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A College Sustainability Update

31st March 2021 in Sustainability

The Sustainability Committee and related parts of the College have been very busy, considering how to improve different parts of the College’s operation in this regard, including our investments’ policy and across the estate. There are many aspects to consider, and it is an exciting time to be part of the work. Our estate lends itself to some great opportunities to move towards more sustainable operation and, despite the pandemic, it has been possible to carry out substantial work across the site.

The College is undertaking an extensive programme of retrofitting and insulating works as a part of our science-based carbon reduction target and our long term plans to remove natural gas from the site. We are currently refurbishing an early 20th century student accommodation building at 70 Storey’s Way, and have successfully removed all natural gas. As much as possible of the work is being done in house. Not only does this keep costs down, but it is excellent for team morale and capability development. When the project is complete the building will be entirely heated by air source heat pumps. This is made possible by extensive insulation and improvements to the glazing, but the project also includes biodiversity improvements in the surrounding gardens, including the addition of new beehives and extensive wildflower planting. Over the next two years we are planting an additional five acres of meadow and in 2020 we planted an additional one hundred and twenty trees with plans for a further two hundred on our already leafy campus site. Where possible and sequentially we are replacing our asphalt and cement based roofs with ”green” roofs planted to support pollinating insects and notably our College bees!  

Much of the power used on campus is currently generated by a Combined Heat and Power Unit (CHP) that relies on natural gas, so we are working on utilising our extensive flat roof arrangement to facilitate the installation of a solar power generation system. Again, members of our own maintenance team have received training so they can erect such panels themselves. We have now commenced the initial installation work for solar panels at 70 Storey’s Way and early facilitation works to roofs on other larger accommodation buildings.  

Our environmental responsibility obviously extends far beyond our direct energy usage and we are working closely with our supply chains. This includes the installation of significantly more electric vehicle charging points on site to encourage and facilitate the use of electric vehicles for residents, staff and visitors.  It also extends to our operations. Unfortunately, the demands of the pandemic mean that the progress we had been making on matters such as reducing usage of single-use plastics have been knocked back for the time being, but we are ever mindful of what we can do. We have, for instance, used the decreased consumption of many materials during the pandemic as an opportunity to review many of our purchasing contracts, with sustainability credentials of suppliers being carefully scrutinised. This has resulted in several positive changes to the supply chain.

We give careful consideration to where we invest our endowment funds and, with this in mind, updated our investment policy last autumn. We have made a commitment only to invest with fund managers whose investments are aligned with the UN’s Six Principles of Responsible Investment by the end of 2022. By engaging with fund managers, including working in coalition with other investors who share our concerns, we hope to push environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues up the agenda of the fund managers to align with our priorities. Our policy means that we will only utilise investment managers who we believe have sufficiently ambitious shareholder engagement goals and methods, including those that combine divestment and engagement to good effect. Where we feel fund managers are failing to take these matters seriously we will move our funds elsewhere and if sufficient appropriate fund managers cannot be identified, investments will be placed in suitably ESG focused indexed or tracker funds.

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