New table shames “wasteful” colleges

Alexander Glasner & Benjamin Russell 10 June 2009

The Cambridge University Environmental Consultancy Society (CUECS) has released a scathing new survey on the green leadership of Cambridge colleges. The report found Wolfson College to have some of the worst green management within the university, whilst Trinity allows its students to ‘waste more energy than any other college.’

The survey was spurred by estimates made by the International Panel on Climate Change that there will be a rise in sea level close to one metre by the year 2100. To localise the problem of climate change, the CUECS committee decided to take action against the problem. The group worries that Cambridge, in particular, faces future issues since the town sits only six metres above sea level.

Project Manager, Benjamin Russell, told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “Many of us are aware of the basic science involved: as the earth warms from excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the ice caps melt and the sea water expands, causing the level of our oceans to rise.” Lamenting the current state of environmental policy, Russell said: “We have given up the fight to prevent this rather bleak turn of events, feebly resigning ourselves to a future that is not yet inevitable.”

Nonetheless, he told TCS that to address these problems, “CUECS has thoroughly overhauled its survey of Colleges to produce its annual Green League Table, which assesses Colleges on their environmental performance.”

That survey, which now requires Colleges to submit quantitative information on energy and water, found that Trinity was one of the least green colleges, featuring near the bottom of most of the tables, which focused on issues such as recycling, green management, energy use and water use.

The group’s Management League Table also assesses various aspect of College strategy, including policies, dedicated finances, the education of its members and changes that they are making. This study shows Wolfson and Jesus Colleges ranked lowest.

CUECS is demanding that students be able to find out how much water and electricity is being used. “A key problem hindering improvement is lack of detailed measurement. Whether it be water, electricity or recycling, if you don’t know where you are, it is impossible to track progress and set reasonable targets. This is something Colleges could do much better at,” said Russell.

Russell argues that such bad results, however, are not simply the Colleges’ fault. “It is tempting to lay responsibility on college administrations, but while they are responsible for certain contributions, the college student body is accountable for how it chooses to use energy too. A college can have the best technology and intentions in the world, but this is easily undermined by opulent student consumption,” he said.

However, some students remain defiant on electricity. Constance Daggett, a second year Classicist, told TCS: “I have no intention of living with less water or less lighting than I currently do. Not only have I had to buy two new lamps since college introduced energy saving bulbs but I like to get home from rowing every day and relax in the bath.”

Yet a member of the CUECS committee disagreed, telling TCS that “as students, we have a responsibility to exercise our own initiative and wield our collective influence.” Despite some Colleges and their student bodies “clearly falling behind,” CUECS reported that they were encouraged by the results. “Results are varied, but there are a number of encouraging signs. Several colleges have sought the help of professional consultants such as the Carbon Trust to advise on energy issues,” they told TCS.

However, there has been some criticism of the rankings. Rosie Coombs, a second year at Girton, told TCS: “the table is for recycling is based on assumptions rather than actual data of recycled materials – which makes Girton’s low ranking, mean nothing whatsoever.”

The green developments in Cambridge will continue to evolve over coming years. Beyond the CUECS survey, many colleges have already begun to taken numerous steps to meet related goals. Both Trinity and Cats have installed solar panels on hostels, meeting some of their requirements by renewable sources. Pembroke has made a detailed analysis of its energy use in its catering department and displays the average carbon footprint of meals served each week. Robinson is taking a systematic approach, rooting out unnecessary consumption around the College. Sidney Sussex is prioritising energy and water efficiency in its refurbishments program, and is currently running a pilot trial to assess the improvements to date.

Alexander Glasner & Benjamin Russell