University Emissions Report: Behind the Pretty Numbers

University Emissions Report: Behind the Pretty Numbers

Carbon counting continues amidst worsening climate crisis

In our last issue, Critic Te Arohi reported that the Uni’s carbon emissions dropped 40% in 2020 compared to 2019. We spoke with Craig Cliff, the Uni’s Net Carbon Zero Programme Manager, to help us understand what is going on.

The report showed that most of the 40% actually came from a Covid-related decrease in staff air travel – especially international travel. Craig admits this “has masked some initiatives that we put in place, so we can't really tell if they had an impact or not.” It has presented the University with “an opportunity that they can’t mess up” to ensure air travel emissions stay low. The Uni is aiming to keep it to 50% of 2019’s figure, with Craig saying that “We can’t go back to the old way.”

Some of the drop also came from the Uni’s coal boilers being converted to run on biomass (wood pellets made from forestry byproducts). Burning wood releases fewer carbon emissions than coal, and cuts down on other emissions such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (which produce acid rain and smog). In addition, wood can be regrown, theoretically taking carbon back. However, it’s not a perfect solution. Craig told Critic Te Arohi that the University wants to use this as a bridging fuel, to aid the transition to renewable energy. 

While the Uni has set ambitious targets, including a promise to emit net-zero emissions by 2030 (only 8 years away), Craig admitted they face significant challenges in enforcing targets and making departments accountable. “It's hard to hold people to account for outcomes that they don't have data and reporting to support,” said Craig. But he also stressed that looking at the bigger picture was important. While reducing emissions is important, Craig emphasised that it was important to not get “myopic about our target” and judge their performance by only one metric. 

Food and food wastage (mostly from hall food) makes up a quarter of the Uni’s 2020 emissions. Currently, the “Mindful Mondays” scheme, where halls serve only fish and vegetarian dishes on Mondays, is the only food-related emissions initiative running. It’s not easy to change students’ meaty bloodlust, though: halls have been recording more food wastage on Mindful Monday, which itself contributes to the Uni’s carbon emissions.

Craig says the Uni has been trying to come up with more creative solutions to try and reduce food emissions. For example, psychology students have suggested producing posters showing the carbon impact of different dishes, to try and encourage positive behaviour change. He also mentioned plans for the Uni to set up a “food waste innovation scheme,” comprising a digester which “heats food up to quickly get it to a compostable state.” Until then, worm farms may need to do all the mahi in breaking down our food waste. It’s a good thing that everyone loves worms.

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2022.
Posted 12:47am Saturday 23rd April 2022 by Zak Rudin.