World-first for sustainability reporting

Posted on June 8, 2011

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La Trobe University has taken a big step towards reducing its environmental footprint, cutting energy use in campus buildings by 11 per cent.

The University has also helped reduce single car occupancy rates by staff and students travelling to and from its Melbourne campus by five per cent.

And less waste is being sent to landfill as recycling has been boosted from 9.78 kg per person to 10.52 kg.

Most of the University’s energy is used by its buildings. The energy reduction was achieved in part by a ‘switch off’ campaign, changing from T8 to T5 fluorescent lights and installing automated lighting systems in buildings.

But, says Pro Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability), Carol Adams, there is much more work to be done to enable the University to manage energy consumption, achieve longer term targets and bring energy consumption down to the level of some other universities.

‘We have introduced new energy reduction and sustainable travel policies,’ she says, ‘to reduce the strain the University places on the environment.’

Guide to further reductions

Professor Adams says awareness-raising campaigns and the new policies together with energy audits will guide La Trobe in achieving further reductions in energy consumption.

The Melbourne campus at Bundoora generates a significant proportion of its energy from its own cogeneration plant. In 2010 it produced 137,675 gigajoules of energy for University buildings and exported more than 24,060 gigajoules  to the La Trobe Medical Centre and into Melbourne’s electricity grid.

The decrease in car use to the University is mainly due to its ‘TravelSmart’ program which includes a car pooling service, and wide promotion of public transport options. ‘The University’s engagement with public transport authorities continues to improve public transport access,’ says Professor Adams.

The University also became a ‘Fair Trade’ University in 2010, with 96 per cent of coffee bought by Faculties for meetings being Fair Trade. And whilst the proportion of women in senior academic positions is higher than the university average, the proportion of women in management is lower.

‘Responsible Futures’

Professor Adams says these and many other environmental and social achievements between 2009 and 2010 are documented in the University’s first comprehensive sustainability report, Responsible Futures, released in April.

‘It’s the first sustainability report released by any University which is externally assured and compliant with the ‘Global Reporting Initiative’ sustainability reporting guidelines used by leading private and public sector organisations world-wide,’ she says.

Professor Adams is the first Pro Vice-Chancellor at an Australian University with a specific and wide-ranging brief for sustainability. Her remit covers everything from energy saving to academic programs dealing with social and environmental sustainability and relevant University-wide behavioural change.

Responsible Futures,’ says Professor Adams, ‘sets ambitious long term targets and identifies actions for managers across the University, signalling the La Trobe’s concerted effort towards sustainability.’

La Trobe’s pioneering sustainability initiatives follow University-wide consultation. They are enshrined in its ‘Vision 2015’ plan. ‘A key element is the sustainable and ethical operation of the University and our ongoing contribution to the sustainability of our communities,’ says Professor Adams.

Slow progress by universities

In her introduction to the report, Professor Adams concludes:

‘Given the potential of the university sector to influence sustainability outcomes, the sector’s slow progress with respect to sustainability reporting and management is surprising.

‘Through education and research, the sector prepares large numbers of people for careers and engages with a range of stakeholders to address key issues, including climate change and sustainability.

‘Universities have material direct and indirect social, environmental and economic impacts through the research we do, through the experience and education we provide future leaders and parents and through the way in which we engage with communities, government, business and our broader society.

‘Due to our geographic location, staff air travel is a significant component of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Australian universities, presenting significant challenges for the way we disseminate our research and interact with colleagues overseas.

‘Education is Australia’s fourth largest export product, but we have not yet attempted to measure the carbon footprint associated with student air travel. Potential fluctuations in the amount and cost of air travel due to changing regulations represent a financial risk to the Australian university sector,’ Professor Adams concludes.

To download the complete Responsible Futures sustainability report please click here.