A Sustainable World

Walking around the historic buildings and vibrant green spaces of the University of Westminster campus in central London, it becomes clear why Westminster has established itself as a leader in campus sustainability. From recycling programs to solar power installations to ethical purchasing guidelines, our University integrates environmental sustainability in every facet of campus living. As a student passionate about climate change and sustainability, I find these strategies to be inspiring. 

Westminster Sets High Sustainability Standards

The University has a “Being Westminster Strategy” that measures our sustainability performance in areas such as governance, estates, procurement, and community engagement. Westminster has adopted the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals Framework. This has been done with the intention of supporting the commitment to creating a sustainable, equitable, and healthier society.
The proof is in the numbers. Westminster has thus far reduced carbon emissions by 43% compared to levels in 2005, with over half of our waste being diverted from landfills. It has cut its water usage by 41% compared to the 2005-2006 baseline. All new personnel are trained by the sustainability team on Hands Up for Sustainability, which explains how Westminster is aiming to minimize the impacts of environmental harm. Sessions include such topics as how to use video conferencing instead of flights, double-sided printing tips, and tricks, and turning the equipment off when no one is using it.

Recycling and Composting Are Key

For the residents in student accommodation, there are mixed dry recycling bins available within the building, meaning paper packaging, metals, and glass can be sorted. These recycling bins are also available across campus buildings and common areas. Research indicates that, in the U.K., approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food go to waste, which contributes to 7.7% of the U.K.’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions. The University’s new food waste bins, located to the right of microwaves in the café, help divert the waste and send it to anaerobic digestion to create biogas for nutrient-rich biofertilizer and fuel.

Westminster has put a food waste disposal system in the campus kitchen areas; this device shreds food scraps into a slurry that can be safely sent to the water treatment system to help expand composting efforts. Posters placed on sinks provide students and staff with information about the things that can be washed down the drain. Through such initiatives as this, Westminster hopes to reduce its food and organic waste by 50% by 2025. The University conducts annual Rubbish Art contests from waste materials in order to sensitize the issues of consumption and waste.

Conserving Energy in Campus Buildings

Our campus includes the latest technologies, from motion sensor lights to more sophisticated heating systems to double-glazed windows that help decrease energy used in buildings. A BREEAM sustainability score of Excellent was given to the University’s new Student Accommodation Building, which opened in 2015 as a result of its energy-efficient design. Some of these noticeable features include automated LED lighting in the stairwells and corridors that switch off when there is adequate natural light, as well as a system of light tubes that channel natural sunlight to one end or another. Installation of solar panels on the roof also furnishes renewable energy.
Westminster has led the way across the campus in replacing lighting and heating fixtures with energy-saving options to reduce electricity usage by over 20% since 2005. In order to systematically track and improve energy conservation efforts across the whole University, Westminster maintains an ISO 14001-certified Environmental Management System throughout. Students also play an active role, with dorms competing each year on energy-saving challenges. Such small improvements as turning radiators off in empty rooms, closing windows while heating is on, using curtains to minimize heat loss, and switching lights off when going out of the room all together make a great difference.

Campus Groups and Events Promote Sustainability Mindset

Westminster has a variety of student societies that cultivate concern about the environment, such as the University of Westminster Conservation Volunteers which plan park clean ups and tree plantings. GreenSoc campaigns for more water refill stations in order to reduce plastic consumption, and the Climate Justice Society spreads information about environmental justice issues. Westminster Sustainability Showcase is an annual event that combines students, staff, and other organizations to show case the different sustainability innovations and research being developed within the organization.

There is a campus garden in between the Marylebone site and Westminster Business School where students can farm vegetables surrounded by plants and wildflowers that promote diversity. Gardening also helps community members understand the principles of permaculture and brings us closer to food systems. The gardens produce those supplement offerings in nearby cafeterias. Westminster also has hives that produce honey used by culinary students and local food services.

Ongoing Progress Toward Sustainability

While we appreciate Westminster’s environmental successes so far, university leaders are also keen to point out that sustainability is an ongoing improvement process. Areas like supply chain management, water conservation, travel emissions, and curriculum integration continue to benefit from sustainability efforts. Westminster’s all-encompassing sustainability strategy, coupled with universal engagement across the campus, leaves me convinced we will achieve our ambitious 50% emissions reduction goal by 2030. Although our university may be set in the heart of a thriving London and you would not expect to see much nature among urban density, environmental stewardship leaves room for nature and its ability to come back from virtually anywhere, providing a vision of cities of tomorrow becoming more successful habitats with sustainability as the core principle.

Sustainability as a choiceAuthor: Federico Ursini