Worms are on duty now at the University of Waikato, chomping through food scraps and organic waste from the campus food court. The industrial-size worm farm, affectionately known as the “Faculty of Worms”, can handle four tonnes of organic waste annually.
This is but one small part of the University’s campus sustainability programme, an initiative that was given a chance through the passion and commitment of Professor David Hamilton and colleagues on the University’s Environmental Policy Committee.
I was interested in the University’s sustainability efforts and rang Dr Hamilton a while back to see if we could have a chat.
“Would you consider doing an environmental scan of campus operations,” I asked him. “Have a look at options and opportunities for improvement? Search for ways to reduce environmental impact and save the University some money?”
“Let’s do it,” was his simple reply. So with funding from the Facilities Management Division and tremendous support from its director and staff, the study was launched.
We considered five areas: energy, water, waste, transportation and purchasing. We compared progress and efforts to other universities in New Zealand and we looked to some leading overseas institutions for ideas and inspiration.
What did we learn? In terms of facility operations and grounds management, the University is right up there. Good systems and practices were in place and steps were being taken to improve where it was warranted.
The interesting part was attitudes and behaviours of faculty, staff and students. Take energy use for example.
An energy audit, carried out with the assistance of ten student volunteers, had assessed electricity use in unoccupied rooms after normal working hours. It documented lights and air-conditioning left on and computers, printers and monitors left running in a random sample of rooms.
Extrapolated across the university, the cost of this wasted electricity was nearly $370,000 a year. Cut this in half and the savings from this alone would be enough to fund an ongoing campus sustainability programme.
A similar audit looking at waste found that fully 88% of material deposited as rubbish was recyclable. Reduce this percentage and it’s a win for the environment and more money in the University’s pocket.
“I intend adopting this report and acting on its recommendations,” was his response. Now that was music to our ears!
Rachael Goddard, with more than a decade’s experience in the field, was hired into the position of Environmental and Sustainability Coordinator. I caught up with her recently to see how things were going.
In her brief time on the job, they have already done some updated audits, surveyed staff and students about sustainability, and prepared a waste minimisation plan.
They have run a “green ideas” competition for students, created “Ratty the Recycler” a student designed environmental issues “spokesperson” to feature in animated educational videos, and now publish a monthly “Going Green at Waikato” newsletter for staff and students and a quarterly “Greening Up Campus” newsletter for public information.
And they are about to complete a clean-up of Oranga Lake on campus. Sediment that has built up over the last 45 years has been removed and will be used as a base for native plantings to create a small wetland that will increase biodiversity on campus and be used for education. Community planting days have helped revegetate the lake’s edge.
“The Communications department is brilliant, the Grounds Manager is fantastic, as isthe Group Facilities Manager, and academic staff with advice, the list goes on,” she says. “The secret is to combine our special skills and pursue things in an enjoyable, creative way.”
There are lessons here for organisations large and small. From family farm, small shop and restaurant to offices, health care facilities and large manufacturing plants, sustainable business practices make good sense. They can save you money, reduce your impact on the environment, enthuse and engage staff, and enhance your image, to name a few key benefits.
If this sounds interesting for your place of work but you’re not sure where to start, check out the Sustainable Business Network’s website (www.sustainable.org.nz) for some practical tools and resources and a sense of just what’s possible.
The next step is to say: “Let’s do it.”
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.