We spoke to Emma Gardner, head of environmental sustainability at Manchester University, to find out how she is helping to reduce the environmental impact of one of the UK's largest universities.
Tell me a bit about your role at Manchester University.
I'm head of environmental sustainability, and my role is to lead on the development and implementation of the university’s environmental sustainability plan.
The university has four faculties, 20 academic schools, several major research institutes, professional support services and cultural assets. There are over 10,000 members of staff and we have one of the largest student communities in the UK - there are over 39,000 registered at the university, according to 2012 figures. So reducing the impact of the university is no mean feat!
The university is aiming to “embed environmental sustainability as a key priority across the full range of activities”, and has a strategy and plan to support this.
As well as implementing this plan, I'm responsible for developing and implementing an enabling framework for the delivery of the university’s carbon reduction targets as set out in the carbon management plan. And I support the team’s delivery of the sustainable travel plan, sustainable waste plan and other areas including biodiversity and sustainable design and construction of new builds and major refurbishments.
How did you get into your line of work?
I've always had an interest in sustainability, although from a strong environmental and conservation background. I studied biology at university, worked in animal conservation and with environmental organisations, then took steps to study and work in wider issues that incorporated social and economic factors. I completed an MSc in Environmental Resources then a PhD in Sustainability.
What are some of the key projects you’re currently working on?
We'll be updating our carbon management plan this year to reflect the current plans for the university and to incorporate a reduction target for our Scope 3 emissions. We're developing a biodiversity plan and starting work on a new university masterplan, which will see the principles of sustainability embedded throughout.
What do you love about your job?
I love the diversity of my role, the people I meet and work with, the opportunity to make a real difference and coming to work everyday for such a wonderful university in a fantastic setting - from the original buildings built in the 1800s to the newer ones.
What are your biggest challenges at the moment?
Capturing and prioritising all the opportunities and managing carbon emissions alongside growth.
What has been your most significant achievement in your role so far?
My role was created in July 2012, so both the role and I are still relatively new. One of the first achievements was finding my way around – there are over 300 buildings at the university (and I got lost in a few of them!) However, having been here for over six months now I would say my significant achievement is pulling the team together with the associated plans. We now have a really good action plan for the next few years which should result in a number of significant achievements.
How are you and your team engaging students on sustainability?
We meet regularly with representatives from the Students' Union to discuss sustainability, to exchange information and ideas, and to keep up to date with the activities of the numerous student societies that actively support sustainability initiatives. We also support and attend the Student Sustainability Forum that meets quarterly.
Our door is always open and receives a lot of requests from students, which we endeavour to address where we can. For example we provide some of our data and access to our projects for research and work experience. We also have a number of Green Impact teams that have a designated student working with them as Green Impact project assistants, to help teams with their Green Impact programme.
All Green Impact project assistants receive training from NUS on sustainability issues and solutions, project and team management skills and communication techniques. We also have a number of students who are trained as Green Impact auditors to audit the Green Impact workbooks.
Do you have any tips for engaging employees on sustainability?
Engage with positive messages on issues and actions that they can do. Also, look to engage on things they value, which can mean different things to different people. We work closely with Manchester Veg People who engage with chefs in our residences about local food production, discussing issues such as preparation time and security of supply, finding ways to address opportunities and concerns. As such, we buy a lot of locally produced food.
How do you see your sector developing in the coming years?
The sector will see a number of changes reflecting student fees and a reduction of Government funding, strengthening the case for any initial investment in infrastructure and procedures to support resource efficiency. Sustainability will play an even bigger part of any university’s offer, especially relating to student attraction and retention and funding and research applications.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during your career so far?
Perseverance, to always see the fun and lessons in every situation and to be creative in finding that agreed way forward.
What are your interests outside of work?
Spending time with, and looking after, my animals. I have three dogs and a horse. I also enjoy gardening, especially growing , harvesting and using herbs, and experimenting with new recipes.
What’s your favourite motto?
Smile a while and while you smile smile another smile and soon there will be miles and miles of smiles