Green campus is leading the field

Edinburgh College's community garden hosts visitors from Fisherrow hub, an example of how the college acts as a green resource
Edinburgh College's community garden hosts visitors from Fisherrow hub, an example of how the college acts as a green resource
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By integrating sustainable technologies in life of our college, we contribute to environmental revolution, writes Martin Webb

Edinburgh College has just been nominated for three Green Gown Awards, which celebrate the achievements in sustainability of the UK’s universities and colleges. We are one of eight colleges to have been recognised among a list dominated by universities, and the nominations reflect the hard work we’ve been doing in our attempt to embed sustainable practices throughout every facet of the college.

As an important part of our local communities, the education sector has a responsibility to operate in an environmentally sensitive way, ensuring we protect and enhance our surroundings to benefit students, staff and all around us. But we also have a duty to our students to make sure they’re fully equipped to succeed in a changing world, supporting them to take advantage of learning opportunities presented by sustainable development.

We applaud everyone nominated. It’s encouraging to see the education sector committed to sustainable practices, especially during a time of tightened resources.

Our own nominations exemplify the kinds of projects we’re working on to achieve our goals in embedding a sustainable culture throughout our college. They cover a vast tract of ground, from improving the environmental impact of our estates and facilities to instilling sustainability across our curriculum and using our green projects to provide new learning and development opportunities for community partners and students, including many with additional support needs.

Our community gardens scheme, nominated for a Student Engagement Award, ties these strands together, improving our environment while providing opportunities for students to learn and develop. The college has two thriving community gardens and is developing four community orchards at its campuses. The first garden launched at Milton Road Campus in 2012 as part of a student-led project but has developed into an important college and community resource. The gardens are run by the college Sustainability team, and provide learning opportunities for students, staff, local groups and local people about growing food and healthy living, as well as gaining new skills, building self-confidence and increasing employability.

The gardens play an important part in curriculum delivery and are used by a wide range of student groups, from those with additional support needs, who use the garden as part of partnerships with local agencies, to bricklaying and carpentry and joinery students, who have helped build the gardens as part of their work experience. Our College Community and English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) curriculum centres also use the gardens in curriculum, respectively as a place to engage with local community groups and as an outdoor learning environment.

The benefits of the gardens to our immediate college environment are visible, and our teaching staff and community partners report significant positive impact for students. Many have gained new skills and confidence, equipping them to progress and succeed further in education or employment.

In addition, our electric vehicle project is nominated in the Facilities and Services category. Since 2012, our Engineering team has been operating a fleet of electric cars to provide staff with a sustainable, low-cost, low-carbon transport option between campuses and corporate travel. The success and expansion of the fleet has led to a significant impact on the number of trips in staff members’ own cars, reducing CO2 emissions and fuel expenses. To date, the fleet has covered a distance of 86,277 miles, saving 28.6t/CO2e GHG emissions that would have come from equivalent medium-sized petrol vehicles. Total savings on fuel are £38,825.

The electric cars are also fully integrated into the curriculum, offering students on our Engineering, Automotive and Electrical courses hands-on experience of the vehicles to benefit their understanding of environmentally friendly transport. In addition, three electric vehicle scholarships have been introduced, in partnership with local car dealer Alex F Noble & Son, to give student further insight into this rapidly developing area.

Our third award nomination – in the Carbon Reduction category – includes aspects of both the community garden and electric vehicle projects. Over the last year, the college has embarked on a sustained drive to reduce carbon emissions across all areas, with the electric vehicles and community gardens and orchards integral to this. Other aspects of carbon reduction include an 8 per cent reduction in electricity use, which may come down further; ebikes joining the electric vehicle fleet as part of the green travel plan; a new waste reduction programme; and the increasing adoption of sustainability practices in the curriculum. The college’s Hair and Beauty team launched a new eco-friendly Hair and Beauty Academy salon last academic year, for example.

These award-nominated projects are by no means an exhaustive list, with, for instance, our solar meadow continuing to generate power for the grid and give students learning opportunities. We also intend to expand our portfolio of sustainability projects, to keep up with developments and ensure we are leading the way.

With these projects proving successful and achieving public recognition, we’re confident we’re on the right track towards a sustainable future at Edinburgh College. And looking at the superb work being done throughout the sector is a real fillip to continue our efforts.

Martin Webb, Sustainability officer at Edinburgh College