But colleges will struggle to achieve net zero carbon emissions, environmental experts warn
A pound;20 million fund to help colleges cut their contribution to global warming has seen their annual carbon emissions fall by more than 10 per cent.
But the environmental experts in charge of the green fund have warned that further improvements will be hard to achieve now the easiest savings have been made.
Colleges face the most stringent targets in the public sector for reducing carbon emissions, with all new buildings expected to be zero carbon by 2016 as part of the Building Colleges for the Future scheme.
By bidding up to pound;100,000 for projects ranging from loft insulation to the installation of systems that better regulate temperature, 250 colleges are due to save 47,000 tonnes of carbon a year.
Based on their consumption of gas and electricity, the Learning and Skills Council says colleges produce 448,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually.
The green projects are also expected to cut colleges' energy bills by pound;48 million over 25 years. And colleges will be free to invest these savings in education, according to Salix Finance, which specialises in managing environmental projects.
Kevin McDonald, its business development manager, said: "Our scheme was designed to have a very quick payback, to provide colleges with some quick wins, such as installing cavity wall insulation, so they can see the benefits early on."
But plans to expand the projects are likely to involve increased cost to colleges. Typical environmental schemes require the institution to pay half the costs, with savings being invested in further green schemes, rather than being returned to the institution's budget.
At a cost of pound;63 per tonne of carbon emissions reduced, the college fund represents good value compared with similar schemes. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs expects each tonne cut to cost around pound;100.
With the zero carbon target hanging over them, colleges are trying to increase their energy efficiency. Manchester College of Arts and Technology has commissioned the Carbon Trust to draw up plans to save 750 tonnes of carbon a year.
The Association of Colleges has persuaded about a third of colleges to sign its Green Declaration, pledging to reduce their impact on the environment in line with LSC sustainability policies.
Lisa Dubow, campaigns officer for the AoC, said: "The declaration is a public commitment that colleges will look at internal policies and practices in order to implement environmental best practice. Management, staff and lecturers pushing the green agenda are setting a really positive example."