Category Archives: Carbon

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.

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 some 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 both 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 and education and community engagement will all be vital tools to pre-emptively future-proof agricultural productionagainst 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

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!

Sustainability in Medicine: keeping our planet and ourselves healthy

As seen in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, sustainability is a major concern across all aspects of society due both to the far-reaching challenges of climate change and the impacts that modern life has on environment. Having said this, our attention can sometimes focus on certain aspects of society (such as the fossil fuel industry) more than others and one area where sustainability can be missed at times is healthcare (Sherman et al. 2020). So, to gain a better idea of the challenges and opportunities sustainability can bring to this critical service, I’ve spoken to a range of current students, societies, and academics involved with medicine at Newcastle University.

Image: The main entrance to the University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences. Credit: Chris Bishop.

Why is sustainability important in medicine?

As Nuala Murray from the University’s Sustainable Medics Society points out, sustainability and medicine are very relevant to one another for a variety of reasons. Initially, the changing climate is creating a range of novel and dangerous challenges for healthcare practitioners globally, from spreading zones of regional diseases to dealing with the fallout of worsening extreme weather events (Abbasi et al., 2023). On the other hand, the provision of healthcare itself is a resource intensive process, with the NHS making up around 4% of the UK’s total emissions profile alone (NHS, 2020). This makes healthcare a centre of both adaptation and mitigation in the fight against climate change, underlining the importance of sustainability in healthcare provision. Positively, examples are appearing of key bodies in the sector recognising this reality. For instance, Newcastle NHS Trust were the first NHS trust to issue a Climate Emergency statement (in collaboration with Newcastle University), our NU Med Malaysian Campus has invested in a permanent Eco Lounge, and our own Medical School has a dedicated Sustainable Medicine Lead.

Challenges and opportunities

The medical training, practice, and research provided by our University is vital, but it needs a variety of specific resources to function properly and this can make improving medical sustainability a challenge. I spoke to Oak Taylor, one of our medical students, to get a better idea of how this looks in practice. She pointed out, for instance, that many items, including protective equipment and syringes, are single use by necessity to ensure quality standards and avoid spreading infection. Additionally, she noted that many of the anaesthetic gases that are critical for operations are also very polluting. Despite these challenges, however, there are still lots of opportunities to improve sustainability in medicine. So, while ambulances can’t be electric due to the need to refuel quickly, medicine delivery vans can be electrified, and while front-line protective equipment will need changing regularly, equipment used during training can often be reused. Additionally, many of these steps come with other, additional benefits, such as improvements to air quality from using electric vehicles or boosting patient satisfaction by greening hospital grounds.

Here at Newcastle University’s medical, dental, and research facilities, a variety of projects are being carried out to implement more environmentally sound practice. For instance, our previously mentioned Sustainable Medicine Lead, Hugh Alberti, has been working throughout the School of Medicine to introduce sustainable healthcare teaching to the curriculum. This has led to a range of impressive initiatives, including all final year students completing sustainable quality improvement projects as part of their final GP placements – that’s 370 tailored sustainability projects being written for GP surgeries throughout Newcastle every year! Meanwhile, our Sustainable Medics Society run regular conferences on sustainable medicine and are currently working on a project to make lab sessions for clinical skills modules more sustainable by reducing plastic waste. Finally, lots of medical labs, including core labs used by a variety of different teams, have received Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) accreditation – with several operating at ‘Gold’, the highest level of the standard currently available!

Image: a student operating medical equipment. Credit: John Donoghue.

What next?

This range of initiatives is having a tangible effect by both directly improving environmental outcomes and ensuring that sustainability is established as an important consideration in the minds of current and future medical practitioners. Our medical students, teachers, and researchers aren’t done yet, though! Ambitions for the future include further improving the University’s already impressive Planetary Health Report score, and further reducing the use of single use items in medical teaching.

Many thanks again to Nuala, Hugh, Oak, and everyone else who generously contributed their time for this piece. If you want even more information on sustainability in healthcare, have a look at the references and resources below. Additionally, if you’re looking for steps you can take yourself, get started by having a look at our recent Sustainability Newsletter for advice on how to sustainably dispose of medications!

References and further reading

Abbasi, K., Ali, P., Barbour, V., Benfield, T., Bibbins-Domingo, K., Hancocks, S., Horton, R., Laybourn-Langton, L., Mash, R., and Sahni, P., et al. (2023) ‘Time to treat the climate and nature crisis as on indivisible global health emergency’, British Medical Journal. 383. p. 2355.

Andrews, E., Pearson, D., Kelly, C., Stroud, L., and Rivas Perez, M. (2013) ‘Carbon footprint of patient journeys through primary care’, British Journal of General Practice. September.

Gillam, S., and Barna, S. (2011) ‘Sustainable general practice: another challenge for trainers’, Education for Primary Care. 22 (1). 7-10.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (2020) Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service – July 2022 Update. Skipton House, London.

Pencheon, D., and Wight, J. (2020) ‘Making healthcare and health systems net zero’, British Medical Journal. 368.

Sherman, J. D., Thiel, C., MacNeill, A., Eckelman, M. J., Dubrow, R., Hopf, H., Lagasse, R., Bialowitz, J., Costello, A., Forbes, M., et al. (2020) ‘The Green Print: Advancement of Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare’, Resources, Conservation and Recycling. Volume 161.

Catching the Tailwinds: Wind power and the green energy transition at Newcastle University

What is Wind Power?

Wind power is a renewable source of energy that harnesses the kinetic force of natural air flows. To do this, turbine blades are angled so that the passing winds push against them and transfer their energy into rotational movement. This movement then drives a generator that transforms the kinetic energy into electrical power. Similar processes, minus the last step, have been utilised for millennia for purposes including milling grain, pumping water, and, in their simplest form, navigating oceans. Since the 1970s, however, the technology’s potential to generate electricity at scale has led to a gradual modern resurgence of wind power as a useful tool in the global transition towards cleaner and greener energy (Chiras, 2010). To understand how Newcastle University is responding and contributing to this transition, I’ve drawn on the expertise of Professor of Offshore Engineering, Zhiqiang Hu, to explore some of the exciting projects in progress across our organisation.

Image: Turbines at the Port of Blyth. Credit: Graeme Peacock.

The University’s wind research and collaborations

Our University has a range of talented researchers working across a variety of wind power technologies and among of the most promising of these is offshore wind generation. Placing wind turbines offshore (sometimes a long way out at sea!) allows them to be far larger than their land-based siblings which boosts generation capacity while avoiding taking up precious space on land. As a result, the offshore wind industry is developing quickly as an important way to meet the global demand for decarbonisation. This is creating a wealth of challenges and opportunities for those working in the sector and Newcastle University has a strong position within this dynamic landscape thanks to two key factors.

Firstly, the University has attracted attention from a variety of leading energy and engineering companies thanks to both our wealth of specialist knowledge and the forward-looking approach to sustainability that we take throughout our institution. Our researchers are working on a variety of cutting-edge themes, specialising particularly in the strength and integrity of wind turbines, their operation and maintenance, and developing ways to store their excess generation as hydrogen! Meanwhile, to help power this research, the University has entered a long-term deal to acquire wind power from Statkraft – a major European wind power supplier.

Secondly, the North-East is also a busy place for offshore wind power industrially, due both to the region’s existing maritime infrastructure and the vast wind farm being developed at nearby Dogger Bank in the North Sea. This wind farm, projected to be the largest in the world, has created a strong local offshore wind power supply chain, further attracting investment and collaboration with leading companies eager to work with local centres of expertise such as our University. These factors have led to a variety of exciting projects collaborating with industry including:

  • Professor Hu’s work to collaborate with colleagues and companies, including ORE Catapult, Hywind Scotland, and Equinor, to develop technologies (including using AI (Chen et al., 2021)) that will help maintain floating wind turbines at sea.
  • The University’s Hydrodynamics Laboratories in the Armstrong Building have been working with Balmoral to develop their HexDefence technology to avoid scouring issues at the base of offshore turbines (read more about scouring here (Zhang et al., 2023)).
  • Newcastle University’s Marine Zero PhD Centre has been supporting TechnipFMC on a project to develop dynamic cable monitoring technology to ensure that power gets back to land safely from the turbines out at sea.
Image: Turbines in the Black Forest above Freiburg. Credit: author.

Impact beyond the University

The varied partnerships and research projects underway at our University are creating opportunities and positive change within our organisation, but the work that’s being done here is having impacts far beyond the streets of our campus. Here, the University’s work contributes to positively impacting the emissions profile of the entire North East, proving the possibilities of decarbonising UK higher education, and providing vital knowledge that will contribute to the global green energy transition!

Enormous thanks to Professor Hu for the expert insight he provided for this article, you can see more of his work here. Finally, to stay fully up to date on sustainability news across our University, keep checking our regular blogs and contact us at the Sustainability Team to be added to our monthly newsletter!

References

Chen, P., Jia, C., Ng, C., and Hu, Z. (2021) ‘Application of SADA method on full-scale measurement data for dynamic responses prediction of Hywind floating wind turbines’, Ocean Engineering. Volume 239.

Chiras, D. (2010) Wind power basics: a green energy guide. New York: New Society Publishers.

Zhang, F., Chen, X., Yan, J., and Gao, X. (2023) ‘Countermeasures for local scour around offshore wind turbine monopile foundations: A review’, Applied Ocean Research. Volume 141.

Planning sustainably at Newcastle University

Image: Members of the University community walk through the greenery-framed arches of King’s Gate. Credit: John Donoghue.

The University’s lovely Planning Team are responsible for designing and delivering our campus’s impressive variety of beautiful and cutting-edge spaces, both indoor and outdoor. This work has a major role to play in the environmental commitments of our institution and so we decided to have a chat with our friends in Planning to see how they’re incorporating sustainability into their practice. Here’s what we learnt.  

How Planning works

One of the main functions of the Planning Team is to receive and solve Space and Project Requests (SPRs) which are sent to them by colleagues all across the University. These requests might involve the creation of a new teaching space for a growing department, for instance, or perhaps the conversion of a room to provide specialist resources. For each request, the Planning Team devises solutions to provide for the requester’s varied needs and maximise the potential of the spaces involved. As part of this process, our planners pay close attention to the sustainability of each project throughout its conception and delivery in a number of impactful ways. 

Image: the newly renovated Herschel Learning Lab in the Herschel Building. Credit: John Donoghue.

Sustainable practice

Importantly, following the Carbon Literacy Training that some members of the team undertook, the Planning Team have developed a “carbon conscious methodology” for their work which incorporates a range of sustainable approaches and complements the environmental guidance written into the University’s procurement framework. These methods range from limiting hard landscaping and protecting green areas where possible, to considering how spaces can be designed in a versatile manner to accommodate several uses at different times. Additionally, when delivering on SPRs, the team considers sustainability from the very outset by conducting their own research to ensure the necessity of each request. This evaluation is then followed by a consideration of how existing spaces and features can be reused to lengthen their life – similar to repairing clothes instead of buying new! 

Where items are no longer needed or replaced, however, the team puts the responsibility for dealing with the unwanted furnishings on the requester, to ensure that simply throwing items away is never the easiest option. Thanks to this, these items are then either reused somewhere else in the University (via our furniture reuse list, for example!) or are disposed of responsibly by contractors such as the wonderful people at RightGreen. As if this wasn’t enough already, the team are also full of ideas for how their planning can become even more sustainable in future! 

Image: Flowers and greenery in the Old Quad. Credit: Charlotte Robson.

Sustainable futures

Core to these aspirations is a holistic view of the planning process. This involves taking moments to pause and consider the sustainability of each aspect of a project, for instance, and considering the full lifecycle of each space including how it can be reused and/or returned to nature at the end of its lifespan. One of their ideas for putting this into practice is adapting University College London’s Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF), which Newcastle University uses, to allow those submitting SPRs for a variety of spaces to gain accreditation for environmentally friendly reuse and refurbishment. These ideas build on the amazing suite of sustainable policies our planning team already utilises to offer an exciting vision of what the future of Planning could look like at Newcastle University. 

So, next time you’re on our brilliant campus, whether you’re enjoying our labs, lecture theatres, historic buildings, or green spaces, take a moment to appreciate the hard work our amazing planners do to bring these high-quality spaces to us in as sustainable a manner as possible. Finally, if you want to learn more, please do check out the information on their blog also! 

What are environmental and energy management systems?

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:

  • Carbon usage
  • Water usage
  • 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?

Staff and Students: Our Environmental and sustainability policy and Energy policy that are in place at the university apply to the whole university, this includes both staff and students.

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: sustainable-campus@newcastle.ac.uk.

What is the Energy Price Cap and what does it mean for you?

The terms ‘Energy Price Cap’ and ‘Energy Price Guarantee’ appear almost daily on the news and social media. They seem very important but, unfortunately, these phrases are not well explained, and many people don’t understand what they are and what this means for them. This blog will help clarify these terms, allowing you to better understand the current situation and manage your bills better. 

What is the Energy Price Cap (EPC)? 

The EPC was introduced by Ofgem (the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) in January 2019. Its aim was to prevent households on variable tariffs being overcharged by limiting what you pay for each unit of gas and electricity. It also sets a maximum daily standing charge (the fare you pay to be connected to the grid). 

The EPC is largely calculated off wholesale prices (those that suppliers pay), network costs (building and maintaining the network) and supplier operating costs. It applies to households on standard and default tariffs which the majority of people are now on. If you are unsure what sort of tariff you are on, consult your energy provider. 

Myth: The Energy Price Cap is the maximum you can pay per year. 

Fact: There is no maximum charge for an energy bill, just a maximum daily standing charge & cost per energy unit. The price given by EPG and EPC is the average amount a household will spend per year. 

What is the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG)? 

As a result of very high energy prices, the EPG was created by the government in October 2022. This provides a discount on the EPC as the government is subsidising the cost of energy. For example, between 1st January and 31st March the energy price cap is £4,279/year however with EPG discount, this is reduced to £2,500/yr.  

The EPC changes every 3 months, and each time it changes, the government provides a discount to keep typical household bills lower. If the energy price cap falls below the EPG in the future, the EPC will be reinstated, and you’ll pay this instead. 

What does this mean for my household? 

As of January 2023, a household with a ‘normal’ amount of energy use would pay the EPG of £2,500/year. This is set to rise in April to £3,000 a year and will remain at this level until the end of March 2024. This is much lower than what the costs should have been for this winter but higher than previous years. 

The government has also given all households a £400 energy bills discount in October 2022. This should have been paid to you in 6 instalments taking £66 off your energy bills each month. If you use a bills package like UniHomes or Fused you should receive the discount from them as a reduction in your bills. If you pay your bills to your landlord, they are legally required to make sure you benefit from the rebate

There is also further aid for households on certain means, pensioners and those with disability benefits.  

What should I do if I’m struggling to pay my bills? 

If you are worried you may not be able to pay your energy bill, make sure to seek help. There are resources to help you and make sure you are not left cut off. These articles from The Money Saving Expert and Citizen’s Advice have some useful advice about the support available and how to access it. 

What if I still have questions? 

For further information about how the energy price cap affects you, see these pages from NUSU and The Money Saving Expert

Travelling Sustainably

One of the largest industries on the planet is the travel industry. Every year, millions of people travel across the globe for business, to see friends and family or just for a holiday getaway. Unfortunately, this industry is accompanied by problematic environmental impacts. In fact, according to the International Council on Clean transport (2019), aviation contributes 2.4% of all global carbon emissions. As we realise it is not possible to completely stop travelling, we have put together a few tips to help make your travels as environmentally friendly as possible. 

An airplane flying in the sky

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  1. Fly Economy Class 

Flying business/first-class has a larger carbon footprint than flying economy class. This is because the business and first class seats are using much more space and are therefore accountable for a greater share of the aircraft’s fuel. Economy seats, especially on an airline with a high number of seats, are a lower impact option on the plane. 

  1. Travel slowly 

If you’re taking a short-haul or domestic trip, think about alternative methods of transport to flying. A train or coach can allow you to appreciate culture as you travel to your destination. If you’re looking for a sustainable way to reach a destination, check out this carbon saving emissions tool by Manchester University. 

  1. Try to avoid layovers 

Did you know that the highest amount of greenhouse gases of a plane journey, are released during take-off and landing? This means that if you make multiple stops on your trip the extra emissions can quickly add up. Connecting flights also mean you usually have to travel a greater distance, adding even more emissions onto the journey. 

  1. Find local adventures 

If it is not necessary for your trip to be abroad, why not explore your local area instead? There are often some great destinations within a few hours train or car ride away. Here are some great short trips you can travel to by train and by car from Newcastle. 

Local Adventures! Some pictures from our team of North-East treasures.  

Bamburgh Castle
Holy Island, Lindisfarne
St Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay

What about carbon offsetting? 

Carbon offsetting involves individuals or companies investing in environmental projects in order to balance out their own carbon emissions. This could include activities such as forestry conservation (to encourage plants that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) or the creation of renewable energy resources. Whilst these projects may appear very beneficial, carbon offsetting does not come problem free. 

Carbon offsets do not work for the core issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They often allow a ‘business as usual’ approach, encouraging an idea that you can just offset whatever carbon you produce. Furthermore, not all of these projects are realised, and sometimes those that are, aren’t completed to their full potential. For example, you may pay to create a forest, however if that forest burns down in its infancy, the project’s full efficacy is not reached. 

For carbon offsetting to be an effective action, it must be coupled with reducing your overall emissions and not just as a substitute for reducing. 

Have we missed one of your favourite eco-friendly travel tips? Let us know in the comments below! 

COP27 – What Went Well and What Needs Work

COP27, Sharm El-Sheikh

Over the last couple of weeks, the world has been watching leaders talk about the future of our climate at COP27. The event, which has been happening annually since 1992, brings politicians, diplomats and non-governmental organisations from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change and actions we can take to combat it. These measures aim to keep the world below 1.5°C warming [from pre-industrial levels], a point at which, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ‘climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and the entire planet.’

Whilst there have been some positive advancements made at Sharm El-Sheikh, it is clear that we are not taking enough action to limit warming. We have identified three things that went well at the conference and three items which require more work.

What went well

A Loss and Damage Fund was established

The highlight of COP27 was the creation of the ‘loss and damage fund’. This monetary support will go to poorer nations who have suffered damage and economic loss as a result of climate change and the climate crisis that has unfolded. The formation of this fund is hugely significant as it overcomes decades of resistance from richer nations who are the primary contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. It is also the most significant gesture made in acknowledging inequalities surrounding the climate crisis.

Although the historic deal still has a way to go in terms of discussing its operation and which nations will contribute, the deal is a big step in the right direction.

Children and Young people had a voice for the first time

For the first time this year, children and young people were given an official space at the conference. The Children and Youth Pavilion gave young people a chance to hold discussions and policy briefings like never before. The inclusion of this platform is highly significant, especially as climate change is said to disproportionately affect children and young people.


Image of the COP27 Youth Pavillion

It got people talking

Large events like COP27 put the climate crisis at the forefront of diplomatic agenda and the global media. They bring both rich and poor nations together to discuss an issue which affects us all and requires a global response. The high-profile nature of these events means the climate crisis is given much more media time and encourages conversations which otherwise may not have been had.

What needs work

A lack of female representation

A BBC analysis of the event found that less than 34% of country negotiating staff were women and, in some teams, staff were over 90% men. This is very problematic, especially as research has found women to be disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Women are more likely to depend on the land for their income and food and these resources are being increasingly threatened. Moreover, they are usually responsible for securing water, and when resources run dry, they must walk greater distances to find them. This leaves them exposed to increased risks of gender-based violence.

Gender equality is crucial to future talks about climate change. It is only by acknowledging the struggles women face and listening to their inputs that effective change can be made. We therefore hope that future negotiations will have equal representation.


The lack of women at the event can clearly be seen by the COP27 ‘family photo’. Out of the 110 leaders present, just 7 of them were women.

There were too many fossil fuel lobbyists.

A new analysis found that there were over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 this year. This was higher than the number in COP25 in Glasgow last year and more than the combined number of delegates from the 10 most climate-impacted countries. These people often push quick-fix solutions which allow companies to carry on as usual and make little to no change. Furthermore, they are known to delay policymaking processes and participate in greenwashing.

‘If you are going to discuss malaria, don’t invite the mosquitoes,’ – Philip Jakpor, Public Participation Africa

It is essential that we keep the interruption from these corporate lobbyists to the minimum and ensure the most vulnerable voices are instead elevated.  

There was no direct action taken against reducing fossil fuels.

Despite the advances made with the creation of the Loss and Damage Fund, many other areas suffered losses at COP27. Very limited action was taken to directly reduce emissions, and the final deal produced involved a significant step back in terms of language used around fossil fuels. The text now refers to ‘low emission and renewable energy’, an ambiguous new phrase which could invite fossil fuels to be part of a green future. This loophole would allow the development of further gas resources, as gas produces less carbon dioxide emissions than coal.

“I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5C was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support.” – Alok Sharma, UK COP26 President

In order to ensure the target of keeping warming to 1.5°C is met, more drastic actions to phase out fossil fuels must be implemented. The UAE’s COP28 must better address this concern if we are to limit warming and protect people and the planet.

What did you think of COP27? Let us know in the comments below what you thought went well and what you think needs work for COP28.