We did it for Covid, so why not for our climate?
A blog on Climate Change by Vice-Chancellor, Professor Geoff Layer.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, our University campuses changed. We went from thousands of students and staff moving around our lecture theatres and corridors every day to most people studying and working from home, with a small number of dedicated staff tending the buildings and ensuring those still living in University accommodation were supported. We had to think differently very quickly – we had to prioritise, focus and share our resources – particularly in terms of digital and IT equipment which saw global supply problems due to increased demand. It was scary, shocking and unprecedented – but we all made changes to the way we worked and lived, and we made them fast.
Globally we are facing another challenge, that of climate change. While this also presents a severe threat to our resources and how we navigate the world around us, the speed of behavioural change is less rapid. But there is increasingly a sense that things are changing – and must change. This month, world leaders will gather in Glasgow for COP26, the UN Climate Change conference. The event has ambitious aims, calling on countries to come forward with 2030 carbon emission targets and plans to adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. These are large scale objectives but ones that every organisation and individual can consider in terms of their own existence.
At the University of Wolverhampton, we know that climate change is an important issue for our students, staff and the wider community of which we are so proud to be a part. For many years we have had a long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability, and have taken small but important steps such as removing bins and replacing them with recycling stations and encouraging people to use reusable cups for their coffee through discounts. But we recognise that we need to do more, and in our Vision 2030 strategic plan, we set ourselves our own 10 year target of being nationally recognised for our holistic approach to sustainability. This places sustainability front and centre of our plans, embedding it in our curriculum and aiming to minimise the impact of our activities to bring about a continual improvement in performance.
Lofty aims – but how will we measure success? It is evident that recycling, while better than ‘binning’, is not as effective as reusing something. As Dame Ellen MacArthur wrote: “On my boat fuel was finite, but I could refuel once I’d crossed the line. In our world we can’t. And that is exactly the issue.” The circular economy – recovering and reusing resources – is an essential aspect of this. Throughout our activities – our teaching, business engagement and research – we will embed processes to recover and reuse with the aim of achieving zero waste. Our arts students already work on live projects that focus on sustainable clothing, and our Springfield super-campus is home to the new National Brownfield Institute. This will be a world-class institute providing the facilities to develop modern methods of building through innovation and partnership with the construction industry. It will focus on the practical application of future brownfield regeneration through the work of research teams, leading policy development and commercial services. It is work such as this that will make a very real difference to the way land and resources are used and re-used in the future, and will lay the foundations for the delivery of a National Centre for Sustainable Construction and Circular Economy at Springfield focused on sustainability and the climate change emergency.
We cannot do this alone – no-one can. Our greatest chance of improvement and success in terms of sustainability is to work in partnership with the public and private sectors, industry and research institutions across the many sectors where we operate. We will make the greatest impact and the most significant difference by working together. This joint approach will be highlighted at the West Midlands COP26 Regional Roadshow organised by the West Midlands Combined Authority and taking place at the Springfield Campus on Thursday 11 November. This flagship event will focus on the region as the 'Home of the Green Industrial Revolution', highlighting our shared strengths and leadership in areas such as the built environment, low energy systems and future mobility.
The University has also set itself the target of becoming carbon neutral. Like the aims of COP26, these are all ambitious targets, when you consider that we have over 22,000 students and are a multi-campus university. But we cannot standstill and ‘wait and see’ what happens. We cannot set ourselves any other target – we have to strive to achieve this. And if someone had said to us before the Covid-19 pandemic that we would be able to make the changes that we did at the speed that was needed in February and March 2020, would we have believed them?
We must be bold and take the steps forward for the future of our society.
For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.