Joseph Lee reports
colleges have been recognised for the first time alongside universities for their work in reducing the damage done to the environment.
The Pershore Group of Colleges has been named among the winners of the Green Gown awards, which promotes the conservation of energy and reduction of waste in education institutions.
In previous years, the awards, financed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Learning and Skills Council, have focused on higher education.
Professor Peter James, co-director of the awards, said: "The issue for further education is that, in the future, environmental and sustainability issues are going to be so central that almost any career you can think of is going to need an understanding of them and the relevant technical skills and knowledge to respond to them. That's a big driver for FE."
But he said both colleges and universities were only starting the process of becoming more green and there was much more work to do.
Pershore, in Worcestershire, was named as the greenest FE institution in the country for putting environmental principles at the heart of everything it does, from teaching to catering.
The award is shared by its Holme Lacy campus across the border in Herefordshire.
Every new building includes rainwater tanks which are used to water the college's commercial greenhouses, saving a third of its annual 7,000,000-litre water consumption, according to Stefan Drew, the marketing manager.
Almost two-thirds of everything the college buys - from food to ink cartridges - is made within a 50-mile radius, reducing the pollution caused by transporting goods.
Much of the food is grown on the college's own organic farm and nursery and its vehicles are run on bio-diesel or electricity rather than fossil fuels.
Mr Drew said environmental issues were prominent on the curriculum but that was not enough in itself. He said: "It's not just about teaching the principles, it's about implementing them and demonstrating the way it should be done.
"Everything we have done has been cost-effective. Lots of things that we do, like buying locally and reducing energy consumption, are things that could be done by any college. They're not specific to horticulture."
North Devon College students were also highly commended in the awards in a field otherwise dominated by university students.
The group of around 30 students was praised for leading successful campaigns on the environmental issues that mattered to them, such as lobbying the local council in favour of a controversial wind turbine project.
Supported by a college-funded youth worker, they also promoted fair trade produce in the college, introduced new recycling facili-ties and even led classes for local schoolchildren and trainee teachers about subsistence living and how lifestyles affect the environment.
Pete Jolly, the group's youth worker, said: "Young people can be more radical in their opinions and they are more outspoken."
Swansea College was praised for its work in this area in collaboration with its neighbouring universities.