Our sustainability agenda - interview with Nicola Davies

Posted on: 29 April 2022 in Issue 1

Embedding sustainability into our day-to-day operations is not all ‘nice-to-have’ but an absolute priority for the University. Nicola Davies, Executive Lead for Sustainability, and the University’s Director of Finance, sets out some of the challenges - and opportunities - of turning our sustainability pledges into action.

Where we are now
“While we’ve made great strides in our efforts to-date, we know that we’ve got a huge way to go,” says Nicola. “We have made good progress in terms of creating a Sustainability Strategy and ensuring that sustainability is embedded as one of our key priorities from a leadership perspective. We have a goal to achieve Net Zero by 2035, which is an ambitious aim for us. Signing up to the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) has given us a good framework to help us focus on the right areas as we begin to operationalise sustainability across the University.”

Nicola continues: “A few years back, we agreed a divestment policy around our ethical investments. This means that we don't invest in things like fossil fuels, arms, and armaments. That was a step forward for us in terms of sustainability. Now we're trying to ensure we're not investing in anything that is detrimental globally.”

Act now
With 2035 fast approaching there is ever growing pressure to act now. “We’ve already got plans in place around making our buildings more sustainable,” continues Nicola, “but we want to work alongside our academics and professional services experts to produce some solutions to the challenges we face.”

Getting more staff and students involved is a key priority, and to facilitate this, a communications and engagement group was recently set up to help raise awareness and engagement. The new sustainability webpages were also recently relaunched to further serve as a source of information for colleagues and students. “We've worked hard on our webpages to try and make them more accessible for people and to make sure that we've got tips around how individuals can become more sustainable,” Nicola explains.

“There’s an awful lot going on across the University and we want to celebrate it and spread awareness. We want to hear more about the research we’re doing because some of it could help us with our own challenges around sustainability,” Nicola continues. “We need to reach out across the whole University and enable people to do what they can to become more sustainable. The recently launched Sustainability Fund is part of that agenda, and we are hoping that it will generate some new ideas and activities. I'm also keen to start a community of practice around sustainability, bringing people together to start discussing this topic and come up with some solutions.”

Challenges and solutions
The age and diversity of our campus presents challenges for the University as does how we buy goods and services but that doesn’t mean appropriate solutions can’t be developed. “We’ve got a wide range of buildings, some of which are older and in sustainability terms aren’t the most effective but we’re addressing this head on through numerous strategies and innovative ways of constructing, using, and refurbishing our facilities,” Nicola says. “There's often a tension between buying sustainably and buying cheaply. This can be a challenge for us, particularly when we've got research-funded activity where we want to make the most of available budgets.”

Nicola continues: “We're a large organisation. We've got £600 million turnover. Our expenditure is large so we need to make sure that we're buying in a sustainable way. What we want to do is to produce guidance for staff on sustainable buying. We’re a member of the North Western Universities Purchasing Consortium and we are working closely with them to get a better view of our supply chain.”

Reflecting on her own purchasing behaviour, Nicola says she has changed her buying habits since becoming more involved in sustainability. “I certainly buy a lot less and am more considerate about the way I buy,” she explains. “I don't buy any processed food now and I've also started to think more about seasonal buying and where my food is coming from. It feels good to be making a small difference.”

“I strongly believe that the only way we can achieve some of our really challenging goals, is to work together,” stresses Nicola. “Universities are in a positive position to be able to make a difference, not just to ourselves and campus but also globally with all the research that we do based on the various Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN.”

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