic drink bottles
Laundry detergent bottles or containers
It is with the rise of these single use items that plastic has become a material commonly found in our environment in areas such as rivers, the sea, and forests in addition to the everyday environment.
Problems with plastic pollution
Causing harm to marine life
The various impacts of plastic and microplastics on marine life has been outlined by the UNEP “impacts to marine life range from physical or chemical harm to individual animals, to wider effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning”.
Many marine animals have been trapped in plastic, they have digested plastic and marine animals that have digested plastic that has contained toxins are based down through food chains extending toxicity to multiple animals.
Marine ecosystems as a whole are also being damaged by plastic as the material sinks to the bottom of seabeds and smothers coral reefs which prevents them from thriving due to a change in conditions.
Causing harm to humans
New studies are being conducted that research the impact of plastic and microplastic on humans. Some studies suggest that microplastics are making their way into humans through a plethora of ways, such as inhaling or digesting. Research is being conducted to understand the physical implications of this on the human body. This research is the first step in developing an understanding of how microplastics will affect humans, however it does indicate that a precautionary approach should be implemented before extensive harmful effects occur.
The harm of plastic pollution on humans is also visible through the social, economic, and political effects. Developing countries and governments unfortunately do not have the monetary means for highly efficient waste disposal methods. They also do not produce as much plastic waste as developed countries, but often other countries waste ends up in other regions. Developing countries often rely on the marine environment for water and food, therefore if the marine life is infiltrated by plastic pollution this then filters through to the community relying on it.
While plastic is harming marine life and marine ecosystems with its physical presence, plastic production is also harming the ocean through the warming and chemical change that is a result of being a large carbon sink. The world currently has a large amount of carbon within its atmosphere (a proportion of which is from plastic production) therefore the ocean is working overtime to absorb carbon from the atmosphere which is having a detrimental effect.
Resources for World Environment Day 2023
World Environment Day 2023 is about learning how to live in a society that relies on a resource that is causing extensive damage and cannot be ignored any longer. #BeatPlasticPollution will contain resources, guidance and information relating to the elimination of the plastic in today’s society.
If you would like to learn how to reduce the use of plastic within your home, please read our previous posts about reduction of plastic in your kitchen and bathroom.
Event coming up:
Second hand market
Pop down and have a browse of the stalls selling items such as: books, clothes and other household items which will all sold by students. The sustainability team will also be at the event if you have any questions on how to best dispose of items that you no longer need.
Event date: Wednesday 7th June 2023Event time: 11am-3pm
Event time: 11am-3pm
Event location: Newcastle University Students Union, outside on the Luther’s Terrace
Newcastle University undertakes multiple actions to protect and enhance biodiversity on campus as part of its commitment to environmental sustainability. If you would like to learn more about Newcastle University’s commitment to biodiversity you can read our Biodiversity Policy.
Here are some of the actions that Newcastle University takes to enhance and protect biodiversity on campus:
The use of bat barns and huts
Multiple types of bats are currently listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Threatened with Imminent extinction or Near Threatened on the Red List.
Newcastle University currently has 2 bat barns and 39 bat boxes on campus. These are implemented as bats don’t mind built-up areas, if they have safe spaces for roosting. As our campus is a built-up area and is in the middle of Newcastle city centre, we have installed roosting spaces for local pipistrelle bats.
The national bee population is declining, and not only do these animals have intrinsic value in nature, but we need them as pollinators for our food.
We have planted up several unused areas of our estate as ‘pollinator gardens’, to provide sources of nectar and pollen as well as suitable nesting habitats. These spaces contain plants and flowers chosen by our own experts as pollinator friendly. We have a range of flowers with differing petal shapes (attracting a range of insects) and a succession of flowering times so insects have a nectar resource throughout the year.
Newcastle University is attempting to make life on campus more hedgehog friendly
In the last week of April, we carried out a hedgehog survey on campus. The surveying was important for understanding more about the biodiversity on and around campus, including finding out if we have hedgehogs on campus. The process included:
Reduce, reuse, and recycle are three strategies that can help us protect the environment. The ‘Three R’s’ were first publicised in the 1970s around the same time the universal logo for recycling was created, but do you know what they really mean?
The ‘Three Rs’ are actually listed in order of importance.
Reduce is the most effective of the three because it involves decreasing the amount of waste we generate in the first place. By reducing our consumption of goods and resources, we can minimize the amount of waste that needs to be managed or disposed of, which avoids all the emissions and pollution that are produced form recycling or disposing of the waste. However, we also avoid producing the emissions and pollution associated with the manufacturing and production of the items in the first place.
Reuse is the next best option because it involves finding new ways to use items that would otherwise be thrown away. Reusing or preparing items for reuse involves assessing the condition of items, and determining if they can be restored to a usable condition. This may include repairing damaged items, cleaning them, or upgrading them. Once the items have been restored, they can be sold or donated to others for use. At the University, we do this through our IT contractor and furniture reuse partners who take items for refurbishment or reuse. We also have a dedicated mailing list for furniture reuse available to all colleagues – it currently has over 600 members! Small amounts of furniture that need a new home can be listed for another member to claim to reduce the need for purchasing new furniture or equipment, and to prevent it going to waste.
Recycling is the last of the ‘Three Rs’ but it’s still incredibly important. Recycling helps conserve natural resources, reduce landfill waste, save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs and economic benefits.
Putting the correct things in the recycling bin can be complex, as each country, each council in the UK and even each organisation may have a different list of what you can put in a recycling bin. To make it EVEN MORE complicated, just because an item has the recyclable symbol on it, doesn’t really mean you can recycle it!
Our new recycling posters provide guidance on what can go in our recycling bins and if in doubt, scan the QR code on the poster to check our Waste A-Z. If you’re STILL in doubt, then pop your waste into the general waste bin as this is better than potentially contaminating the recycling bins.
It is very important that the recyclables placed within the bins are clean and are not contaminated by food or non-recyclables as this could result in all the waste being sent to an incinerator rather than being recycled.
Where does Newcastle University’s waste go?
Our non-recyclables (the black bins) are taken to Wallsend and then loaded onto a trailer to go to the Energy from Waste plant at Ferry Bridge in West Yorkshire. The plant burns the waste at high temperatures in a controlled environment to generate energy. The heat produced by the combustion is used to generate steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity. The electricity generated by the plant is then sent to the National Grid to be distributed to homes and businesses. The Plant has advanced pollution control measures in place to minimize emissions and meet strict environmental regulations.
Our recycling waste is taken to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). At the MRF the recycling materials that have been placed into the recycling bins are sorted and graded into different categories. They are then bailed and passed on to processing plants to be turned into new materials. For example, the PET (primarily plastic bottles) we produce is currently processed at the Biffa Polymers facility in Seaham, where it is turned from baled raw materials back into high-purity plastic pellets that is then sold to drinks makers and other manufacturers for a range of purposes, from food packaging to clothing. This is currently one of the most advanced PET recycling facilities in the world.
Our food waste is taken by a contractor to an anaerobic digestion facility. Here, billions of bacteria ‘feed’ on the food waste and produce a methane rich ‘biogas’ which is then used to generate electricity.
The International Day of Zero Waste aims to promote zero-waste initiatives and approaches that will contribute toward the progression of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. A move toward a zero-waste society is a necessary process due to overconsumption and excessive production across a large portion of the world. To reduce the amount of waste that is being produced globally, new waste management initiatives are required to influence change at every level across society.
“Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean”
“Resource extraction is responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions”
The United Nations Environment Programme
What is ‘zero waste’?
The zero-waste approach refers to a move away from mass consumption and waste disposal towards a reduction in waste with the development of a circular economy. The concept of a circular economy aims to redesign products so they are durable, repairable and recyclable to ensure less materials and resources require extraction and energy to produce new products.
How is Newcastle University addressing waste?
A movement towards a circular economy would go a very long way when attempting to tackle waste pollution. The concept of a circular economy uses the core principles of the Waste Hierarchy such as reducing production and re-using our existing materials, which the University is attempting to embed within our waste management processes. Embedding a circular economy approach will contribute to reducing the scope 3 carbon emissions from treatment of waste in addition to emissions related to purchased goods and services at the University. To learn more about this you can read the Circular economy section in our Climate Action Plan.
Introducing labs at the University to the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework
LEAF was made and is managed by University College London (UCL), and is a framework designed to improve the efficiency and sustainability of laboratories. LEAF provides a standard for labs to work on decreasing their carbon emissions and environmental impacts. Newcastle University has been using the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) for the last year, and there are labs making huge strides to improve their sustainability.
The online platform has actions for lab users to complete relating to waste, travel, energy, water and more. Lab users create Lab Groups and work through Bronze, Silver and Gold criteria.
We currently have 20 labs on the LEAF platform, and 14 awards have been given for labs completing the criteria!
There is a dedicated mailing list for furniture reuse available to all Newcastle University colleagues, which currently has over 600 members! Small amounts of furniture that needs a new home can be listed for another member to claim to reduce the need for purchasing new furniture or equipment, and to prevent it going to waste.
By sharing equipment and furniture that is no longer required saves money, resources and energy, and contributes towards embedding the circular economy principles into university practice.
We share ideas and resources related to waste management across multiple channels
Our blog, Sustainability includes posts that introduce subjects that are related to sustainability and social & environmental justice in an approachable and digestible way. Our blog is a great resource if you would like to explore topics such as reducing waste in everyday life through small sustainable swaps for your bathroom and kitchen alongside an introduction to the problem of food waste.
Over on Twitter, we share our own information and resources amongst outlining our progress in achieving targets. You will also find that we retweet resources shared by other universities, environmental charities and organisations such as the United Nations that introduce new ideas, tips and tricks for individuals and other organisation to use to begin their journey to zero waste.
Our Sustainability Network is a newsletter to keep you updated on all things sustainability at Newcastle University. We also share relevant opportunities and events that are happening on campus and in the city that colleagues and students alike can get involved with.
If you would like to join the Sustainability Network, you can sign up here.