Jul 30 2014

Environmental Management Systems: past, present and future

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Jon EmmettLast week, LSE achieved re-certification for ISO 14001 – an international standard that recognises we have robust systems in place to continually improve our environmental impacts, in the form of our ‘Environmental Management System’ (EMS). 

This was the third year running that LSE have retained ISO 14001 status, and it gave Jon Emmett, LSE Sustainability Projects Officer,  cause to reflect on developments in environmental management over the last three years, and ponder what the future has in store. 

The ghost of EMS past

When I first started working at LSE way back in June 2011, the School was just gearing up for an external audit under the ‘Ecocampus’ system – an environmental management standard tailored to universities.  My first two weeks in the team were spent frantically gathering assorted documents from all the far-flung corners of the institutions, and ensuring that various and students staff members were fully briefed in time for the big day.

We passed the audit, albeit with some ‘corrective actions’ – meaning that we had fill in a few gaps in our written procedures in order to tip us over the bar to certification.  In July 2012, we achieved the full ISO 14001 standard.

Since then (in fact since our first Environmental Policy was adopted in 2005), the incremental improvements we’ve made have often gone unnoticed at the time of their implementation.  But looking back at their cumulative effects, it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come.  For one thing, I can’t imagine these days scrambling around in the days before an audit, checking that we’ve got the right documents in place.  I just take it for granted that all that stuff is just… there.  (Albeit I help this along with a rolling programme of internal audits and legal compliance checks, assisted by a fantastic team of volunteers from across the School.)  I still always have to deal with amendments to various papers, and occasionally hunt down a stray Waste Transfer Note [a legally required ‘receipt’ for waste disposal] – but nothing like as much as I used to.

Continual improvement

We’ve been really helped by having the same auditor (Dr Margaret Rooney) for all four of our annual audits since 2011.  This has meant that Dr Rooney has been able to take a consistent approach over that time.  By remembering the people she’s met, and the processes and initiatives she’s seen, she’s been able to take a ‘big picture’ view of how the School has steadily developed.  Rather than asking the same blanket questions each year, she’s been able to recommend ways we could improve our practice that are always appropriate and proportionate to where we are along our sustainability journey.

We’ve found that successive audits have addressed increasingly fine levels of detail.  As a colleague from another university once expressed it:  first sift out the rocks (the really big errors);  then the stones (the smaller problems);  and finally the sand (the little issues where there’s always room for further improvement).  You can’t expect to resolve every minor detail in an Environmental Management System at the first attempt, and immediately end up with something perfect:  it takes time to bed in, and smooth down the rough edges.

Yet simultaneously, as the system has bedded in, discussions with the auditor have moved away from highly specific comments on the technicalities of how we document our processes, and towards a broader overview of the big things we do that have tangible benefits to our environmental impacts.

For example, the ‘corrective action’ we got in 2011 was to prepare written procedures for specific environmental emergencies – spills, etc – rather than rely on individuals who know what they’re doing but don’t have clear processes in place.  The next step was to get them embedded, by inserting them into the standard manuals of the relevant maintenance technicians and contractors, and communicating them to everyone to needs to know about them.  By 2014, the conversation had moved on, and the auditor met with LSE’s senior Business Continuity Manager to discuss how we address different  levels of emergency at different  levels of seniority, from operational level training, to Divisional-level desktop scenario exercises, to drills undertaken by high-level Gold and Silver command teams testing their responses to major potential environmental incidents.

Is it worth it? 

At times I’ve questioned whether the level of resource required to maintain the EMS is worth the hassle, and whether we shouldn’t simply move to a more projects-focused approach instead.  I also occasionally recall my Masters lecturer’s rather scathing view of Environmental Management Systems:  although they’re intended to drive continual improvement, they’re flexible in terms of scope and implementation methods, and don’t prescribe specific targets, hence don’t hold major polluters to account.

Despite these issues, I still find the overall benefits of having an EMS far outweigh any shortcomings.

The more the EMS becomes embedded in the fabric of our work, the less it becomes a standalone piece of bureaucracy, and the more it simply becomes ‘the way we do things’:  joining the dots between governance, reporting, target-setting, prioritisation of projects, performance monitoring, training and engagement, compliance checks and more.

Plus however well we think our environmental management processes are ticking along neatly by themselves, the ability to invoke the figure of the phantom auditor, and the system they symbolically uphold, remains an important part of keeping us on track.

The future

There are big changes planned, both inside LSE and externally.  Our next major challenge at the School will be implementing an ‘Energy Management System’ (EnMS), ISO 50001 – the cousin of ISO 14001.  We’ll then integrate this with our existing ISO 14001 system, to make sure all our work is pulling in the same direction, and avoids unnecessary repetition.

Meanwhile, the international environmental community is currently re-drafting the ISO 14001 standard.  The present version of the standard has been around since 2004, and has a bit of catching up to do with global changes in environmental discourse that have taken place since then – particularly a move away from focusing heavily on basic environmental compliance, and placing greater emphasis on embedding broader sustainability and reporting practices.  A new version is due to be released in summer 2015, and is expected to be stronger on strategic governance and supply chain monitoring – though we’ll have to wait and see when the details of this emerge.

Roll on our July 2015 re-certification…

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Jun 23 2014

Book Review: The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus by Mitchell Thomashow

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In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable CampusMitchell Thomashow proposes a blueprint for making universities more sustainable. As the former President of Unity College in Maine, USA, he argues that the campus is the perfect crucible for developing ideas and action, engaging diverse communities and teaching the next generation of citizens.  Jon Emmett finds a book that may not contain simple, ready-made answers to this complex question, but which is hugely engaging and accessible, and full of inspiration for approaches that could be adopted elsewhere.

Find this book: amazon-logokindle-edition

The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus. Mitchell Thomashow. MIT Press. April 2014.

The strange case of the Whitehouse solar panels

In 1979, US President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the Whitehouse, symbolising a government drive for energy independence and efficiency following the recent Middle East oil crisis.  But only two years later President Reagan ordered the solar panels to be removed, as they clashed with his vision of an optimistic, highly-consuming America.  The panels found their way onto the roof of Unity College, Maine, in the 1990s, before one of them was eventually re-installed on the Whitehouse in 2013 – where Barack Obama wanted to demonstrate renewed presidential support for solar energy.

This flavour of symbolism and storytelling is a theme that runs pleasingly throughout a new book by Mitchell Thomashow, former President of Unity College and erstwhile owner of the nomadic solar panels.  In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus Thomashow examines possible approaches to create more sustainable universities, and how this might in turn contribute to a more sustainable society.

Teaching and the curriculum

Thomashow was a long-standing environment lecturer before becoming President of Unity College, which itself is a university that specialises in environmental subjects.  Drawing on this expertise, he developed a distinct structure to provide a diverse but streamlined range of taught sustainability courses.

But more importantly than the specific solution adopted at Unity College, Thomashow describes how he sensitively managed the process of change; transforming the curriculum over a two year period by slowly engaging with and gaining the support of faculty staff until everyone was satisfied with the outcome.  He addresses many thorny challenges: managing competing strategic priorities; aligning with institutional strengths, weaknesses, and philosophies; bringing the whole campus community into decision-making processes to ensure widespread support; and linking policy with grassroots action.  It seems that, just like in the UK, unilateral sustainability diktats don’t work in universities – even if you’re college President!

Beyond collaborating with the faculty, he also espouses the benefits of the whole campus working together to develop sustainability teaching – leaders, academics, professional services staff, grassroots networks and students.  While there has been a great deal of similar work in UK universities (e.g. the HEA Green Academy), this debate is often muffled by a lack of interaction and coordination between sustainability professionals and academics.  It is therefore particularly interesting to hear this view articulated by someone with Thomashow’s academic and leadership backgrounds.

The campus sustainability experience

Given the author’s background as a lecturer, I was surprised that his view of what constitutes ‘university learning’ extends well beyond the classroom, and gives equal weight to the experiential learning of inhabiting the campus itself.  This seems to derive from his framing of university sustainability as not merely an end in itself, but a vehicle to engage with people, and shape society’s approach to sustainability as a whole.  Just as with the Whitehouse solar panels, the ability of energy efficiency projects to affect people’s environmental awareness is awarded just as much emphasis as their ability to reduce actual energy consumption.  This reflects Thomashow’s apparent aspiration to live a holistic life that transcends boundaries (work, leisure, etc), echoing of the ideals of William Morris.

He perceives students’ experiences of sustainability at university to be particularly critical, because at such ‘turning points’ in their personal development, they are likely to form new habits which then stick throughout life – including behaviours that relate to the environment (recycling, etc).  This view is also supported by research in the UK, including by Defra, though Thomashow is cautious of jumping to conclusions, and suggests the need for further long-term study.

In the same spirit, Thomashow advocates the importance of the examples set by college leaders: the values of transparency and accountability; sign-posting and explaining sustainability initiatives, not just ‘doing’ them; environmentally-themed art installations that produce a ‘sustainability aesthetic’; and buildings designed to foster an appreciation of their relationship with the materials and energy they use (as LSE attempted with the recent Saw Swee Hock Student Centre).

However, despite Thomashow’s skill in drawing together these diverse strands of university life into a unified vision of progress, readers may be surprised that environmental research is not addressed as part of a sustainable campus, except in the context of conducting research on the university itself in its mode as a ‘living lab’ for sustainability.  Many academics would certainly testify to the importance of robust research in furthering our understanding of environmental issues and informing public policy.

Broad appeal  

Thomashow’s style throughout the book is to provide broad reflections on the issues at play, rather than focusing on technical details of implementing individual projects.  This makes the book highly accessible to a wide audience – also helped by its easy-to-follow structure and the excellent clarity of the prose.  It also makes the author’s insights flexible enough to translate to universities in a variety of settings across the globe.  Indeed, I was frequently struck by the familiarity of many of the scenarios, challenges, and even specific conversations encountered by the author in a small specialist college in rural America, compared with my experiences of sustainability across the UK university sector.

The potential drawback to this approach is that seasoned environmental managers probably won’t pick up new tips on how to reduce their energy bills.  It also left me wanting more – particularly because of Thomashow’s highly personal account of his tenure at Unity College.  After his struggles with obtaining campus-wide backing for his plans, what happened next? What tangible examples are there to demonstrate the successes of his initiatives?

Conclusions

Overall I found Nine Elements an inspiring read. For those already familiar with the field it may not offer startling new solutions to achieving sustainability overnight, but it does provide nuanced insight into how we might undertake the journey in an accessible and engaging way.  At a time when we still need many more university leaders who vocally champion sustainability, it is particularly significant that someone in Thomashow’s position has added his weight to the growing body of voices calling for profound sustainability transformation, in universities and beyond.

This book review originally appeared on the LSE Review of Books, on 3 May 2014.

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Jun 9 2014

LSE Celebration of Sustainability 2014

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Vyvyan EvansBy Vyvyan Evans, LSE Sustainability Assistant. 

After hundreds of recycled batteries, thousands of Fairtrade teabags and one or two electric heater amnesties, Green Impact 2013-14 has come to an end.

"Reclaimed boards": cockney rhyming slang for 'awards'.

‘Reclaimed boards’ – cockney rhyming slang for ‘awards’.

We celebrated in style at our annual Celebration of Sustainability awards ceremony held on 22nd May in the magnificent Shaw Library.  Students and staff from across the School were awarded for their involvement in Green Impact and their many other achievements in improving the sustainability of the School.

The event was hosted by the School Secretary Susan Scholefield, who did an impeccable job of steering us through the mountain of awards to be presented. This year the awards were made out of some rather fine reclaimed oak floor boards from a recent LSE construction project.  (Pictured.)

Rosebery Hall nabbed the hotly contested Platinum award for scoring the most points of any team. (In fact, Rosebery nearly fell off the leader board they had so many points!). Click here for the list of awards won by each team.

Rosa Gil, colelcting Rosebery Hall's Platinum award.

Rosa Gil collecting Rosebery Hall’s Platinum award.

On top of the Green Impact awards and announcing the Student Switch Off winner, we also awarded five special awards for LSE departments and individuals who created ingenious projects, or who generally stood out in another way in the area of sustainability.

This year Passfield Hall won for their student engagement idea of adopting a plant,

Gerald the Leprechaun

Gerald the Leprechaun

Residential Services won for the creation of Gerald the Leprechaun (pictured), who popped up all over the place with green tips.  Gerald almost stole the show, but did eventually agree to share the stage with Dan Reeves from Estates Division and Andra Fry from the Library who both won a Fairtrade hamper for the sustainable projects they have both been involved in over the year.  (I was actually more than ready to part with these hampers, as my desk had started to develop a pungent aroma due to a particularly pongy blue cheese that I popped in the hamper.)

Dan

Dan Reeves and Susan Scholefield 

The special awards also recognised Justine Rose from ODAR, for her outstanding contribution to sustainability.  Speeches were given by Michelle Farrell from the NUS, and LSE Head of Sustainability Martin Bolton.

A highlight of the awards event was a rousing speech given by Dave Scott, (pictured above) Departmental Manager of the Maths department, who is currently on sabbatical.  Dave’s sabbatical has been a busy one!  As well as working as a voice-

Dave Scott

Dave Scott

over artist (maybe this is why the speech was so rousing?)  Dave has begun a beer brewery project, which was the topic of his talk.  Dave’s brewery business (try saying that after a sip of his beer!) aims to be as green as possible, by minimising the amount of water and energy consumed, minimising wasted grain, and making transportation of products as efficient as possible.  (For example, he only uses UK hops, rather than importing them from America.)  During his talk, Dave discussed the challenges and costs his business has faced on its sustainability journey.

Julia Manning, student Green Impact Project Assistant

Julia Manning, student Green Impact Project Assistant

The relevance of Dave’s wonderful talk to the audience sat before him was that despite many difficulties that come with being green, particularly in a working environment, LSE staff and students have made clear their commitment to the cause.  A final reward came in edible form, with a delectable buffet laid on by LSE Catering.

At the start of the Green Impact programme this academic year, I anticipated spending much of my time meeting people and trying to convince them of the merit of the Green Impact scheme, but at the celebration no one needed convincing.  It was crystal clear that every department, every member of staff and every student who had contributed were proud to have been a part of the project.  All the changes that departments have put into place; from window boxes to double sided printing, are a steps to make a positive contribution to the sustainability of the School.

Overall a busy year with outstanding results. Bring on next year’s Green Impact!

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May 30 2014

Visit to Ecopark waste treatment plant

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LSE staff visited the Ecopark waste treatment plant in Edmonton, North London.  Jon Emmett, LSE Sustainability Projects Officer, looks back at the sights, sounds, and smells of this enlightening trip.   

LSE’s Sustainability Team, along with residences staff and green champions, went on a tour of London Waste’s Ecopark waste treatment centre last week.  We wanted to see for ourselves what exactly happens when waste leaves your bin, and gets carried away to the fabled, usually unseen land of ‘recycling’ – where rubbish is processed into raw materials, composted, or burned to generate electricity.

Our tour guide, Wendy, summarised the history of the plant, and the waste streams they take.  We had an interesting discussion about the nuanced considerations and trade-offs involved when deciding on optimum infrastructure options, local partnership arrangements, operating capacities, and more.

Group photo - small

The LSE visitors model Ecopark’s spring collection.

Then we were straight off to the energy-from-waste plant.  Walking along a raised gantry, we looked down into the abyss of a row of 70 foot deep concrete hoppers, each containing mountains of household refuse from the seven boroughs served by the North London Waste Authority.  The rubbish was grabbed by a giant claw that snatched up two tonnes with each swoop, and deposited onto the grate of the furnace, where it burns at 850°C.  The scale and aesthetic of the scene was reminiscent of an epic sci-fi movie.

Waste hoppers.  Don't fall in...

Waste hoppers. Don’t fall in…

We moved onto the furnace control room, where we spoke to the engineers who monitor the burning waste, ensuring the process is kept in balance.  Live displays of the emissions in the flue gas appeared on giant screens.  The engineers have a variety of tricks up their sleeves to control the conditions inside the furnace.  For example, if carbon monoxide levels are too high, it means the burn is incomplete due to too much moisture in the mix, so they turn up the heat using gas burners.

Ground control

Ground control

The remaining gaseous emissions are scrubbed using a three-stage filtration process.  Dust particles are collected on giant electrostatic plates (like rubbing a balloon on your hair), and then knocked off into silos.  (This ‘fly-ash’ is transported off site in sealed containers to industries that require alkaline-rich materials, including cement product trials.)  The gas is then cooled with water, before lime and activated carbons are injected to neutralise acidity and absorb other pollutants.  Last of all, a fine fabric mesh filters out remaining lime and dust.  All that is left is water vapour – none of what we see leaving the chimney is smoke.  (Annual emissions data is published on their website – hopefully this will go some way to alleviating public concerns over the potentially harmful by-products of incineration.)

We visited the ‘engine room’, which feels like walking through a tropical butterfly house, where steam superheated by the furnace drives turbines that generate electricity – enough to power 72,000 homes per year.  Moving outside, we saw a mountain of ‘bottom ash’ – the remains of the incinerated waste.  It gets sold for use in aggregates, and Ecopark ash has been used in the construction of the Olympics amongst other things.  Nearby was huge pile of iron objects, picked out from the conveyor belt of bottom ash with a magnet, to be sold on for use in manufacturing other products.  The mountain of charred white metal forms, some of them just discernible as the remnants of household objects – a bedspring;  an oil can;  even a shopping trolley – formed an eerie assemblage that could have been on display in the Tate Modern.

Any old iron.

Any old iron.

I noticed that the architecture is very blunt and ‘to the point’.  I recently visited the Victorian sewage pumping station at Crossness in South-East London (not for work, I’m just that tragic), which abounds with brightly painted wrought-iron flowers set into railings, and where even industrial crank shafts are elegantly formed and decorated.  This contrasted sharply with the uniform, corrugated iron structures of Ecopark, which served as an interesting reminder of how the social expectations of municipal infrastructure shift over time.

Our last stop on the tour was the compost tunnels.  Long, high sheds are filled with such large volumes of green waste that it reaches around 60°C.  The sheds are pressurised like an aircraft cabin to keep bad smells in, and the air filtered through bark chips to absorb the odours.  After spending about six weeks moving through a succession of tunnels, the compost is ready for use in gardens and farms.  According to a friendly passing compost engineer, the smell is seasonal, and with a slight time-delay: March compost smells of discarded Christmas trees, and May compost smells of grass cutting from March.  Ecopark do a monthly compost giveaway, where local residents are invited to bring a shovel and help themselves from a 15 tonne heap of compost.

Compost tunnels.

Compost tunnels.

Ecopark isn’t content to rest on its laurels – it has big plans for future development.  Designs are underway for a District Heating Network that will supply warmth to local homes and businesses with heat given off by the incinerator.  There are even plans to develop amphibious vehicles that could transport materials from Ecopark to manufacturers along the canals.  If this idea comes to fruition, I can imagine it actually making big changes to the way that industrial transport infrastructure as a whole operates in the capital – a really interesting opportunity to watch out for in the future.

All photos courtesy of London Waste Ltd, except group photo of LSE staff, by Neil Lawrence.

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May 19 2014

EAUC Annual Conference 2014

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Elena Rivilla-LutterkortElena Rivilla-Lutterkort, Sustainability Officer at LSE, looks back at the annual conference of the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC), a national network that drives sustainability in further and higher education.  She found optimism, stimulating debate, and ideas for action…

Last week I attended my first 3 day-long EAUC conference. Waking at an ungodly hour to arrive in Nottingham just in time for a cup of tea, we (the team) were off to the first conference session.  A challenge on what motivates us to do what we do. Though the speaker tried to keep things simple (it was before 10 am), talking about universal values and attitudes leading to types of behaviour, the lively discussion soon had everybody re-assessing this simple approach and thinking about a shifting prioritised scale of values, with some delegates arguing values make us who we are, and others proposing that values are about how we would like to be seen.

With no agreement reached, we moved onto the first main plenary, joined by other arriving delegates. My takeaway thought from this was Andy Nolan (Director of Sustainability, University of Nottingham) exhorting us to “Think big. Don’t be afraid to try and make those bigger things happen.” In fact one of my recurring thoughts throughout the conference was that as a sector, sustainability in higher education is now starting to reach a maturity point, where we should start pushing boundaries. The progress in forwarding the sustainability agenda and the availability of new technologies means the timing is almost right (if it weren’t for our financial woes) and that as a sector we should be preparing these big ideas, crazy projects to go ahead in the near future.

It really wasn’t till the second day that it hit me for real, that it wasn’t just greenwash and optimism. The higher education sector and the influence of sustainability professionals is key to the whole environmental mess. This golden thread of what our students could achieve with knowledge, tools and understanding underpinned most of the sessions I attended. The message was clear, if we really engaged at a whole different level with our staff and students, we could be talking with the people whose new sustainable habits and thoughts could literally save the planet. I kept thinking of LSE with its 140 nationalities represented – say only 2 people per year go back to each country. Over a decade that would equal 2800 students spread across 140 nations. Now consider that LSE has 9,500 students, with around 2,000 students leaving each year. And then scale up nationally, and then globally. The potential to influence humanity in general is huge!

Probably realising this, one of the delegates spoke of a new survey for students  conceived during the 2012 Rio+20 summit. The test is aimed at students to take as they arrive/leave to measure what they’re learning on sustainability just by being at our institutions, and is soon to be advertised among universities with 6 language options. Hopefully it will provide a benchmark of general sustainability knowledge around the world. Cambridge University spoke of emulating American universities in turning their buildings into a “Living Lab”, something I hope we can also develop at LSE; though perhaps with a different angle to it – after all our students are social scientists, not mechanical engineers!

Flowers

The power of storytelling was first mentioned at the bittersweet pre-dinner event, highlighting how to use stories as an ice-breaker to deeper conversations. I admit to being more interested in the story behind the sustainable table centrepieces (pictured above), made by a local charity from reused materials. Storytelling appeared again at the close of the conference, where Prof. Damien Hughes highlighted PIXAR’s ‘storytelling template’ as perhaps one of the most successful (no I didn’t use it in this blog!).  It also left us with the somewhat challenging headline statistic that it takes at least 5 repetitions in the sales world to get consumers to buy the advertised product (and even then, only about 8% of the target audience buys the product), leading me to think that I’d better come up with a different strategy when addressing my daily problem of people putting the wrong items in bins.

What else is there left to say? The conversations were stimulating, the company pleasant and the catering (which used seasonal and local products where possible) was fabulous. All in all a very productive conference – of course, now we need to put ideas into action!

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May 12 2014

LSE Green Week 2014

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Vyvyan EvansVyvyan Evans, LSE Sustainability Assistant, looks back over the thrills and spills of our Green Week 2014 (28th April – 2nd May).  From bikes to bees to bins, it had a little bit of something for everybody.

18 mended bikes, 52 honey-dipped bread sticks, and many a bag of waste later, we have come to the end of the 2014 Green week.  Here’s a quick review of what we got up to…

We started the week with an electricity generating bike. Staff and students were able to see exactly how much oomph (technical jargon, describes the measurement of pedal power) it takes to charge their gadgets, thanks to an ingenious contraption borrowed from Global Action Plan, a sustainability NGO.

Pedal-powering a light bulb.

Pedal-powering a light bulb.

Electric car

Test-driving our solar-powered car.

There was also a Sinclair C5 electric car charged by a solar panel, which a few brave souls took for a spin around campus courtesy of Jellytree. It was a brilliant afternoon which allowed people to really engage with the topics of carbon and energy.

Tuesday saw a Food Cycle information stand. Food Cycle is a UK charity which works to reduce food poverty and social isolation by serving delectable nutritious food to vulnerable people around the country using reclaimed surplus food. As well as telling people about the project, the stand informed people on the subtle difference between ‘display until’ / ‘best before’ labels on food.  It also encouraged people to flex their culinary skills in a green sustainable way by trying a suggested dish. (Click here for more recipes.)  All the recipes are designed to help you use up what you have in the cupboards, (a ‘chickpea chuck in’ recipe as my mum calls it, where whatever you have goes in a pot with a few herbs and spices, and voilà.)ddle power) it takes to charge their gadgets. There was also a Sinclair C5 electric car charged by a solar panel, which a few brave souls took for a spin around campus. It was a brilliant afternoon which allowed people to really engage with the topics of carbon and energy.

On Wednesday we borrowed a bit of Houghton Street to show anyone and everyone walking past what 3 hours’ worth of LSE waste looks like. The purpose of this very visual display, as well as engaging people on the topics of consumption and recycling, was to highlight the many problems of contaminated waste we see on campus, with things put in incorrect bags. (Over the years we’ve seen it all – from misplaced plastic bottles, to fishing out an IKEA lamp shade still in the packet, and even an electric guitar amp put in the general waste bins). Wednesday’s waste day was graced by the presence of the LSE Beaver mascot, who, in cahoots with a couple of other ‘Bin Detectives’, loitered around the bins ready to pounce into action when someone put their items in the wrong section of the bin, and guided them to the correct choice.

1 day's waste at LSE 2014

Green Beaver shows us one morning’s waste at LSE.

By Thursday we turned our focus to travel. We had a brilliant Dr Bike maintenance session. Many tenacious ‘all weather cyclists’ had battled through the temperamental showers and made it to the bike clinic. Chains were ratcheted, saddles adjusted, and stubborn reoccurring punctures were finally repaired.

 

A queue builds up at Dr Bike's waiting room

A queue builds up at Dr Bike’s waiting room.

The mystery of the slipped chain...

The mystery of the slipped chain…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week of eclectic events came to a buzzing finale with an ‘LSE bees’ stall.  Unfortunately due to the inclement weather, it was a little too cold from the bees to come out (I know how they feel!). But we had our practised beekeeper Luke Dixon who was armed with lots of information on the hives, and the life cycle of bees. There was a brilliant competition to spot the queen bee in a photo, and contestants (even those who needed a little help in spotting the Queen) were rewarded with a taster of some delectable LSE honey.

We are looking forward to hosting the next Green Week. If you would like to be involved, or have an idea, please let us know in the comments below!

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May 6 2014

Environmental policy in practice

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Mike Athay, MSc Environmental Policy and Regulation student at LSE, looks back on a field trip to Northern Ireland.  Having studied the theory of environmental policy, students had the opportunity to experience its application up close, allowing them to reflect on the complex interactions that shape how high-level decisions play out in the public sphere.  

On March 21, 2014, immediately following the completion of Lent Term, 21 members of the 2013-2014 London School of Economics and Political Science MSc Programme in Environmental Policy and Regulation departed on a 4-day, 3-night study trip to Northern Ireland. A generous grant from the LSE fund covered much of programme participants’ travel expenses and was crucial to the trip’s success. The purpose of the trip, which was called ‘Environmental Policy in Practice’, was to gain exposure to real-life applications of topics covered in the classroom this year through a combination of meetings and discussions with local experts as well as through visits to some of Northern Ireland’s scenic natural landscapes and protected areas. The trip served the dual purpose of strengthening programme participants’ relationships with each other thanks to a higher level of personal interaction than was often available in classroom settings.

Shortly after arriving in Belfast on Friday, the group had the opportunity to meet with Dr Mike Baillie, an emeritus professor at Queens University who made a name for himself by creating a tree-ring chronology in the British Isles as far back as ~7000-8000 years. An interesting feature of tree-ring chronologies is that they catalogue the exact dates, down to the year, in which extreme climate-related events take place (including astronomical events), whereas anthropology can only take educated guesses at such dates based on site findings. Later in his career, Dr Baillie began comparing tree-ring histories with available written histories from around the world and found what he believed to be omissions, which in some cases he believed to be purposeful. It was at that point that he turned to mythologies from everywhere from China to Ireland for clues. Dr Baillie believes he has found links between tree-ring chronologies and simultaneous significant mythological events, suggesting mythology may be more than just fairy tales. The group’s meeting with Dr Baillie provided an opportunity to see how natural sciences, social sciences, and even the humanities interact in important ways in society.

On Saturday morning, the group set out for Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of geometric columns of basalt rock formations along Northern Ireland’s coast. We were privileged to meet with Dr Cliff Henry, the director of conservation efforts at the site, who served as our guide. Following a brief introductory lecture outlining different features of the site and the challenges his small team faces in its efforts to conserve such the ecosystem of the large area’s diverse wildlife, Dr Henry escorted the group down the rocky coast to the site of the rock formations and back up the hills to several vista points, explaining both the science and they mythology associated with the site’s history. Interacting with Dr Henry enabled participants to observe first hand how conservation efforts are directly affected by environmental policy (in this case, budget) decisions taken by public officials.

After a day of hiking and exploration in the Mourn Mountains on Sunday, the group returned to Queens University Monday morning for a meeting with professor and local Green Party elected official John Barry for a discussion on the intersection of environmentalism and politics. Mr Barry outlined his own views and the party’s position, including in the discussion the importance of issue framing, imagining a better world, and focusing on human progress rather than just economic progress in political decisions. He also discussed how environmentalism connects with other political concepts such as feminism, Marxism, and global justice. Further, he discussed the difficulty Greens have met in elections, perhaps because they have struggled to frame their views effectively. One example he provided of a potentially more politically friendly frame for a steady-state economy—a difficult idea to sell politically—is as still being pro-growth, but being pro-growth in human development, or human flourishing. Mr Barry said he would like to see growth in education, growth in art, growth in talent, growth in community, but that society in developed economies could probably do without growth in automobile sales. Through their meeting with Mr Barry, participants gained perspective on how environmentalism plays out in political discourse, as well as some of the challenges associated with promulgating pro-environmental political ideas.

Through each of the activities on the trip, participants gained perspective on the relationship between what was learnt in the classroom this year and the way it plays out in real-world scenarios. This knowledge constitutes an important complement to classroom learning that will serve students as they make the transition from the MSc programme to professional and public life.

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Apr 30 2014

Corporate responsibility careers resources

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Maddie SmithMaddie Smith, Careers Consultant in the LSE Careers Service, offers advice and resources to students and graduates seeking ‘careers with a conscience’.  The article originally appeared on the LSE Careers Blog on 26 March 2014.  

A question many students and graduates looking to work in corporate responsibility and sustainability ask is, ‘where is the best place to look for news and find out about opportunities?’ I asked representatives on our ‘Corporate careers with a conscience’ panel for their job hunting advice. Below is a summary of their suggestions and some resources to use:

  • Don’t limit yourself to applying for advertised positions.  Many roles in CR and sustainability are not advertised widely. Tap into professional networks, use resources like LinkedIn and be prepared to apply speculatively.
  • Get volunteering and work experience – this is often a stepping stone to something more permanent.
  • Identify your niche and follow a sector/industry, keeping up to date with what’s happening.  You’ll be looking in very different places for a role in CR in an FMCG and say impact/ethical investing.
  • Professional bodies and associations can be a great way of identifying possible companies.
  • There are very few graduate schemes. Opportunities are often based in smaller organisations with a clear CR/sustainable/ethical agenda or in a larger organisation once you have some functional specialism.
  • Develop your business expertise and then think how this might be applied in a CR context.
  • Read widely, develop your understanding, have conversations and start to influence through attending events.

Here are a few websites the panel recommend for keeping up-to-date:

  • BITC - Business in the community with a focus on responsible business
  • Blue & Green Tomorrow - daily news with loads of useful articles and links
  • Forum for the Future - global non-profit working across sectors to solve complex sustainability challenges
  • Ethical Careers - website devoted to ethical careers
  • Ethicalcorp - a London based group with ethical business articles, events and opportunities
  • Netimpact London - social impact networking group running events  in London.
  • IDEO - organization focused on social innovation working on poverty related projects with non-profits, social enterprises and foundations.
  • Ethical Performance - business news with a useful searchable directory.
  • On Purpose - interesting blog – develop leaders for social enterprise

Don’t forget there are loads of useful links on the CSR section of the LSE Careers website too.

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Mar 31 2014

Towards sustainable public procurement

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Jon EmmettLSE won an award last week for buying Fairtrade cotton uniforms for its Estates staff and contractors.  Attending an EU ethical procurement conference to collect the trophy, Jon Emmett, LSE Sustainability Projects Officer, had the opportunity to learn from how others are addressing this issue around the world. 

The European Fair Cotton Procurement Awards

LSE was delighted to win a European Fair Cotton Procurement Award on 28 March.  The School was recognised for its sector-leading role in buying Fairtrade cotton uniforms for its Estates staff and contractors, whilst explicitly linking this with its commitment to being a London Living Wage employer.  Fairtrade cotton goods are also stocked in the SU shop.

This was great news for LSE, and especially the Estates Division.  But what was most interesting from a personal perspective was the opportunity to find out more about what people around Europe and across the world are doing to tackle the many challenges of ethical buying in the public sector.

Fair Cotton awards - Mar 2014

Award winners

The French Postal Service won an award for sourcing 100% of their T-shirts and 40% of work-wear from Fairtrade cotton.  But more importantly, they have also established a direct and mutually beneficial partnership with the cotton growers in Mali, who have been on exchange visits to France;  likewise, French posties have visited Mali where they met the local cotton growing co-op, and helped build a school there.  In fact it was the Solobamady Keita, the General Secretary of the National Union of Cotton Producers’ Cooperative Societies of Mali, who presented the awards.

Other award winners included the City of Paris, for providing one third of its uniformed workers with Fairtrade cotton uniforms.  (Click here for a case study.)  The French region of Brittany was highly commended for its framework of decentralised cooperation with the producers and suppliers from the West African Economic and Monetary Union.

Bremen

The awards ceremony was the finale of a one-day conference held in Bremen, Germany, on “Moving Towards Socially Responsible Public Procurement”.  Bremen was an apt location for the event.  Not merely a Fairtrade city, it’s known as the ‘Capital of Fairtrade’.  It has well-established renewable energy networks, and while the broad streets of the city centre bustled with people, trams and bikes, there wasn’t a car in sight.

Bremen street

Look mum, no cars!

Wandering around the town in the evening after the conference, I was struck by how beautiful it was:  centuries-old eccentric architecture, the peculiar statues, winding cobbled alleys.  The quaint serenity of bikes outnumbering motor vehicles.  But it was also intriguing to see how the city has adapted to thrive in modern times.  The building hosting the conference appeared ancient on the outside, but the interior had been refurbished to accommodate a modern, light and airy venue.

Science Museum:  Where does our energy come from?

Science Museum: Where does our energy come from?

The ground floor housed a science museum – the ‘Haus der Wissenschaft’ – which was dedicated to presenting a hopeful vision of what science can offer the future, with displays on renewable energy, efficient waste disposal, and designing green cities.  (A far cry from the ‘bombs and oil’ version of science and engineering that often seems to dominate mainstream UK discourse.)

 

Science Museum:  Interactive waste disposal game

Science Museum: Interactive waste disposal game

The four musicians, and singing from the same hymn sheet

Bremen is also known for the ‘Four Musicians of Bremen’ folk tale.  Long story short:  a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster – pictured below – are near the end of their productive lives on their respective farms.   Each leaves to find a better life as a musician.  They all meet by chance, and stumble across some burglars ransacking a house.  The four animals stand on top of each other outside the window, and sing for the burglars in the hope of earning some supper.  Instead, the burglars are terrified by the strange monster they see (part donkey, part dog, etc), and flee.  Having foiled the burglars, the animals live happily ever after in the house.

Although the humour in this story derives from the accidental nature of the ‘cooperation’ between the four ‘musicians’, I propose a (possibly tenuous) connection between the collaboration among the four animals in the story, and the collaboration needed to address ethical procurement, which I noticed was a strand running throughout the day.

The four musicians of Bremen

The four musicians of Bremen

The conference

The conference itself was held in partnership between two EU-funded projects:  Landmark, which advocates ethical public purchasing, and ‘Cotton On to Fairtrade Procurement’, a Fairtrade cotton campaign by the EU Fairtrade Advocacy Office.  Below are some of my highlights.

An inspiring session was presented jointly by the French Postal Service and the Mali National Union of Cotton Producers’ Cooperative Societies.  They spoke about the partnership mentioned above which saw the exchange of goods, services, visits and respect between workers in France and Mali.

UK student campaign group People and Planet spoke about their new Electronics Watch project, which researches the often poor working conditions in the manufacture of IT equipment.  A leader from the Bremen municipality responded by explaining a partnership between Bremen, Hamburg and other German regional authorities who have created a joint ICT procurement contract worth €millions, which is big enough to place demands on even major suppliers that they abide by labour welfare standards.

An ethics auditor from Bangalore gave a fascinating insight into the challenges faced on the ground by those monitoring workers’ rights in the cotton supply chain in India.  Dr Binay Choudhury discussed the difficulties of ensuring transparency, and the need to understand the cultural context of who and what you’re auditing.  He also addressed the risk that even audits aren’t fool-proof, noting that a Bangladeshi garment factory was destroyed by fire in 2012 killing over 100 workers, only days after (possibly bribed) auditors said it was safe.

A Swiss procurement expert introduced a dizzyingly rich resource that maps different tools to assess ethical footprint of goods and services.  An informative but somewhat dry session from an expert on EU procurement law was immediately followed, without introduction or explanation, by a dance performance by an interpretive mime duo.  I don’t know what their short play symbolised, and I suspect I never shall – though I guess it had something to do with ethical manufacturing… maybe.

Group discussions on the barriers to sustainable procurement revealed some interesting findings.  For example, devolved and convoluted procurement processes, coupled with a lack of joined-up management, are a key scourge facing green procurement right across the UK public sector.  But when I mentioned this, colleagues from Germany and Lithuania looked at me in disbelief – how could it be that UK local government isn’t a model of well-coordinated efficiency?  Meanwhile, their main challenge was a general lack of awareness and skills among public procurement staff – which is far less of an issue in the UK, though still relevant.

Barriers and solutions to ethical buying

Throughout the conference, it emerged that many attendees shared very similar barriers to implementing ethical procurement – despite our diverse institutions, backgrounds, geographical locations and cultural contexts.  Chief among these were:

  • time
  • expertise
  • cost
  • reliable supplier monitoring info
  • supplier and product availability.

Busy procurement teams rarely have sufficient time and resources to research the green credentials of individual suppliers, let alone the whole supply chains for each product / service they buy.  This could be alleviated by the growing availability of mapping and comparison tools, but will nevertheless be a slow process.  On the bright side, the slowness of this journey presents the opportunity to foster improved supply chain relationships over long periods of time, perhaps boosting cooperation to navigate the demands of the burgeoning green economy.

Many procurement professionals said they lack sufficient specialist knowledge to make well-informed decisions on buying sustainably.  This can be resolved with training, which thankfully is becoming increasingly widely available.  However the cost of training staff is an investment that many institutions struggle to afford in the current economic climate, despite the potential long-term financial benefits of doing so.

Ethically sourced goods often come with a higher price tag, through paying employees a decent wage, verification schemes and other factors.  However, the long-term inter-linked impacts on human rights, international security, the global economy and the environment, and hence ultimately institutional finances, must surely start to make a case that this short-termist thinking will not be viable forever.  In the meantime though, it’s still tough to make this case.

Reliable monitoring is a challenge, as mentioned above by Dr Choudhury.  Labelling schemes with their attendant auditing regimes are a good start, but can’t be expected to be perfect.  Nor can any single label give assurances about every area of sustainability – workers’ rights, environmental impact, etc.  Improved transparency combined with thorough engagement throughout the supply chain are key to addressing this issue, but this again will be a slow process.

Good news:  one barrier that will soon cease to exist is legal.  EU law currently bans public sector organisations from specifying Fairtrade and ‘eco’ products in tenders, and several public bodies have been successfully sued for doing so, notably including the Dutch province of North Holland.  (Apparently it’s deemed ‘anti-competitive’.)  Happily this law has now been changed, and public contracts will be allowed to feature sustainability requirements from late 2014.

Availability, flexibility and the case of the Polish mice

Many institutions have found it difficult to source suppliers and contractors that have the sustainability expertise, or the availability of ethical products, to meet the needs of large public sector contracts.  ‘Green’ suppliers are frequently SMEs offering niche products.  This can mean that they are not well established, which can present a continuity risk for public service providers that need to rely on stable long-term contracts.  It can also mean that ‘eco’ goods are available in small quantities, or in limited ranges.  (For example, LSE’s Fairtrade cotton uniform supplier can provide us with polo shirts, but not overalls.)  This in turn can lead to erratic or poor product quality, which often engenders the false belief that ethical and sustainable goods are inherently of inferior quality.

I had a thought-provoking conversation with someone called Grzegorz from a Polish NGO advocating ethical procurement, Centrum CSR Foundation.  He works with People & Planet on their Electronic Watch campaign (see above), and told me he can source computer mice from 90% ethical sources.  Did I want to sample them, or recommend them to the relevant IT procurement manager back at LSE?  Despite having spent a whole day discussing how to overcome challenges, and despite my personal convictions, my response was full of the reasons it wouldn’t work.

“The IT team buy using big framework contracts.  They only use suppliers approved by the London Universities Purchasing Consortium.  They won’t want to fiddle around using up valuable staff time to buy a small number of niche accessories, they’ll want to buy all machines and accessories on a single contract.  How do we know this new product is reliable, if no other large consumers tested it over several years?”  And so on.  Grzegorz didn’t get it – why had I bothered coming to this conference if I was just going to tell him that I wanted to carry on using the same unsustainable suppliers, processes and excuses?

There are good reasons that large public bodies have robust rules about how they buy stuff.  It can maximise efficiency, helps prevent corruption, and more.  This can make them frustratingly inflexible at times.  But maybe we can use the root causes of this inflexibility – long-term thinking and high volumes of consumption – to our advantage.

Public sector institutions should collaborate to incorporate ethical and sustainability criteria into large framework contracts, to stimulate demand and build up resilient, ethical supply chains, that continue to deliver the goods and services we need over the uncertain decades ahead.  A lot of excellent work is already going on with public purchasing consortia, and sustainability and procurement professionals must work together to build on this.

Conclusions

I took away a huge amount from the Landmark conference, and feel privileged to have participated and shared insights and possibilities with colleagues from across the globe.

But things aren’t ideal.  The Swiss procurement tool, which most in institutions I know aren’t yet advance enough to utilise, revealed how far behind we are in the UK.  Costs, lack of available supply and other organisational factors continue to inhibit uptake of ethical products among buyers.

Many would even question whether changing what we buy is missing the point altogether, arguing that the global economic system always drives down production costs at the expense of people, communities and the environment, meaning that ethical purchasing can only ever be a niche sop to an anomalous minority of those who can afford to care.

But I still think there are reasons to be optimistic.  The change in EU law to allow ‘eco’ tenders demonstrates that sufficient demand for ethical practices can move beyond business contracts into the cultural arena, and ultimately effect legal and policy changes.  The case of the French Postal Service partnership with the Malian cotton farmers is living proof of the possibility for trade relationships that are built on that mutual benefits and respect, instead of exploitation.  The collaboration of buying consortia from London to Hamburg shows the power to successfully demand better practice from even major manufacturers.

 

Although the purchases of a single university may be a drop in the ocean of the global supply chain, there are signs that if we work together – and talk about it while we do so – we can build the growing and urgent global demand for ethical and sustainable economy, in the supply chain and beyond.

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Mar 5 2014

Inspiring student innovation: can you take on the Mayor’s carbon challenge?

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Kat Eames 3The Mayor of London is running a competition to find a student who will become his Low Carbon Entrepreneur 2014.  Top prize is a £20,000 development fund to turn a student carbon-reduction idea into a viable business.  But are schemes like this enough to get young people involved in the debate about carbon and building the green economy?  Project leaders Kat Eames (pictured) and Sally Dagli investigate.

Low-carbon innovation

Everyone’s talking about carbon, or at least more than we did 5 years ago.  With annual international conferences pulling together politicians, environmental groups and business leaders to discuss carbon caps, trading and improved measurement in an effort to reduce the impacts of climate change, it is perhaps not a surprise that local governments are also taking carbon more seriously.

In fact the UK’s carbon reduction targets are one of the most ambitious in the world and as its capital city London has followed with ambitious targets of its own to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% from the amount emitted in 1990 by 2025.  To achieve these reductions, new, innovative ways of doing just about everything in our daily lives are needed.

However investment in new business ideas can be hard to come by especially for those just starting their careers or re-specialising into a new field.

Green graduates

Students in universities across the country are learning about these issues often for the first time and these fresh viewpoints are often the best placed to see how things could and should be done better.  However turning an idea developed in class, on the tube, on a restaurant serviette or down the pub into a viable business can seem daunting.

Where do you start? Who can help? How will we pay for it?  Luckily new ways to finance these start-ups are being developed, including a range of prizes rewarding innovation and providing support to new businesses.  These have become an important part of supporting new entrepreneurs.

A new generation of graduates choosing to become green entrepreneurs won’t just be helping the environment – they’ll also unlock many additional benefits.

They get to move immediately from graduation into their ideal career, and even if the company itself does not take off to the level of other graduate start-up super successes like Innocent drinks then the budding entrepreneurs have gained invaluable experience of every element of a business.  This experience, knowledge and understanding of the responsibilities of enterprises in the 21st century can only be of benefit to any future employer.

With national recent graduate employment rates struggling over the last few years, (LSE has one of the best rates of employment nationally with 2013 data showing 82% of students in employment 6 months after graduating) the entrepreneurial route is also an increasingly important option for UK students.

Still not convinced?  Take a look at the big picture.

Building the green economy

These micro-businesses are also vital to the overall UK economy.  House of Commons statistics from December 2013 state that 4.7 million or 95% of all UK businesses only employ 0-9 people, putting them in the micro-business category.  The stats go on to say that these businesses account for 32% of UK employment and 18% of turnover.

Other recent reports have shown that the “Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services Sector” is currently worth approximately £25.4 billion to London’s economy alone and has grown by more than 5% over each of the last 2 years.  Therefore kick-starting and supporting current students and recent graduates to start up their own green business really is a case of win-win-win-win………

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If you think you can take on the carbon challenge, one of the potential sources of start-up funding and support is The Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur 2014 competition, now in its third year.  The deadline for applications is the 28th March 2014 and entry is free.  For more information and to apply go to www.london.gov.uk/lowcarbon

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