Friday, July 1, 2022

Students inspire Lincoln’s sustainability taskforce

Lincoln University is practicing what it preaches about sustainability, thanks in part to a group of environmental science students who three years ago produced their own sustainability plan for the agricultural education institution.

Lincoln University is practicing what it preaches about sustainability, thanks in part to a group of environmental science students who three years ago produced their own sustainability plan for the agricultural education institution.

“In somewhat an embarrassing state, our senior management at that time realised we weren’t well advanced in our sustainability strategy and that the students were actually leading the way for us in the key actions that the university should be taking as an exemplar of sustainability and how we could actually approach education and research around sustainability,” Lincoln’s vice-chancellor Grant Edwards says.

Speaking at an event hosted by the university’s B.Linc unit, which exists to foster connections and collaboration in agribusiness, Edwards told an online audience that the students’ efforts inspired the creation of a taskforce to act on their recommendations.

“Two themes emerged for what we would really like to do: one around the university being an exemplar of sustainable practices, whether that’s in carbon, emissions, energy, water or biodiversity; and the second was around how our education, research and demonstration could contribute to the really important issues of sustainability both nationally and globally,” he says.

A former Lincoln student and lecturer, Edwards was appointed vice-chancellor late last year and has bold plans for the specialist land-based university, including increasing the number of full-time students from 2500 to 3500. He’s also committed to the university’s sustainability goals.

“I was intimately involved in the establishment of the Lincoln sustainability plan and that’s why I was very keen to continue in this role as chair of the taskforce,” he says.

The strategy has two goals: to be sector leaders in education, research and demonstration of sustainability; and for the university to become carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon zero by 2050.

Now the plans are being put into action.

A recent carbon audit shows Lincoln has total annual emissions of around 8500 tonnes of CO2 equivalents, more than half of which comes from the coal boiler that provides heating. It’s now planned to decommission the boiler by 2023 and replace it with a range of diversified, renewable energy sources and new infrastructure across the campus.

“We’re putting PV (photovoltaic) panels on many of the roofs and we have plans for a large solar farm associated with the university to greatly increase our own supply of renewable energy,” he says.

There are also plans to use space better with the right-sizing of Lincoln’s building programme, removal of poor and aged facilities and installation of lower energy-using LED lighting.

“We have major building going on, which presents an opportunity to demolish old buildings but also to look at opportunities around water retention solutions for water and biodiversity on campus,” he says.

A 74% reduction of waste is targeted, along with getting rid of all plastic packaging and Lincoln’s vehicle fleet will be changed over to 100% electric within the next two years.

A more challenging target is reducing the nearly 3000 tonnes CO2 equivalents associated with transport to the university by staff and students, as well as across the country on business, about the same amount of emissions which come out of one of the university’s dairy farms.

“That’s challenging because although we do have extensive accommodation within campus, about 500 students, a lot of our students live in wider Canterbury and that means there are travel requirements.”

Sustainability will also be more built in to the courses and qualifications provided by Lincoln University, with a move to make it part of graduates’ attributes.

“We often think of those in terms of employability and innovation and that they have an understanding of some core disciplines. Well, sustainability is one of those core competencies that we in the future expect every university graduate to have an understanding of too,” he says.

The university is working on its graduate attribute profile to include sustainability alongside aspects such as innovation and bi-cultural competency.

“What it means is we can put a greater value on the quality of the graduates that are coming out of the university,” he says.

Lincoln is already a leader in research on ways to mitigate agricultural methane emissions as well as nitrogen leaching, but Edwards is keen to highlight that work using a case-study approach.

“Our farms are central to that, including Lincoln’s demonstration farm, which has for the past two decades been one of the shining lights in the demonstration of sustainable practices both financially and environmentally,” he says.

“That will continue and we’re also looking to branch out into other areas such as an energy crop farm, with energy and crop production conducted simultaneously on the same farm.

“We focus on land, people and ecosystems and that defines how we talk about sustainability and the things we find really important on campus in our sustainability plan.”

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