Author Archives: Evan

Combining energy and sustainability: upgrading Newcastle University’s Merz Court Energy Centre

Heating and powering our campus is one of the University’s largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions and so work to improve the efficiency of these systems is very effective at reducing our institution’s impact on the environment.

To this end, a major project the University is currently undertaking is the installation of a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant in Merz Court’s Energy Centre. This new infrastructure has required the work of a variety of University teams alongside multiple external companies to plan this major energy upgrade and coordinate its installation. Now, as the completion of the project is coming into view, this blog will explore how CHP systems work, and how the University’s new power plant is set to save significant emissions for years to come!

Video: A timelapse of the night-time delivery and craning of the CHP unit into the underground Merz Court Energy centre.

What impact will this have?

Combined heat and power or ‘cogeneration’ plants increase efficiencies by utilising the waste heat generated when creating electricity to warm buildings. These systems are especially effective when hooked up to district heating networks – where one energy centre powers multiple buildings. So, when different teams were coming together to plan the power supply for the newly refurbished Stephenson Building, an upgrade to our existing district heating network centred in Merz Court fit the bill nicely.

Now, after lots of hard work from many colleagues across the University, the new 27-tonne CHP engine has been successfully installed in Merz Court’s Energy Centre! On top of the improved efficiencies of cogeneration systems, the University’s new CHP uses greener biofuel to generate its heat and electricity – greatly reducing carbon emissions as compared to conventional systems.

Additionally, the CHP’s impact on carbon savings will be further reinforced as Merz Court Energy Centre’s district heating is connected to a whole swathe of the campus, including the:

  • Henry Daysh Building,
  • Stephenson Building,
  • King Edward VII Building,
  • Percy Building,
  • Old Library Building,
  • And Merz Court itself!

Across these buildings, the CHP’s lower carbon factor energy will pull down our campus’s carbon emissions by thousands of tonnes a year. Additionally, after recent progress, the first batch of biofuel has now been delivered and we’re happy to announce that the new system will be generating power for the next heating season!

Image: The entrance to Newcastle University’s School of Electrical and Electronic engineering housed in Merz Court above the newly upgraded Energy Centre. Credit: Chris Bishop.

Find out more

Many thanks to all the teams involved in delivering the various stages of this project. If you’re interested in finding out more about the University’s power system and how we’re reducing emissions, explore our energy and carbon webpages. Additionally, this blog has information on the University’s renewable power projects and research and our institution-wide, accredited Energy Management System. Finally, the University’s Energy Policy can be found here, and you can get involved with a variety of sustainability programmes and groups across the University as either a student or a colleague.

Celebrating World Environment Day at Newcastle Univeristy

This Wednesday was World Environment Day – an initiative run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since 1973 to recognise the beauty and importance of the natural world and to fight for its preservation and restoration. The programme is important for its ability to raise awareness and bring together solutions for a range of environmental concerns, and each year’s events focus on a particular theme.

Here at the University, in addition to the cutting-edge research of our academic colleagues, a wide variety of work is done year-round to help reduce environmental impacts both in our institution and beyond. All sorts of teams and individuals contribute to these efforts and so, to recognise this work and celebrate World Environment Day, the University hosts an Environment Awards Ceremony each year. This year’s awards have unfortunately had to be postponed (hence a delayed blog!), but we thought it’d be remiss to not highlight at least some of the sustainable action that’s taken place in our University over the last year!

Image: An aerial shot of the campus-adjacent Leazes Park, bathed in the late afternoon sun. Credit: Elemental Photography.

Image: An aerial shot of the campus-adjacent Leazes Park, bathed in the late afternoon sun. Credit: Elemental Photography.

LEAF

Run by University College London, the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) is a programme designed to help laboratories in a variety of different disciplines to reduce the environmental impacts of their work. We’ve supported LEAF here at the University for several years now and I’m happy to announce that we’ve seen a number of new labs signing up and receiving awards this year!

Since last June, 10 new lab groups (some consisting of multiple different labs) have signed up across the Faculties of Medical Sciences, and Science, Agriculture and Engineering. Additionally, in this same period, we’ve seen a range of labs gain awards at different levels across the University for their sustainable action. Throughout our organisation, we have gained:

  • 5 new Bronze awards,
  • 1 new Silver award, and
  • 4 new Gold awards!

These achievements reflect the hard work done by technicians, researchers, and lab users and they demonstrate:

  • An impressive waste reduction in labs, especially those achieving Gold.
  • A commitment to reuse wherever possible, including working with suppliers to reduce waste.
  • The sharing of equipment and supplies with other labs in the same buildings.
  • The efficient use of equipment, including influencing all lab users to adopt sustainable practices in their work.
  • The non-stop encouragement to those around them to get involved!

Green Impact

This year also saw the launch of our first ever Green Impact programme at the University! Over the last half year, teams from throughout the University have been implementing sustainable changes in their varied workplaces to keep environmental action high on the agenda and make real savings in resource use.

This initial programme has seen involvement from senior leadership and teams as diverse as maintenance colleagues and lab researchers! Thanks to their efforts, we’ve seen some brilliant progress in the new year and I’m happy to announce that teams have achieved multiple bronze, silver, and gold awards across the University!

Continuing climate action

Work is continually progressing to improve the sustainability of our campus and operations. A list of important steps taken in our 17 years of sustainable action so far can be found here and you can also explore information specific to a variety of different environmental themes on our sustainable campus website.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in LEAF, Green Impact, and all the other sustainability projects that have achieved so much this year. If you want to find out more about our work, sign up to the Sustainability Network newsletter by emailing us, have a look at our Play your Part pages, or continue to explore our variety of blog pieces, covering everything from sustainable waste to farming for the future!

Solar power on campus: Harnessing renewable energy to power our university.

Why is renewable energy important?

As attested in UN Sustainable Development Goal 7, ensuring that our power is being generated renewably is a vital part of meeting climate goals, whether national, international, or across individual organisations (White, 2024). Here at Newcastle University, lighting accounts for around 20% of our energy use alone, but electricity is also used to power many building’s heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, our fleet of electric vehicles, our PCs, server banks, lab equipment, and more. With so much of the University drawing on electrical power, therefore, generating renewable energy on campus can have a huge impact on reducing the emissions of our facilities and operations. One technology that has proven invaluable in our efforts to increase local renewable energy production is solar power.

Image: A view of the Frederick Douglass Centre’s solar system with the Catalyst, Core, Lumen, and Spark buildings in the background. Credit: Author.

Image: A view of the Frederick Douglass Centre’s solar system with the Catalyst, Core, Lumen, and Spark buildings in the background. Credit: Author.

What’s happening at our university?

Solar Photovoltaics (PV) have been producing power since the 19th Century but have only really become commonplace in the last few decades as lowering costs and improving efficiencies have made the technology increasingly commercially viable (Mulvaney, 2019). One of the chief benefits of solar PV is its versatility. Solar arrays can produce power wherever there is good access to daylight (a full explanation of how solar PV works can be found in this blog) and can be deployed on building roofs to easily integrate power production into dense urban environments (Hayat et al., 2019). This adaptability has allowed the University to install solar arrays on a wide variety of buildings across our city centre campus, and these systems generate power right where it’s needed most.

Image: Maps of the University’s city centre estates. University owned buildings have a thicker border around them, those highlighted in solid yellow have solar power systems installed, and those highlighted with yellow stripes have solar systems currently under construction. Credit: Author.
Image: Maps of the University’s city centre estates. University owned buildings have a thicker border around them, those highlighted in solid yellow have solar power systems installed, and those highlighted with yellow stripes have solar systems currently under construction. Credit: Author.

Image: Maps of the University’s city centre estates. University owned buildings have a thicker border around them, those highlighted in solid yellow have solar power systems installed, and those highlighted with yellow stripes have solar systems currently under construction. Credit: Author.

As the above maps show, solar arrays have been installed across campus including on buildings such as the Henry Daysh, Great North Museum Hancock, the Catalyst, and every block of the Park View Student Village. Our teams are also continually working to expand the amount of solar power we generate at the University and we’re currently constructing a new system on top of the Philip Robinson Library. Additionally, as we add new arrays, we’re constantly looking to expand their capacity and our recently finished Sports Centre system, now the largest at the University, generates as much power in under 2 days as an average UK household consumes in a year! Elsewhere, arrays have been designed to meet the entire daytime power demands of buildings – such as in our Frederick Douglass Centre, who’s generation data can be seen below.

Image: A graphic displaying the amount of energy at the University’s Frederick Douglass Centre that is being pulled from the grid vs from the building’s solar array in the early afternoon of 13.05.2024 (note: all values are estimates). Credit: Author.

Image: A graphic displaying the amount of energy at the University’s Frederick Douglass Centre that is being pulled from the grid vs from the building’s solar array in the early afternoon of 13.05.2024 (note: all values are estimates). Credit: Author.

A combined approach

The effects of the University’s solar power arrays are already being felt across our organisation. In addition to the savings on energy bills these systems are creating, the University is also saving tens of thousands of kilograms of CO2e across our facilities. Following these successes, we’ll continue to install new solar PV systems across our campus and beyond while working to complement these projects with other renewable and low carbon infrastructure initiatives. Examples of these complimentary improvements include:

  • Our low carbon factor combined heating and power engine in the Merz Court Energy Centre which utilises biofuel to provide electricity and hot water with a high degree of efficiency and a far lower comparative carbon footprint.
  • Projects to link the district heating networks we have across our city centre campus, improving efficiencies and reliability as systems help to pick up each other’s slack and can optimise over a wider area.
  • Our long-term campus-wide LED works to replace all indoor room lighting across our organisation with energy efficient LEDs. We’re now well over halfway through this decade long project!
  • The energy supply deal we’ve struck with The Energy Consortium to supply our buildings and facilities with zero carbon power from the grid.
Image: Solar panels on top of the Henry Daysh Building with other University buildings, including the Bedson and Armstrong Buildings, as well as St James’s Park, visible in the background. Credit: Charlotte Robson.

Image: Solar panels on top of the Henry Daysh Building with other University buildings, including the Bedson and Armstrong Buildings, as well as St James’s Park, visible in the background. Credit: Charlotte Robson.

Many thanks to Irene Dumistrascu-Podogrocki and Luke Whittaker for helping with this blog and enormous thanks also to colleagues from the various teams, including projects and improvements, that are working hard alongside ourselves to bring renewable and low-carbon power to our campus. If you’re interested in finding out more, our website has further information on carbon and energy, we have blogs on our energy management system and wind power at the University, and the Sustainability Network gives regular updates on our projects and work across campus.

References

Hayat, M.B., Ali, D., Monyake, K.C., Alagha, L., Ahmed, N. (2019) ‘Solar energy – A look into power generation, challenges, and a solar-powered future’, International Journal of Energy Research. 43 (3). pp. 1049–1067.

Mulvaney, D. (2019) Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice. 1st ed. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

White, J.K. (2024) The Truth About Energy: Our Fossil-Fuel Addiction and the Transition to Renewables. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hedgehog Awareness Week at Newcastle University!

This week is national Hedgehog Awareness Week – a celebration of the role these wonderful animals play in our endemic ecosystems, and a call to action to help protect them from the threats they face. According to the Mammal Society, the Western European Hedgehog has been vulnerable to extinction in Britain since 2020. The species’ continual decline in Britain has been suffered despite its numbers remaining stable in much of the rest of Europe. So, what can we, both as individuals and as a University, do to support hedgehogs at home and on campus to restore them to the healthiness of their European cousins?

Image: shade beneath the boughs of a tree on the edge of Claremont Quad. Credit: John Donoghue.

The challenges

Hedgehog numbers in rural areas have been dropping for many years and, according to the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022 report, have declined by 30-75% since 2000, depending on the area of the UK. Population decline in urban areas is slower – likely aided by awareness raising campaigns by organisations such as the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS), but hedgehogs still face many challenges here, including:

  • Increasing traffic volume making streets more perilous,
  • Habitat loss and fragmentation as hedges and verges are lost or overly mown and gardens are cut off from one another by fences with no paths through,
  • Disruptions to Autumn nest building due to garden clearing and bonfire night celebrations,
  • The continued use of garden pesticides and poisons.

How we can help

As part of our biodiversity remit, we in the Sustainability Team have been working to ensure that our campus is as friendly as possible to a variety of species, including hedgehogs, and we’ve been running awareness raising campaigns for several years now. Accordingly, the University’s Sustainable Construction Specification stipulates that all new projects must create a biodiversity net gain and our colleagues in the Grounds Team work hard all year round to create quality green spaces across our campus. In addition to this, we’ve collaborated with the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences to host a number of fundraising events for hedgehog conservation which have raised hundreds of pounds!

Hedgehogs don’t need too much to thrive in our urban environments and even minor interventions made by individuals in their gardens or allotments can make a big difference in improving and expanding habitats. The Hedgehog Street campaign recommends a range of actions you can take to support your local hedgehog populations, including:

  • Creating small holes in garden fences to safely connect gardens,
  • Leaving a corner of your garden or allotment wild and undisturbed to provide hiding places,
  • Clearing away any old gardening netting and litter from green spaces,
  • Avoiding chemicals (such as pesticides, poisons, and weedkillers),
  • Becoming a Hedgehog champion through Hedgehog Street.

More ideas can be found here and you can also learn how to build a Hedgehog house with this guide by the Woodland Trust. If you find a hedgehog that is in distress or may have been orphaned, please contact the BHPS who can provide guidance and a list of independent hedgehog rescue centres across the UK.

Image: a person sits on a bench amid the sun dappled greenery of Claremont Quad. Credit: Chris Bishop.

Thank you for reading and taking the time to consider biodiversity in our urban environment! If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or allotment please do consider how you can make it more friendly for a variety of plant and animal species. Plus, if you’re interested in learning more about biodiversity on campus and beyond, have a look at our website and our blogs on biodiversity, bees, the UN Biodiversity Conference, and sustainable agriculture!

The Seeds of Change: Innovating for Sustainable Agriculture

Agriculture is a vast and vital industry that provides livelihoods for hundreds of millions and food for billions across our planet. Similar to other sectors, however, agriculture’s expansion and industrialisation have increased its impact on the environment to unsustainable levels (Alam and Rukhsana, 2023), especially regarding greenhouse gas emissions and the biodiversity crisis. As a result, work is now crucially needed to adopt new technologies and alternative practices to ensure that the world’s five billion hectares of farmland can store carbon and provide quality habitats as well as feeding us. To get an idea of the challenges facing sustainable agriculture and how they might be overcome, I’ve spoken to researchers from Newcastle University’s own School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

Hay bales at Newcastle University’s Cockle Park Farm. Credit: Matt Horne.

Sustainability challenges

Implementing sustainable practices into farming is a complicated and difficult process for a variety of reasons. Postgraduate researcher Sophia Long points to cost, and a lack of resources, technology, education, and training as key concerns that are affecting different farms in different ways and slowing down agriculture’s progress towards sustainable practice. Additionally, she notes that many sustainable innovations, including novel machinery and new chemistry and crop varieties, require an adjustment period to be implemented, further delaying change.

Despite these challenges, however, there is optimism in the sector and Dr David George, a reader in Precision Agronomy here at the University, referred to the recent updates to the Sustainable Farming Incentive as a key element of this positivity. On top of this, the development of carbon and biodiversity markets, inclusion of sustainable best practice as a feature of trade shows and magazines, and recognition of the importance of sustainable management by farmers themselves are all good signs of an improving outlook for sustainable agriculture.

Research and innovations

Newcastle University has a variety of innovative facilities focused on agricultural production, teaching, and research and this infrastructure is being used to develop the skills, technologies, and practices needed to support agriculture’s transition towards sustainability. These specialist facilities include Newcastle University Farms (NU Farms), which hold around 800 hectares of land spread over three sites (Nafferton, Ouston, and Cockle Park), and a series of vertical farm units, growth room facilities, and a food and consumer research facility on central campus. Some of the sustainable innovations, highlighted by Sophia and David, that are currently being developed at these sites include:

  • The development of automated systems and disease sensors in the Vertical Farm units to reduce the need for fertiliser, transport, and water when producing crops whilst improving their quality.
  • Research on the soil microbiome to improve the sustainability of disease management through the development of novel cultural and chemical control plans.
  • Trials of different tillage practices at NU Farms, including ploughing, minimum-tillage, and direct-drilling, to gather data on crop performance and carbon release (from the soil) for each of these practices.
  • Spore sampling technology, which is being explored at NU Farms in conjunction with biopesticides and biostimulants to reduce the use of conventional synthetic chemistry and thereby improve crop health and slow the build-up of pesticide resistance.
  • Scattering silicate rock dust over crop fields for their ability to enhance carbon and nutrient capture in the soil, both sequestering greenhouse gases and improving crop growth (Skov et al. 2024).
  • Remote imaging and sensing for pest/disease detection and environmental monitoring to help boost soil, crop, and animal health. This technology could be used in conjunction with the increasingly precise and automated application of crop inputs, which is also being researched at our university.
  • Methods to engage farmers in overcoming barriers to ‘Regenerative Agriculture‘ in the north of England through machinery solutions.
A tree-lined field with sheep at Newcastle University’s Cockle Park Farm. Credit: Matt Horne.

The future of farming

Sustainability is increasingly becoming the focus of agriculture’s future (Onuabuchi Munonye and Chinelo Eze, 2022) and a range of new technologies are lining up to support this. Across the Agriculture department, NU Farms, and the researchers I spoke to, however, it was stressed that co-benefits must be at the heart of change to ensure that the future of agriculture is truly sustainable. Specifically, change in the agricultural sector must support farmers’ incomes and resilience as well as the natural environment. Here, four key areas are central to a holistically sustainable future for farming:

  1. Technology: Drones and sensors for data, automated and precision machinery, new crop inputs, land use practices, and further technologies are all improving the efficiency and reducing the environmental impacts of crop and livestock rearing for each unique farm.
  2. Biodiversity: Research, education, and stewardship schemes are helping farmers to support and improve the agroecological systems on their land, yielding enhanced natural pest control and soil fertility and combatting pesticide and fertiliser use.
  3. Adaptation: Changes in pest, disease, and extreme/unseasonal weather stresses will force farmers to adapt their crop rotations and water, disease, and pest management practices. Here, plant breeding, education, and community engagement will all be vital tools to pre-emptively future-proof agricultural production against the impacts of climate change.
  4. Income: Many farms here in the UK are under intense financial pressure and even being forced out of business, harming livelihoods, rural culture and knowledge, and impacting the UK’s food security and resilience. Produce prices must reflect the tenuous financial situation for farmers and more transparency from distributors (such as supermarkets) would help consumers to gain a more well-rounded view of the food system they rely upon.

Overall, Dr George summarises the features of a sustainable future for farming as a “good balance of environmental, animal welfare and food production outputs that co-delivers for natural capital gain / net zero and food security, supported by simple yet flexible policy and clear, connected, consolidated and collaborative knowledge sharing”.

A huge thank you to Sophia, David, and everyone else who offered their time and expertise for this piece. If you want to find out more about sustainable agriculture then have a look at the links and references below and you can learn about biodiversity on campus here. Finally, if you’re looking for updates about sustainability at our university, you can sign up to the Sustainability Network.

Links and references

NU Farms research webpage

Regenerative agriculture initiative funded by Newcastle University

NU Farms Impact Statement

Press Office article on enhanced rock weathering

Alam, A., and Rukhsana (2023) ‘Climate Change Impact, Agriculture, and Society: An Overview’. Alam. A., and Rukhsana (eds) Climate Change, Agriculture and Society: Approaches Toward Sustainability. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-031-28251-5

Onuabuchi Munonye, J., and Chinelo Eze, G. (2022) ‘The Concept of Sustainable Agriculture’. Filho, W. L., Kovaleva, M., and Popkova, E. (eds) Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-98617-9

Skov, K., Wardman, J., Healey, M., McBride, A., Bierowiec, T., Cooper, J., Edeh, I., George, D., Kelland, M. E., Mann, J., Manning, D., Murphy, M. J., Pape, R., Teh, Y. A., Turner, W., Wade, P., and Liu, X. (2024). Initial agronomic benefits of enhanced weathering using basalt: A study of spring oat in a temperate climate. PLOS ONE, 19 (3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0295031

World Water Day 2024: Managing our water sustainably

Water is an incredibly precious resource that is central to natural ecosystems, agriculture, sanitation, industry, heating, transport, and, of course, keeping us hydrated! For all of these reasons, UN Water recognise sustainable water management as a vital part of the sustainable governance of communities, countries, and large organisations such as our university. So, to mark World Water Day, this blog will explore how we in the Sustainability Team ensure that the University’s water system is efficient, safe, and abides by all environmental regulations, plus we’ll add in some tips of how you can save water at home too!

Image: Sunset looking east down the tyne with the Swing, Tyne, and Millennium bridges visible. Credit: Graeme Peacock.

The University’s water

The University’s water is managed in accordance with our Environmental Management System and 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. To further support our water management, we work with building users, technicians, and our external monitoring partners Demeter to ensure that water is being used responsibly and any leaks are identified and repaired efficiently. Some examples of recent leaks that were rapidly detected and promptly repaired include a broken fitting on a main pipe at our Bowsden Court student accommodation, a fractured main near the Stephenson Building, and a flood inside Henderson Hall due to vandalism.

In addition to this work to quickly remedy faults in the system, we’re being proactive in saving water across our facilities in a number of ways, including:

  1. Installing Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) software across the University. This system is capable of logging water consumption data every 15 minutes, allowing us to assess and monitor the University’s water usage data accurately.  
  2. Developing a water strategy. Our strategy will help us to holistically review our watermonitoring and management processes.
  3. 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 enables us to identify trends and any anomalies where problems may be occurring. 
  4. Installing push taps to reduce water consumption.
  5. Including water systems in our Sustainable Construction Framework. New systems designed for capital projects have specific sustainability requirements to meet, including specification around water systems.
  6. Monitoring our water consumption daily with specialist support. Our partners Demetersend us information every day about building water consumption to help us stop leaks and identify areas where usage is higher than it should be.
Image: Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Credit: UN SDGs.

How can I save water at home?

There are plenty of easy ways you can save water around the house and these actions will help lower your water bill as a bonus!

  • Use a shower timer to help reduce water use in the shower – timers are typically set to four minutes.
  • Only use a dishwasher on a full load and avoid pre-rinse settings.
  • Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need, saving energy as well as water.
  • Use any leftover cooking water on houseplants.
  • When purchasing a new toilet, look for a dual flush option.
  • Fit tap aerators onto your taps and look into aerated shower heads to easily reduce water consumption.

Is there anything I can do on 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. Always make sure taps, hoses, and cooling systems are turned off after use. Additionally, if you manage or work in labs you can reduce water use by:

  • Using recirculating cooling systems to save energy and water, and reducing the water supply to water-cooled equipment to the minimum required.
  • Avoiding using water vacuum pumps where possible as they use large quantities of water.
  • Specifying what levels of water purity are necessary for various applications and not using distilled water when it is not necessary.
  • Only running washers when they are full and ensuring the lab has correctly sized equipment for its common usage to prevent inefficient washing of oversized items.
  • Joining the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF)!

Thank you so much for reading this blog. If you want to explore more information on water at our university, take a look at our dedicated webpage, or email us in the Sustainability Team!

Investing in Sustainability

It goes without saying that money is an incredibly important resource: it organises economies the world over, facilitates vast global trade, and is used to buy all sorts of goods and services, from everyday items to the resources that keep our university running. How money is spent, therefore, is very important to the ways in which our societies work, including how they interact with the environment. At Newcastle University, we earmark £15 million a year for net zero projects across our organisation, but great care is also taken when managing other investments and purchasing. So, how exactly does our institution manage its finances with the environment in mind and are there ways that individuals can do the same?

Image: A crowded Quayside Market with an array of bridges, including the Tyne, High Level, and Swing bridges, in the background. Credit: Chris Bishop.

Ethical investment

Considering sustainability is important wherever financial decisions are being made, but large institutions such as our university have much more responsibility than individuals because the flows of money they handle are so much greater. For this reason, our university has drawn up a range of policies and commitments over the years to ensure that we’re managing our money sustainably, and a major aspect of this is the University’s Socially Responsible Investment Policy.

This policy applies to all long-term investments and puts social, environmental, and humanitarian concerns at the heart of the University’s financial decision making. Key aspects of the implementation of these principles include:

  • Only appointing investment managers who are signed up to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), will report on the carbon emissions of their portfolios, and will consider membership of the Net Zero Asset Manager Initiative.
  • Considering concerns from anyone in the University community about investments, and meeting regularly with investment managers to discuss values including sustainability.
    The University will cease its partnership with any investment manager who fails to meet our values.
  • Never investing in tobacco, fossil fuels, or arms companies.

More information and a Q&A page about ethical investment at our university can be found on our dedicated webpage.

Sustainable procurement

Additionally, on top of the Socially Responsible Investment Policy, the University’s Procurement Service maintains their own Sustainable Procurement Policy to help balance the University’s needs and responsibilities. This policy is organised around three sets if priorities: environmental, social, and financial, and features many considerations including:

  • Reducing carbon emissions,
  • Adopting circular economy principles,
  • Achieving social justice, and
  • Ensuring value for money.

For a full list of these priorities and information on the Procurement Service’s NETpositive Supplier Engagement Tool, take a look at their website. You can also explore our procurement page for further details on different areas of procurement and how to get involved.

Image: An aerial shot of Science Square at Newcastle Helix with the green roofs and solar panels of the University’s Catalyst building and Urban Sciences Building visible. Credit: Elemental Photography.

What can I do?

It’s not just large organisations like the University that can make a difference with their money, however. Considering environmental concerns in your purchasing can help support climate-positive organisations and initiatives, while reducing sales for companies and services that profit from unsustainable industries and practices. For guidance on what you can do to spend (or save!) with the planet in mind, explore our blog pieces on:

Additionally, when managing your finances, it can also be a good idea to look into the ethical and environmental commitments and credentials of the banks you use or are interested in using. Where banks put their money has a big impact in the world and some companies have better policies and track records than others. Ethical Consumer have a great recent article on this for further guidance, and their other articles and publications are worth exploring too for high quality information on a range of sustainable consumption topics.

Finally, if you’re a student and you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can explore the support available from the University on the Student Financial Support webpages.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog. If you’re interested in the other work that we in the Sustainability Team are doing, then check out our website, newsletter, and our projects and partnerships including: Green Impact, Dr Bike, Furniture Reuse, Co-Wheels, and the Bicycle Users Group! Send us an email to find out more about any of the above.

Sustainability Week: the highlights!

Running Monday through Friday last week, Newcastle University Student’s Union (NUSU) collaborated with a wide variety of groups and individuals (including us the Sustainability Team!) to organise an action-packed week of sustainability events. Read on to learn more about the range of engaging and thought provoking sessions put on!

Image: an aerial shot of the Students’ Union building with other campus buildings, Leazes Park, and St
James’ Park in the background. Credit: Elemental Photography.

Monday 19 February

Second-hand Market
To kick off the week, Alex Theodosiou (NUSU’s Activities Officer) organised a market of student-run stalls for our university community to come together and exchange items. Championing reuse and the circular economy, the event helped to find new homes for a variety of items and thus extended their useful lifespans!

Information Stalls/Q&A with Newcastle University
Next, in the nearby King’s Road Boiler House, we in the University’s Sustainability Team hosted a Q&A and information fair on everything sustainability at the University and beyond! Stall holders included Newcastle City Council, the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, and the Student Brewing Society. Additionally, our Q&A panel included sustainability professionals from our team alongside postgraduate students, NUSU representatives, and our Pro-Vice-Chancellor Global and Sustainability, Richard Davies!

Give it a Go: Making Upcycled Crafts Tea Lights
Continuing the circular economy theme of the morning’s second-hand market, Monday finished with an upcycling workshop to create home décor at no cost to the planet! The social was a lovely, relaxed way to wrap up the first day with new people and a chance to get creative.

Tuesday 20 February

Swap Shop
Tuesday began with a return of the popular Swap Shop initiative at NUSU! The event drew colleagues and students from across campus to reduce purchases of new items and instead find new homes for all sorts of clothing via direct swaps. This non-monetary approach was continued at the end, with all unused clothing being donated to local charity shops!

Give it a Go: Charity Shop Tour
Following on perfectly from the morning’s Swap Shop, Tuesday afternoon featured a tour of our favourite charity shops in town and introduced colleagues and students to the range of quality items that can be found when low-impact shopping!

Image: students walk through Armstrong Quad surrounded by greenery. Credit: Nick Figgis.

Wednesday 21 February

Fossil Free Careers Workshop with People and Planet
Offering information and ideas for greener futures, the Fossil Free Careers campaign joined People and Planet to host an engaging workshop on sustainable work and decarbonising the recruitment industry.

Give it a Go: Beach walk and collecting items for upcycling crafting
Wednesday afternoon saw a trip to the coast to explore King Edward’s Bay and Long Sands beach and learn about the valuable crafts materials we’d elsewise simply walk past. The trip included gathering of shells, pebbles, and driftwood, all in preparation for the crafts session on Thursday!

Thursday 22 February

Sustainable Finance with John Adams
The first session on Thursday was a workshop with former banker John Adams on the financial flows and major state and corporate players fuelling climate change. The session widened to include a wide range climate change associated issues and offered food for thought on the ways that the financial and fossil fuels industries can be influenced to reduce their climate destruction.

Give it a Go: Making beach upcycled crafts
The second part to Wednesday’s beach walk, Thursday finished with an upcycling crafts session to transform the resources gathered the day before into stunning decorations!

Friday 23 February

Pond Workshop & Ouseburn Trip with Mike Jeffries
To finish off the week, NUSU Go Volunteer and Eco-soc came together with Professor Mike Jeffries of Northumbria University for a hands-on introduction to small scale freshwater habitats, the biodiversity they support, and how we can create and maintain them in our communities! This session was especially relevant as proposals from the Student Environment and Sustainability Committee for a pond habitat here on campus are currently being considered in plans of projects here at Newcastle University.

A huge thank you to NUSU and everyone who got involved to make this such an incredible week of community building, awareness raising, and sustainable action!

Green Impact: Grassroots sustainability at your university

Green Impact is a UNESCO award-winning programme tailored towards promoting socially and environmentally sustainable practices across a wide range of organisations, including public sector bodies such as our university. The programme, run by SOS-UK, works with colleagues (organised into teams) to foster sustainable action in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we in the Sustainability Team have been working hard to launch a bespoke version for Newcastle University! So, if you want to get involved with the University’s crucial net zero by 2030 target and help reduce energy use, water use, waste and more, read on!

Image: An aerial shot of King’s Quad. Credit: Elemental Photography

How does it work?

Green Impact is designed to be easy to set up and get stuck into and SOS-UK have even launched a new online toolkit for the programme to let you intuitively track your progress, compare your teams scores (only if you want!), and see your next targets.

There are 5 steps to the Green Impact’s timeline of sustainable action:

  1. Sign up to Green Impact online.
  2. Chat to your colleagues about Green Impact teams in your work area and either join one that’s already been created or create your own (feel free to give the team a fun name!).
  3. Work through your assigned actions. Each action grants a certain number of points which then stack up towards the Bronze, Silver, and Gold action awards (50, 100, and 150 points respectively)!
  4. Our friendly student auditors will come round to check your progress in mid-May.
  5. An awards ceremony will be held in June, featuring engraved slates (recycled!) for teams that made it to Bronze, Silver, or Gold, and certificates for everyone who took part!

Why should you join?

  • Create meaningful sustainable change in your workplace: the work you and your team do will help to limit energy and water use, boost environmentally responsible planning of workplace projects, improve reuse and reduce waste, save budgets, and more! In other words, your efforts will actively contribute to sustainable development and Net Zero progress at Newcastle University. Additionally, you’ll find you can apply some Green Impact actions to your personal life too if you want to help save on bills and further reduce your environmental impact.
  • Improve your knowledge and skills on pressing environmental issues: Green Impact offers workshops and skills development opportunities to provide insights and understanding on sustainability and social and environmental justice!
  • Meet like-minded colleagues and boost your teamworking skills: the programme is highly collaborative and social with the joint effort required to complete actions and plenty of chances to network with environmentally conscious colleagues from across the University.
  • Collect your awards! Your sustainability work will be recognised at the Celebrating Success: Environment Awards in June!

Key dates

There’s a range of exciting events and dates coming up! Plus, keep an ear out for the further activities and sessions we’ll organise throughout via our Sustainability Network newsletter.

  • Green Impact session at Experience Week (come along for updates, news, and further information!): 11th March, 10-11am.
  • Deadline for actions (complete as much as possible before this!): 17th May
  • Celebrating Success: Environment Awards: June.
  • Join: right now! Or whenever you feel like it – the signup process is easy, just follow this link.
Image: Screenshot of the Green Impact online toolkit login page. Credit: author.

2023: A year in sustainability

2023 was a busy year for us in the Sustainability Team! We launched projects, ran events, helped the University to score highly in prestigious league tables, and welcomed new team members to continue and expand our work.

Delivering a sustainable Newcastle University is complex and multi-faceted work and requires a great deal of coordination and involvement between teams, colleagues, and students across the University. These efforts have led to sustainability improvements throughout our organisation, making our campus and community better for people and planet in a range of ways – read on for an overview of everything we’ve achieved together!

Image: An aerial shot of campus, featuring the Stephenson and Merz buildings in the foreground. Credit: Elemental Photography

Awards and accreditations

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a key priority for our university and so we were honoured to have contributed to the achievement of some exceptional scores in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. In the rankings, which are judged against the SDGs, Newcastle University placed top 25 in the world and 4th in the UK – a submission which takes a huge effort from our team and colleagues across the University!

That’s not all, however. We also kept our ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 accreditations for our Environmental Management System and Energy Management System, respectively. These technical accreditations reflect the care we put into our high-quality processes for managing the environmental impact of the University’s operations and we’ve now held both accreditations for almost a decade running.

Finally, 10 more labs gained Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) accreditation last year (including 5 at gold level!), doubling the size of our community of environmentally certified labs! If you work in a lab and are interested in joining LEAF, check out the information on our website.

Projects

We began several big projects with our colleagues last year, starting with the next phase of the University’s campus-wide solar photovoltaics (PV) project. This two-year programme will install solar PV panels on 32 academic buildings and accommodation sites, adding to our already expansive renewables network and reducing expected CO2e emissions by over 380 tonnes a year.

Additionally, we also began the installation of a biofuel combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Merz Court’s Energy Centre. This system uses greener biofuel to generate electricity while also harnessing waste heat to warm up our buildings – greatly reducing carbon emissions as compared to gas systems. These improvements will have a substantial impact as the Energy Centre provides district heating to a whole swathe of the campus, including the: Henry Daysh, Cassie, Stephenson, King Edward VII, Percy, and Old Library Buildings, plus, of course, Merz Court itself!

Image: An aerial shot of the Armstrong Building with the Old Quad, King’s Quad, and Student Forum visible. Credit: Elemental Photography

Engagement and events

Last year was a busy one for sustainability engagement too! Firstly, in January we launched our Sustainability Network to keep colleagues and students up to date on all things sustainability at our university. This community has now grown to 256 members and you can join them here. Additionally, speaking of mailing lists, our ongoing Furniture Reuse project hit 700 members!

Secondly, we’ve been working on this Sustainability blog throughout the year. We posted 30 blogs in all, offering updates, tips, and information on everything from wind power at the University to sustainable hacks around the house.

Finally, 2023 saw a whole range of events with environmentalism at their core, including:

  • Sustainability Week – five days of sessions covering green infrastructure, climate anxiety and more,
  • A Veganuary Bake sale to raise funds for biodiversity charities,
  • Spudfest – a festival offering free food and dedicated to highlighting innovative agricultural research,
  • Leave Newcastle Happy – our joint campaign with the City Council and Northumbria University to ensure that waste from the student move-out in summer is dealt with responsibly,
  • The Dr Bike project, launched last summer to support active commuting to campus. In eleven sessions the project has managed to rehome 50 second-hand bikes and helped over 200 people with advice, resources, and repairs!

The team

We’ve seen some exciting changes to the team this last year. Firstly, Melissa Stephenson, previously a Sustainability Officer, became the University’s new Waste Manager – a vital role in the University that she’s quickly got the hang of! Additionally, our team has grown to a total of ten sustainability professionals with the appointment of:

  • An Assistant Sustainability Officer – Charlotte Robson,
  • A Sustainability Communications Placement – Evan Bromage,
  • And two Sustainability Officers – Phoebe Sowerby and Jordan Heeley!

Thank you so much to everyone who got involved with sustainability last year, we couldn’t have done it without you! 2024 will bring fresh challenges and opportunities as we draw ever closer to our 2030 Net Zero target, so stay informed with this blog, the Sustainability Network, and our website and let’s make this year just as good as the last!