Academic institutions need practical help if they are to pass the test of environmental management, say our guest lecturers Peter Hill from the University of Central Lancashire and Jo Bagnall of Going for Green.
OK, fingers on the buzzers, your starter for 10. You’re in higher education, strapped for cash and your grant money is being withheld - but you're not a student. So what are you? Answer? You’re a further or higher education (FHE) establishment being punished for failing to meet sustainable development targets. Only in your nightmares, surely? Not necessarily. Such a move was proposed to the further and higher education funding councils by the Sustainable Development Education Panel, a body that reports directly to government ministers David Blunkett and John Prescott.
E-learning, globalisation, growing competition from business ... just some of the pressures being piled on the hallowed halls of academia. Sara Parkin sets out how higher education must adapt to survive – and how sustainable development might help it do so, with merit. Worth a punt: the Forum’s Higher Education Partnership is helping students propel themselves into a more sustainable future. Virtually every major sector of our economy is being pummelled by the winds of change, and higher education is no exception. Globalising markets, the e-revolution and the pressures of environmentalism are offering the same challenges to our academies of learning as they are to governments and businesses.
One of the most obvious impacts on universities is the loss of their near-monopoly status in what is now called the ‘knowledge industry’. Like any other sector, universities are working in a climate of intensifying competition.
Sainsbury’s ‘Inside Out’ bag, currently the subject of a trial at two supermarkets in west London, is being touted as a simple way to promote the re-use of free bags picked up at the checkout. The company’s stouter ‘Bags for Life’, which cost 10p and are reusable (and ultimately replaced free) for repeated shopping trips, have been selling at a rate of 120,000 a week since mid-1999. But that still leaves 25 million free Sainsbury’s bags going out each week. The new model now on trial, when turned inside out, can be used to hold recyclables for kerbside collection, the collectors having agreed that it needs no special identification for this purpose. OK, it’s a drop in the ocean rather than a revolution...
The role of the post office, linking rural villages in with national networks and information technology, is a key element in the government’s vision for “living, working, protected and vibrant” rural communities, as set out in the Rural White Paper.
Presented by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in late November, the White Paper also acknowledged other key problems such as the need to address the inadequacy of rural public transport. On the issue of the shortage of affordable housing in rural areas, Prescott announced provisions for doubling the number of “social homes” available through housing associations, and promised to give local authorities the power to levy council tax at the full rate on some 200,000 second homes that currently qualify for a 50% reduction. The role of well-run parish and town councils in providing facilities would also be strengthened under local plans.
In London, you can do it on the roof, up the wall and in the park. Grow food, that is – enough to supply every resident with a fifth of their fruit and vegetable needs. David Nicholson-Lord charts the rise of the urban food revolution – and the barriers that stand in its way My back-garden veggie patch has been underperforming of late. The broad beans did pretty well but the runners were savaged early on by slugs and then, while we were on holiday, strangled by bindweed. The broccoli failed to emerge from the seedtray and the spinach failed to emerge from the soil. Something odd is happening to the rhubarb, too. I wish I knew what it was.
I mention this because I suspect my attempts at urban sustainability are symptomatic of city food-growing as a whole. It’s a great idea – in theory. It’s the practice that’s the problem. Whether you’re an individual or in a group, it requires commitment, knowledge, patience, planning, time (lots of it) and year-round vigilance. Is this compatible with modern lifestyles?
A special fully degradable polyester Compostable Sack, which can be expected to rot down fully within a month, has been launched by Visqueen (a subsidiary of BPI) after trials with a local authority in North Yorkshire. The bag does not simply degrade over time but retains its full strength until it is used, when the rotting of waste inside it triggers the process of its own decomposition. The Warrington-based Environmental Polymers is also in the business of degradation. Its patented material, which it calls Depart, is being used for composting bags too, but the company has high hopes for its role as “the basis of a whole raft of products for industry, agriculture, environmental waste disposal and medicine over the next couple of years”.
Going for gold in the tree-planting stakes, the organising committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (www.slc2002.com) is already half way to its goal of getting 100,000 new trees planted in Utah. Internationally, its efforts focus on Sarajevo, host city of the 1984 winter Olympics, which was denuded of its trees by citizens desperate for fuel during the Bosnian conflict of 1992-95. In a new joint initiative with the White House Millennium Council and American Forests, the committee aims to plant 100 trees in Sarajevo itself and 15,000 tree seedlings on the surrounding slopes - notwithstanding the need to clear land mines as part of the preparation of the land. Salt Lake City is also offering a certificate to anyone in the world who registers having planted an ‘Olympic tree’.
After the honeymoon, the sourness. From flavour of the year, organic food has suddenly become one of the media’s favoured whipping boys. So what are the facts – and the future – of this other green revolution? Simon Jones digs deep. Supermarket Sweep Organic food has had rather a bad press lately. “Organic rip-off!” exclaimed the Daily Mail a few months ago. “Killer bug alert over organic vegetables” warned The Sunday Times. “Organic food in E.coli safety alert!” echoed the Mail. Never mind the dubious nature of some of the stories. (The E. coli found in a pack of Tesco’s organic mushrooms was not the killer strain: the mushrooms remain on sale. A “University of Georgia report” cited as evidence of poisoning risk by The Sunday Times did not exist. And so on...) The reality is that, after years of fascination with all things organic, the media had decided it was time to change the record: the inevitable backlash was well and truly spinning.
Stop thinking ‘waste’, start thinking available resources, close to urban centres, which may not need digging out of the ground. This is the message of the new government-funded Waste Resources Action Plan (WRAP, see GF 25, p9). Set up as an independent company and launched in November with £30 million in government funding over the next three years, WRAP will support strategic initiatives that find and develop new markets for waste.
The recycling industry too often falls into the unhealthy framework of a ‘monopsony’ - a market with many suppliers but just one buyer, where supply exceeds demand, the value shrinks, and trading ceases to make business sense. To reverse the equation, WRAP will look at all the potential end-uses for recycled materials, building on the ‘value already present’ in the material. Its chief executive Jenny Price, speaking to an audience from industry, central and local government and NGOs at the WRAP launch, described her strategy in simple terms as “start with users and potential users, and the markets will follow”.
The Welsh Development Agency (WDA) has ambitious plans for the comprehensive regeneration of the disused former BP oil refinery at Llandarcy, Neath - aiming to turn the two square mile site into an ‘urban village’ community. It will be one of the biggest such projects ever undertaken, with as many as 1,800 new homes to be built over 15 years. WDA hopes to attract investment with the potential to create up to 2,000 jobs in a sustainable, integrated and self-contained community.
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