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How Victoria University is working to improve their carbon footprint

· Wellington Climathon

Check out the challenges and opportunities as outlined by Andrew Wilks from one of our co-hosts Victoria University as he discusses the ways the university is seeking to improve their carbon footprint and make significant changes.

The current situation

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity. The call to take action to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change is growing louder and more urgent. Individuals, communities, businesses and nations, including an increased focus from our government, are responding to this call.

As a values-based University, with academic strength in climate change issues and aspirations to be a global-civic leader, Victoria is committed to being exemplars for climate action.

We have already made significant progress on reducing carbon emissions – down 20% over the past 10 years despite growing student numbers and built area. This success has been recognised with a Green Gown Award for carbon reduction and just a couple of weeks ago we won the public-sector category at the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority Business Awards. However, to maintain a leadership position and to be part of accelerating a global transition to a low carbon future, much bigger and more ambitious greenhouse gas reductions are needed. We are currently mapping our pathway to carbon neutrality.

Challenges and opportunities

Nearly all of Victoria’s emissions are from the use of fossil fuels for energy supplied to buildings on campus and for transport.

Air Travel is the biggest source of emissions for the University and the biggest challenge to reduce. Our academic excellence relies, in part, on presenting research and collaborating with colleagues, often on the far side of the world. While we are utilising video-conferencing and digital alternatives more and more, we still make a lot of flights. To highlight the climate impact of our flying, a student project is calling on individual staff to pledge that they will take action.

Getting to and from campus every day is also a big source of emissions. Over the past 10 years we have been working to get fewer staff and students driving to campus each day by removing parking and increasing the price of it. We have also supporting sustainable alternatives through end of journey facilities, incentive packs and working with the regional council on improving public transport service to the University (acknowledging that the new Wellington bus network is facing more than a few teething issues – but it has introduced, for the first time, a discounted fare for tertiary students, and better evening and weekend services to the University).

Energy used in our buildings is our last big source of greenhouse gas emissions. So far, we have improved our energy efficiency by 30% and there is more we can do. Reducing demand for energy remains the most cost-effective opportunity for us, but that will only take us part of the way towards carbon neutrality. So, we are exploring how we can get off natural gas as our heat source and looking to on-site renewable electricity generation and storage.

What's next?

Getting to carbon neutrality is a huge challenge, and we haven’t got all the answers yet. But figuring that out is the fun part. Fortunately, as a University we have the help of a few hundred academics and a few thousand students (and maybe a few entrepreneurs who come out of Climathon) who will bring new ideas and can utilise the University as a ‘Living Lab’ to test them out. This provides operational benefits for the University, but also, and perhaps more importantly, provides opportunities for practical application of student learning and research. Ultimately, Victoria will make a much greater global contribution to mitigating and adapting to climate change through the outcomes of our future thinking research and equipping our students with the skills to make a positive impact in their careers, than we will by reducing our own emissions. But to be credible, we need to practice what we preach.

Victoria University of Wellington is pleased to support Climathon as co-hosts alongside The Wellington City Council.

Climathon Wellington is a 24 hour challenge happening on the 26th and 27th of October. In it's 4th year it brings together people from different industries to create and test ideas to solve Wellingtons greatest challenges in a highly supportive environment.

Limited free passes are all gone, but it's not too late to get on the waitlist!

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