Colleges are reaping the rewards of being more environmentally friendly. Simon Midgley reports
DO you know the percentage of students and staff travelling to college by car? How about the volume of waste generated per student or the volume of paper recycled?
For Rosemary Gray, principal of Walsall College of Arts and Technology, these issues have the same imperative as the most pressing questions about student recruitment and tackling social exclusion.
Ms Gray's commitment to green issues is passionately argued as a member of the sustainability development panel, set up by the Government to transform the institutional environment and promote greater awareness among staff and students.
At the faltering birth of the green revolution in the 1960s and 70s, such issues were pushed to the margins, with the over-obsessed labelled "the brown rice and sandals brigade". Few were taken seriously. But with apocalyptic visions of golabal warming and and environmental melt-down, governments are waking up to the need for action.
"Sustainability is not just those funny people interested in green issues and recycling," Ms Gray insists. "It is really about the quality of life in the future."
In the past, colleges have done their own thing for "sustainable development" - jargon for helping people get on and improving the quality of life without damaging the earth's life support systems. It makes economic sense for colleges to switch their lights off at night or recycle paper.
But more recently, colleges have been encouraged to take a more thoughtful approach to sustainability.
The Government set up the Sustainable Development Education Panel in 1998 to bring about improvements in the home, education and at work. The panel - run by the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department for Education and Skills - set goals for colleges.
By 2010, all colleges should be accredited to a nationally-recognised standard. Staff must be fully trained in sustainable development.
Colleges must take a more co-ordinated approach to meeting internationally-recognised standards of environmental awareness. The panel commissioned the Learning and Skills Development Agency and the Association of Colleges to produce a college guide, Towards Sustainability, published in 1999.
As well as recommending that colleges be accredited to international standards, the guide said that the Further Education Funding Council should pay grants to colleges with a proven track record in this area.
Colleges were invited to bid for funds from the FEFC to support a variety of environmental projects. Ten colleges and a consortium have won grants of up to pound;15,000 each (see box, below left).
Projects range from developing sustainable development curriculum materials around key skills (St Helens College) to developing community-based learning (Skelmersdale and Ormskirk). Cornwall College is developing links with the Eden Project.
Dr John Blewitt, project manager for the Yorkshire and the Humber Region's sustainable development education strategy, has been asked to evaluate the success of these projects for the LSDA.
A second development is EcoCampus, an environmental management system tailor-made for FE and higher education. It was started by Going For Green, an organisation set up under the Tories.
The University of Central Lancashire was asked to create EcoCampus, which is now being tested by 14 FE and HE colleges (see box below right). It sets out 12 key themes including the use of resources, development of a curriculum that is "green, ethical and sustainable", and community involvement.
Colleges must cut energy consumption and comply with environmental legislation. Senior staff must act as "champions" for the policy and a high-level steering group should be formed to drive policy forward.
Colleges must also show that initiatives have affected college life at every level. Sub-groups are expected to focus on individual themes and each institution must conduct college-wide "environmental audits". There are gold, bronze and silver awards if targets are hit, the ultimate goal being 12 golds - one for each EcoCampus theme.
Jo Bagnall, Going for Green's programme development co-ordinator, said:
"Not only should there be an environmental management system for the sector but it should be linked to an award scheme. This gives public recognition for colleges and universities who adopt it and make progress."
In the long run, measures such as a proposed climate change levy would not only improve quality of life but also reduce the social costs, Mrs Gray insists. That means cutting the bills that hospitals face by having wards devoted to kids with asthma and old people with chest complaints.
"Many colleges may promote sustainable policies subliminally, but now is the time for them to make a more explicit commitment to sustaining the quality of life on the planet for future generations," she says.
St Helens College; Bishop Burton College, East Riding of Yorkshire; Blackburn College; Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College; Southgate College; Wigan and Leigh College; Huddersfield New College;
Cornwall College; South West Association for Education and Training.
ECOCAMPUS PILOT COLLEGES
Walsall College; University of Bradford; Leeds MetropolitanUniversity; Huddersfield New College; Bishop Burton College, Yorks; Worcester College of Technology; Nottingham Trent University;
University of Plymouth; Wigan and Leigh College; Oxford Brookes University; Liverpool Hope University; St Helens College; University of Portsmouth; Queens University Belfast.