The University of York has just finished 126th in a league table of 145 universities. This is not a sentence often used to describe one of the country’s finest educational establishments, but when it comes to the environment it seems they have a long way to go to be up there with the best.
The miserable placing comes after an assessment by People & Planet; a UK student organisation. Founded in 1969 the movement campaigns for and supports activists in protecting the environment as well as against poverty and human rights abuses across the world.
In assessing each university’s ability to carry out their business in a ‘green’ and ethical manner the organisation considered a strict benchmark including investigations into whether food purchased are fair-trade, free-range or organic, the average amount of waste produced by the establishment, how much waste is recycled, the amount of carbon produced and how well integrated the environment agenda is embedded into everyday practice, as well as the student’s curriculum’s themselves. Indeed the assessments themselves are scored as if each establishment were sitting a degree;
Both of York’s universities were surveyed over the last two years which as revealed that York St John University have to have outgunned their big brother in the league table stakes finishing 112th (Lower 2:2) this year, an improvement from 130th (Fail) in 2011. They did score full marks on their environmental policy however they sadly lacked on recycling with only 25% being diverted from landfill, and carbon emissions have actually increased since 2005 despite having a now comprehensive policy.
Conversely to YSJ’s improvement the University of York has slipped hugely from 83rd (Lower 2:2) the previous year to 2012’s final classification of passing with Third Class Honours scoring only averagely well on staff and student engagement, having initiatives for staff and students to engage in green issues and awareness. They did fare better that YSJ on recycling managing a 35% diversion from the rubbish tip.
To put these scores in some context the Government do not seem to have environmental agendas at the top of their list so organisations seem to receive little support in achieving their aims, which often require some amount of investment of both the financial and time varieties; Indeed, 45% of all universities finished in the bottom third of the assessment.
To prove that change is possible however the winning university, The University of Greenwich, has achieved a 22% reduction in their carbon emissions in the last seven years and has a number of environmentally conscious ventures to their name. For example in an age of the demise of the Bee they have successfully integrated a colony on their campus, and even sold the honey last year.
Although in reality there probably needs to be some financial incentive for many universities to really consider this as an important agenda (they are after all businesses), the establishments themselves, or better still the students and staff who represent them, could achieve smaller and less adventurous steps without the need for funding and colossal shifts in culture.
Parking near the Heslington campus has long been a contentious issue often hitting the headlines and placing a stationary car anywhere near York St John will be an expensive, if not impossible venture so could cycling be encouraged between campuses and homes? Are student accommodations insulated, and is recycling a well established practice on-campus? Even smaller changes still such as double-sided printing or wider use of electronic communication will significantly reduce their carbon outputs.
The nature of these results shows that at least some of these questions need to be answered for York’s two universities to improve on what is, unfortunately, a rather poor show and in complete contradiction to the great influence these two establishments have on the city. They are in a position to lead from the front, so let us hope in the future they do!