Viewport width =
July 20, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Carbon Neutral Victoria?

Rushing to the airport to catch my mid-trimester flight back to the Bay, I was faced with several taxi cab options. Kiwi Cabs, Amalgamated, Harbour City and Combined, “New Zealand’s first carbon neutral certified cab”. As a wannabe greenie, my choice was easy. En route, I asked the guy behind the wheel why Combined took the carbon neutral plunge.

“All the taxi companies will have to do it sooner or later”, he said. “Whole lot cheaper for us to do it now. Plus we’ll get to build up a reputation because we did it first.”

A growing number of groups and individuals on campus believe that Victoria University should do the same. Both Gecko, one of the largest student clubs at Victoria, and the University’s Environmental Committee are committed to working towards a carbon neutral campus.

Why go carbon neutral?

Phil Barker, Gecko co-leader, believes Victoria has an ethical and social responsibility to commit to carbon neutrality.

‘As a public organisation, university is meant to be the critical conscious of society and step forward on leading issues [like carbon neutrality]. Perhaps in the current economic climate, there’s a pressure towards far more short-term thinking, but in terms of social issues and the environmental impact of running such a large organisation, the university needs to demonstrate long-term thinking.”

Former Gecko leader and VUWSA Environmental Officer Tushara Kodikara used his Environmental Studies masters thesis to explore the potential for carbon neutrality at Victoria. In an article published in the 12 May 2008 issue of Salient, Kodikara argued that becoming New Zealand’s first carbon neutral university also makes commercial sense.

“[Carbon neutrality may create] marketing and branding opportunities, opportunities through voluntary activities with the avoidance of any future government regulation, leadership benefits and environmental benefits. These benefits could save the university considerable amounts of money.”

How big is Victoria’s footprint?

Going carbon neutral usually has three steps: assessing carbon footprint, reducing emissions as far as possible, then offsetting the emissions that remain.

The first step in the process has already been completed by the university. The estimate for Victoria’s total carbon footprint for 2008 is approximately 16,151.228 tonnes.

Victoria’s carbon footprint can be split into three main areas, or ‘scopes’. The first ‘scope’ is the direct emissions produced by business operations, for example, the fuel used in Victoria University’s boilers.

The second ‘scope’ is the indirect emissions produced as a result of business operations, like the offsite generation of the electricity used at Victoria.

The third ‘scope’ is the indirect emissions which are not necessarily produced as a result of business operations, but are still connected to the organisation. For example, commuter travel to and from Victoria.

According to Kodikara, the major problem with implementing carbon neutrality at Victoria is that most of our emissions come from ‘scope three’ and are not easily reduced.

“The university’s biggest carbon emissions are through travel, particularly academics who go overseas for conferences and there’s no way you can reduce that. If you try to tell academics ‘sorry, you can’t go to that conference, maybe do a video conference instead’, they’re probably going to refuse.

‘A lot of people think that carbon neutrality is all about reduced emissions, which is a big component, but you just can’t reduce the emissions from big things like travel.”

Carbon neutrality at Vivian st.

Last June, Victoria University’s Faculty of Architecture and Design became the first certified carbon neutral architecture or design school in the world. It was hoped that the faculty could be used as a pilot study for the rest of the university, with a report due to be presented to the Vice-Chancellor at the end of this year.

The faculty’s initial year of certification was made possible by Meridian Energy, who donated 201 tonnes of carbon credits to help offset emissions. In addition, the faculty purchased another 135 tonnes of credits and set up an emissions reduction plan. 

Unfortunately, the faculty’s carbon neutral status has now expired and, despite international attention and positive student feedback, senior management have decided not to re-apply for certification. 

Faculty of Architecture and Design Dean and Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor Gordon Holden says the decision not to re-apply was difficult.

“We deeply regret that we cannot proceed on the path that we had entered. However, the cost to renew CarboNZero status is beyond what can be supported in the current environment of reduced government funding and rising costs for the university.”

The estimated cost of re-certifying the Faculty for the next 18 months is approximately $28,000, made up of $12,000 for measurement, auditing and registration by Landcare Research and an estimated $16,000 for carbon credits. Faced with National Government cuts to higher education funding and no free Meridian credits, Holden was unable to justify re-certification.

“It’s a very tough time and, as committed as we are, we can’t afford the certification.”

Despite this setback, the faculty continue to work on reducing their emissions. Since the Emissions Reduction Plan was introduced in June 2008, waste at the Vivian Street campus is down 16.3% and energy use has reduced by 4.7%. A digital conference studio was installed a few months ago to help reduce emissions from air travel.

Holden says the faculty will “continue to watch the situation carefully” and hopes to reclaim their carbon neutral status “sometime in the future”.

Prospects for the future

The Victoria Environment Committee was founded in November 2006 and is made up of an academic representative from each campus, two student reps (Gecko and VUWSA) and Finance and Facilities Management reps. While most day-to-day work environmental management at the university is carried out by Facilities Management, the Committee responsible for the university’s long-term environmental strategy.

Andrew Wilkes, chair of the Environment Committee, says that carbon neutrality for the entire university is not feasible.

“Fundamentally, we want to be—and are—working towards reducing our carbon emissions [but] to reduce all of our emissions to nothing will take ages, and require technological advances and massive culture change in society. That might never happen, and I have no idea how much it would cost.”
The only way for the entire university to get carbon neutral status is to purchase carbon credits created through reforestation or renewable energy projects. Using an average carbon price of $25/tonne and excluding electricity and commuter travel, buying carbon credits to offset emissions would cost the university about $200,000 each year plus an extra $10,000–$20,000 for the carboNZero auditing and verification process.

This cost is not one that the university are willing to pay. Wilkes says that the university has decided against purchasing carbon offsets due to the “current financial pressures facing the university”. He says that purchasing carbon offsets remains an option for the university but “not in the near future”.

Wilkes emphasizes that, while official carbon neutral certification is off the cards, the university is making steady emissions reduction progress.

“If a sound business case can be made for an initiative, then we [the Environment Committee] can get it implemented without much fuss… it is fair to say tha the Senior Management Team are supportive of our work.”

Environmental highlights over the last three years include a 40% reduction in standard office paper consumption following the introduction of default double-sided printing, the introduction of recycling facilities to all campuses, and the inclusion of sustainable design principles in all future construction projects. Energy efficiency initiatives have been launched across the university and are estimated to have already saved the university $139,000 per year. These projects mainly involved improvements to the efficiency of heating, ventilation and the university air-conditioning plant, along with some lighting upgrades.

One of the next Environmental Committee projects will be to work on promoting environmental leadership among Victoria staff. Gecko leader Phil Barker hopes that video conferencing will become more popular as the environmental awareness of staff is raised.

“Academic researchers need access to the international community of academics. Traditionally and commonly that means attending conferences, that’s a need of their role, but there are alternative systems that can help get more efficient results out of that.

“Victoria actually holds a world leading video conferencing suite in the basement of the library. Gecko used the suite to hold a simultaneous video conference between five NZ universities and the Berkeley campus in San Francisco. It really is a world class facility, the quality of communication is like being right there in the room with the other person.”

Environmental club Gecko and the Environmental Studies department are working to increase environmental awareness within the student body. As part of ENVI 114, students are asked to investigate ways to improve sustainability on campus. Gecko, with membership currently at over 400 students, has put several of these projects in place and also run annual environmental weeks and climate action festivals.

While Barker applauds the university’s progress over the last five years, he believes students need to continue calling for carbon neutrality on campus.

“[The university] are taking steps in that direction, in large part through the voices of students and as a result of student activism. We’re the ones that are going to be living into the future and our children will inherit it, so the management at University need to hear that voice and that advocacy.”


About the Author ()

Nina Fowler (BA), former Salient feature writer, is excited about Salient '10.

Comments (1)

Trackback URL / Comments RSS Feed

  1. Your Name says:

    why can’t you as a website give us the estimated amount in a graph of carbon emission? this would be highly likely to help us as a fan for your website since your information is very good:] thankyou and please put some thought to my request!
    pls reply to my question

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required