MCFly co-editor Arwa Aburawa interviews Mary Heaney, Director of Services at Manchester Metropolitan University, whose responsibilities include the environmental sustainability agenda
Besides saving money, what are the reasons MMU is taking green action?
Money isn’t actually the top priority for us in terms of sustainability – it’s our corporate social responsibility. We are an organisation that devotes it self to the next generation and we think it’s absolutely incumbent upon us to be responsible in the way we operate and look at the way that we function from everything from the amount of chemicals the cleaners use to me pulling down the blinds when I leave that this room is bearable the next day to the way we operate our labs. It’s about being part of the solution, I guess.
Another top motivator that MMU talk about is that preparing students for new realities and embedding green thinking makes them more employable. How are you measuring whether students do indeed have a competitive advantage because of their sustainability knowledge?
Being able to actually measure the impact of the sustainability teaching that happens in the MMU is a little more difficult. But I do think it’s important to carefully embed sustainable thinking in all our students because they are the future generations. There are also a lot of environmentally aware young people coming into the university and in fact, if I’m honest, we started to take this agenda very seriously partly because of the pressure that the students were applying upon us. Before the regime change in the university and before [Vice Chancellor] John Brooks came in, sustainability wasn’t on the agenda and clearly with the Capital Programme we’ve had the opportunity to do new things and conceive the environment differently.
How do you know what the impact is of your work on sustainability in the curriculum?
We are finding this very difficult to measure. Our Environment team have been discussing how we could develop metrics for this with our Centre for Learning & Teaching colleagues.
What has been the biggest challenge over the last three years in moving the agenda forward, besides limited funds?
I suppose it’s trying to do things economically. Some of the policies that have emerged such as the reduction in incentives in terms of PV panels made us step back and think ‘Is this best way to move forward’. However, we are about to spend some money fitting in some PV at the Crewe campus because the situation has stabilised and we can develop a credible business plan that says that we can recover the money. I guess those are some of the challenges that I face but overall, it’s amazing how much everybody has contributed to the agenda. When we introduced recycling boxes at our tables last I thought we were going to get some resistance and yet I haven’t had a single derogatory remark from anyone about it.
It’s just gone like a dream- but I have to admit other initiatives such as introducing charges for car parking to help change behaviour haven’t gone so well. I guess that was a stick. I think attitudes have changed and there is so much discussion about this out there that it is becoming part of the norm. I mean there was a cohort of people saying ‘why can’t I do this’ but there was also a silent majority who weren’t complaining. So I was quite nervous and I think we’ve learnt from not doing things so well in the beginning to now being able to bring people along.
What are some of the lessons that you learnt from your earlier mistakes?
Have more consultation instead of just a working group as they don’t represent the whole institution and I suppose car parking was a working group whilst waste and recycling was out there with people on the ground talking to each other and explaining how it would all work. For example, we are talking about removing printers from people’s desktops and we doing a lot of work looking at the benefits, the disadvantages and how do we manage those as well as looking those who have specific needs which mean they should retain their printers. I guess we are being a lot more thoughtful and taking our time with things and I guess patience is a big enabler.
In what areas is MMU a UK or world leader on environmental/ sustainability issues?
I think MMU is doing a lot on behaviour and there are lots of examples about great changes to the physical infrastructure but I think we’ve recognised that they are not enough on their own. Green buildings with brown behaviours soon turn brown – so I think we working on the softer side of the issue but I think MMU has developed an edge on behaviour change and we are looking to share that with city through things like the Green Impacts programme.
What would you say to the critics of the Hulme campus, about the loss of green space?
It’s overgrown brownfield, is my first point and we are introducing a number of solutions to keep the good things about the environment around the campus. I mean it is a bit of a wasteland but it is a cherished wasteland so for every tree we are taking out we are putting two back in and we are trying to retain as many indigenous trees as possible and have relocated some to the Princess parkway.
We’ve also got an arrangement with the Hulme Garden centre to grow some fruit trees for us over the next two years and we’re just tidying up the contract for that. So these will be very much replacing what’s there with something we can all share with the community- so I expect there to be some foraging events soon. We really want this campus to be permeable and we have a real opportunity in Hulme to make it a shared space. We also want to try and procure the materials for the buildings and landscaping locally and use recycled materials as much as possible. We also want the campus to be a learning lab for the local schools and colleges and the energy centre will be open to the public for use.
What response does MMU have to the proposal by the Manchester Green Party to ring-fence university places for locals?
With the Hulme campus, we are keen to get the locals involved. I mean part of the building tender terms is that they employ at least 10% of their workforce from the local area and once we start to occupy the building, we will prioritise local employment as much as possible. For example, we now prioritise our vacancies in the first third grades at Moss Side’s The Works and we’ve filled 50 posts over the last couple of years through that. We’ve also being working closely with Webster primary school and Loreto College in mentoring schemes and they sometimes come through as applicants for teacher support training at MMU.
However, in terms of ring-fencing places I don’t think it’s something that we would be able to do. We’ve signed an access agreement and that doesn’t allow us to ring-fence places but we do have a joint strategy with the University of Manchester to work with local schools because although we want a healthy level of application from the local community we want to increase their aspirations so it’s great to see young people going into higher education wherever that may be rather than just coming to us or the University of Manchester.
How are the emissions of international students for their travel to and from their home countries being calculated?
We are starting to look at this issue some time ago and I remember that Marc Hudson (MCFly editor) asked me at a meeting who owned student emissions and I said ‘we do’ and I had no idea at the time that that was a big admission to make. I remember he thought it was quite a brave thing to say. We are monitoring all our business travel but it isn’t so easy when its comes to monitoring students although it’s lot easier to monitor their travel back and forth once they are here.
It’s certainly is an issue of concern for us and in fact a lot of our international work is now looking at establishing partners abroad. We have decided that we need to grow our international partnerships and instead of bringing more people here, the focus is on supporting the indigenous talent over there to grow their own education. So we are going to be sending staff abroad to help and so that will probably balance out the international travel by our international students. And international student travel is currently monitored through surveys that we carry out.
[From a subsequent email - ] “All Higher Education institutions have a voluntary action through a data return we make to the Higher Education Funding Council to start recording this. We have started to look at this, but the work is quite complex and requires a lot of data manipulation. The main theme is that home to term time address travel is viewed in 2 ways – European students make about 2 home trips per year, international outside EU are classed as one. As I mentioned to you we will be revisiting our carbon management plan this year to include scope 3 emissions of which this forms part.”
Are staff being encouraged to minimise their air travel?
Yes. Although business air travel has gone up 5.7% on last year, the amount of car travel has gone down by 3% whilst business travel by rail has gone up 22% , bus travel has gone up by 155% and tram travel has gone up by 272%. But we will have to monitor that because if we send more staff abroad for teaching then that will show up as an increase but if you look at international students then overall there will be a decrease in air travel. Obviously, business travel is a lot easier to monitor as people have to apply for funds but student travel isn’t as easy to keep tabs on although we do use surveys throughout the year to keep an eye on that.