Author: Bunmi Ekundayo (page 1 of 2)

Wishing you a happy and sustainable holiday!

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Estates & Facilities getting their holiday spirit on

Our office at Capital House is officially in the holiday spirit. On Friday, we had a Christmas jumper day to help raise money for Save the Children and through donations and selling cakes and biscuits we gathered together a total of £65.46. Thanks to everyone that participated!

A great infographic from 2degrees, which includes some fun facts about Christmas, helps to remind us that an unfortunate side-effect of the holiday season in the UK is typically an immense amount of waste. Apparently each year the UK throws away 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings and a staggering 74 million mince pies! To add to that, we throw away enough wrapping paper to stretch to the moon (that’s nearly 250,000 miles worth of wrapping paper!). And we’re not even digging into issues surrounding Christmas trees. Indeed, the holidays can make it easy to forget about sustainability, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keeping sustainability in mind fits well with the holiday spirit of giving – for all that we take during the holidays, we shouldn’t forget to give something back to our surroundings.

The holidays pose specific sustainability challenges for universities. Offices close for longer than usual and any students that live on campus return home or travel during the holidays. As such, it’s important to ensure that energy isn’t being wasted while nobody is here to use it! If you live in halls and have not left yet, please take a look at our holiday check list. Likewise, if you’re a member of staff, look over our shutdown guide to make sure that we save as much as possible over the break.

Shut down guide

Of course, the holidays are also a time for reflection and looking ahead to the future. We hope you’ve all enjoyed an exciting first term. It’s been a whirlwind for us with various staff settling into new roles and a slate of events including our Sustainability Forum, NUS Blackout and the initial stages of implementing Sustainability Champions. Meanwhile Kat, Tom, Sunny, Martin and Ann have been drafting a new sustainability strategy including new policies and programs that we’ll learn a lot more about in the coming year.

Indeed, 2015 promises to be even busier and more engaging. We’ll be hosting and supporting a range of events and initiatives including a packed Green Week in February, an Environmental and Ethical Careers Conference put on by EcoSoc in March and the full implementation of Sustainability Champions, among other things. Please see below for some important second term dates for your diaries – we’ll add more as they develop. We couldn’t be more excited for what the next term has in store and we hope you’ll join us!

Until then, we wish you all a very happy holiday. Just remember to keep it sustainable!

Upcoming events (term 2)

  • Tuesday, 27 January, 18.00: Second Sustainability Forum
  • 9-13 February: Go Green Week
  • Monday, 23 March, 10.00-16.00: Environmental and Ethical Careers Conference (EcoSoc)

Some news and stories

A journey around the Dark Mountain

[This week’s guest post comes courtesy of the Sustainability team’s own Justin Fisher, who recently completed an MA in Science, Technology & Medicine in History. It is a guest post because he didn’t write it at work. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability. See?]

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The beautiful Vol. 6. Photo credit: dark-mountain.net

Recently I had the good fortune to attend the launch of Dark Mountain Vol. 6 at Farringdon’s Free Word Centre. If you’ve not heard of the Dark Mountain project before, you’d be forgiven. Project co-founder Dougald Hine quipped at the event that when he asks people how they found Dark Mountain the answer is typically: ‘Well, it was late at night, and I was on the internet…’ Dougald admitted that this is exactly how he came to know the project’s other founder, Paul Kingsnorth, and I can confirm that this was the case for myself one night last December. It all might sound rather sinister. Launched a little over five years ago with a manifesto entitled ‘Uncivilisation’, Kingsnorth and Hine explicitly reject the dominant narratives of our society and are trying to facilitate the creation of new ones. Dark Mountain has become a powerful collective of artists and writers aggressively exposing the absurdities and contradictions of how modern society frames its relationship to nature. Above all else, it is showing the power of words and images in framing how we interpret and understand the world, and our place within it. They’re trying to tell new stories. They’re trying to destroy the ‘myths’ that sustain our society and drive our present crises: growth, progress, nature and civilisation. ‘We tried ruling the world; we tried acting as God’s steward, then we tried ushering in the human revolution, the age of reason and isolation. We failed in all of it, and our failure destroyed more than we were even aware of. The time for civilisation is past.’ Harsh words, indeed. But, are these not harsh times?

Before moving to London a little over a year ago I was broadly concerned about a number of environmental issues, and I made a conscious effort to do my part and encourage others to do theirs in reducing the environmental impacts of our lifestyles. I did the usual things like ditching my car for my bike, championing recycling and composting and ensuring that all lights and computers were turned off at work after every shift. But true change was surely beyond my grasp and not even on my radar. I was a History graduate working at a bookshop, not a climate scientist. As far as I was concerned, and as silly as it sounds to me now, environmentalism was a thoroughly scientific endeavour – one that I was deeply interested in, but not one that I could do very much about. And that was okay because I had some great scientifically-minded people in my life to take care of it. All I had to do was worry about it.

Then I began my MA at King’s last autumn, and, given my sympathies, the first module I enrolled in was environmental history. I had never encountered this before and was intrigued by what it might entail, and I quickly discovered what an important role the arts and humanities have to play in confronting the problems that we face. It was revelatory. I began to realise that as important as the science is, stories are equally so as they completely inform the way we interact with the world around us. One of the jobs of environmental history is to scrutinise these stories; to frame, un-frame and re-frame them; to examine how we have affected and been affected by our surroundings and what has driven that interaction. Finally, I felt like I had a place in this struggle, a way in, an angle that I understood. Graphs are great – I have some scientist friends who are giddy at the sight of them. But they don’t quite do it for me; I like words.

Dark Mountain

Photo credit: dark-mountain.net

Dark Mountain, as I understand it, is all about words. And images. And sounds. It’s about casting off our assumptions, our pretenses and our underlying denial. It’s about re-framing our world. And it asks really tough questions. In an intriguingly titled article published by Orion magazine in 2012, ‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist’, Kingsnorth took aim specifically at modern environmentalism, and especially its focus on ‘sustainability’. He asserted that sustainability, as it is commonly thrown about, ‘means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so.’ He went further:

This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”

I have struggled with that article ever since reading it. It’s hard to not take what Kingsnorth says straight to the heart. But, here I am, working for the Sustainability team. And so I sympathise too with George Monbiot, a friend of Kingsnorth’s who has been openly critical of Dark Mountain and what he interprets to be climate-defeatism. In fact, I have an abundant amount of hope for what this crisis means for humanity and our world, despite the powerful interests in opposition, seeing it as an opportunity to completely shape our future – an opportunity that doesn’t come around often. It’s beyond clear that the way we operate cannot continue, and we undoubtedly need to figure out how to live sustainably. But it is indeed important to question what narrative is driving that push for sustainability. Is it a desire for business as usual, minus the carbon? If so, then Kingsnorth has nailed it – it’s a futile exercise. If, however, it’s taken as an opportunity to re-orient our understanding of the world, and of our place in it, then there is plenty to be hopeful for.

So yes, the science is clear. And it’s very scary. Yet we still hesitate to change. What’s the missing link? The stories we tell – of growth and development, of humans and nature – must have something to do with it. What does this mean on an individual level? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I suppose to start with it means questioning the stories that are driving my own life. It means asking what is truly most important to me, and what I can do about that. It means not accepting that there is only one way forward, but many choices ahead.

I think it means we can change.

– Justin Fisher (justin.fisher@kcl.ac.uk)

Calling all Sustainability Champions

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Brilliant sustainability tips from King’s staff

This week we’re looking for staff volunteers to help us launch a new initiative, Sustainability Champions. If you have a passion for sustainability and want an opportunity to help drive change at King’s, then this is a great opportunity for you! This initiative seeks to embed sustainability within our departments, offices and labs through the efforts of King’s own staff. Volunteers can create teams of any size, from an entire department to a few colleagues, and will be working with the NUS Green Impact workbook with the full support of the Sustainability team. If you want to learn more and see a list of times and places at which you can drop by to chat with the Sustainability team throughout this week, take a look at our Sustainability Champions page.

This initiative is meant to complement our operational goals and to build on the efforts of King’s staff that have already been championing sustainability. Allison Hunter offers a great example. As Technical Manager for the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, Allison is responsible for technical provision across laboratories and relevant campuses. In this role she has managed to make some truly sustainable strides, and last month she was awarded a prestigious King’s Award for Sustainability. The King’s Awards recognise outstanding achievements of staff members as nominated by staff and students. In this case the Award recognised the successful implementation of a laboratory cold storage energy saving programme, which has saved 250,000kWh, or £25,000, per annum across six research buildings. Indeed, the efforts of staff like Allison can have a tremendous impact on the operations of the College, and we hope that Sustainability Champions will enable many more staff to participate.

What else is sustainable this week? EcoSoc is holding a Christmas dinner Tuesday evening at the Duke of Cambridge to reflect on the year and plan for the next (find details below). This seems a fitting end to an exciting term. Again, if you’re a staff member interested in becoming a Champion, swing by our drop-in sessions for a chat (and some cake!). We’ll be back next week for a final post before the holidays. Until then, keep it sustainable!

Upcoming events

Some news and stories

Educating Green Change

[This week’s guest post comes courtesy of Emily Shovlar, a third-year English Language & Literature student and enthusiastic EcoSoc member. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

Let’s call this post, in honour of one of the organisations it features, ‘a story of things going right’.

That’s how the 10:10 project’s website describes the hashtag it created. #Itshappening is a Twitter treasure trove of sustainable action, mostly in the uplifting form of smiling primary school children and their new solar panels. It’s also a story of community efforts to combat climate change and progress towards a green future. What better way, then, for the Environment Society at King’s (EcoSoc) to show its rapidly increasing numbers and momentum than by hosting a panel event entitled ‘#Itshappening: how educators and organisations are bringing about green change’?

On 25th November, EcoSoc gathered in the Franklin-Wilkins Building to have our hearts and minds made brighter by five brilliant speakers. We assembled a hot water machine, organic fair-trade tea and biscuits, rows of chairs, the speakers and ourselves. It was our second panel event of the semester, and there was a general feeling that we were getting rather good at this. The stage was set for inspiration.

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Mal’s enthusiastic arm span

The first speaker, tying perfectly in with #itshappening, was from the 10:10 project itself: Malachi Chadwick, its Communications Manager. Mal, his arm span enthusiastically growing with every statistic, described his work with the Solar Schools project, as documented on Twitter, in which 10:10 organises crowdfunding for primary schools to buy solar panels. There are now 66 ‘solar schools’ in Britain, funded by over £430,000 of community donations, with places for 20 new schools each year. The project is a success not only for the schools, some of which are entirely self-sufficient for power on sunny days, but for the whole community. Mal told us that 70% of online donors said the project made them feel part of a community, and that 45% of volunteers were keen to take part in more community projects afterwards. Even better, he pointed out that of the people who volunteer with the solar schools, 71% have changed their behaviours to save energy, and 29% have installed renewable energy in their own homes. By the time he got to these galvanising statistics, Mal’s arms were as uplifted as his audience.

This development of community is vital to sustainability: it’s all about localising, not globalising. It seems obvious to start with the education system if we want to instil green thinking, since, as Mal rightly said, schools are at the heart of their communities and connect to hundreds of adults and children alike.

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The inspiring David Dixon, sustainable headteacher

Our second speaker expressed this connection from his own position within education. David Dixon is Head of Mulgrave Primary in Woolwich, a deprived and highly multicultural school. He is a truly inspirational headteacher: under his care the school has improved its Ofsted ratings, encouraged more community cohesion (especially after the nearby Lee Rigby incident in 2013) and embarked on a curriculum of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). More impressive still, he completed a doctorate while Headteacher, focusing on a ‘green leadership model’. He asked: what do leaders of sustainable primary schools have in common? He found: they had childhoods immersed in nature, they had strong communities and support networks, they were confident and go-getting and were happy to be disruptive to the education system. David feels strongly that “Improving the understanding of the connections between nature, a man made world and social justice is the way to develop less destructive citizens”. His work on ESD lets children choose how they live, and think about what it means to be a green individual.

Third up was Yolanda Barnas. She was a special invite from EcoSoc’s own Annie, whom she taught in her role as Languages teacher at the Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls in west London. Passionate like all the best teachers, she showed us the outdoor classroom she’d created at the school, from a semi-landfill wasted space, and described her efforts over the years to make the school greener. These included a wildlife garden in a little-used space against a school building, and a silver sustainability award for the school’s travel arrangements. What she really showed us, at King’s, was how one diligent person can transform an organisation or even a system. Her efforts might be small-scale, in that they only affect one school, but the sustainability movement is founded upon such green-minded individuals who change their own communities. Her dedication is exactly what we all need.

After Ms Barnas came Simon Goldsmith, Head of Sustainability at the University of Greenwich. Greenwich is brilliant at sustainability: this is recognised by its awards including Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development, and by its top-ten position in the university Green League for the last five years. His stance is that since universities are brimming with future citizens, it’s vital to embed sustainability within them (EcoSoc couldn’t agree more). Simon, like Mal, offered an armful of brilliant statistics: Greenwich has reduced its carbon footprint by 22% since 2005 and plans to cut it by a further 40% by 2020. It’s installed 200 solar panels in student accommodation, and put power-down software on every single one of its computers. For those of us who took part in the King’s Blackout, switching off hundreds of unused computers, the last statistic in particular is a worthy goal.

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Simon Goldsmith sharing Greenwich’s sustainability secrets and plans for the future

Speaking of King’s, our final speaker was Tom Yearley, our very own Energy Manager, who featured recently on this blog. He only joined King’s in September but admits happily that his ultimate joy would be leaving the job, because King’s had woven sustainability into its ethos to such an extent that Tom became surplus. He gave us his vision for the coming years: student workgroups on sustainability, to make sure our voices cohere with his own plans; and large grants to improve efficiency in what is, we’re painfully aware, an un-green place of study.

Tom is guaranteed to encounter EcoSoc again, even more than the other four speakers – but it was a true privilege for us to encounter them all at once, in an evening of inspiration which confirmed all we hope to do to make ourselves, King’s, London and the UK greener. It was sustainably grown and articulately honed food for thought, and it was most certainly ‘a story of things going right’.

– Emily Shovlar (emily.shovlar@kcl.ac.uk)

Introducing Martin, the lab guy

Last week we learned a bit about Tom Yearley, our new Energy Manager. Tom is just one of a group of new staff to the Sustainability team. Energy is a broad and important strand of sustainability work at any institution. Also important to King’s is its laboratories, which on average consume 3-5 times more energy per square meter than other academic spaces. This is a big reason why Martin Farley has joined the team as the Sustainable Laboratories Project Coordinator. This week we will be looking into what Martin’s role entails, and why those of us working in labs ought to be thinking seriously about sustainability.

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Martin, bringing some serious sustainability into the laboratory.

‘I work with research labs to improve sustainability in short. Research labs consume a lot of energy, way more than most areas, and yet are often overlooked. There are a variety of areas we try and focus on like cold storage, ventilation, management practices, and about anything that produces heat. I try and bridge the gap between the researchers and facilities to find win-wins for everyone.’ In particular, Martin says he’d ‘love to further improve cold storage management here at Kings, though people like Allison Hunter have already been trailblazing in this area. For now I’ve been following in her footsteps. Cold storage is a unique challenge from the purchasing of freezers, to their maintenance and management, and finally their disposal, there is always something else to do. Kings isn’t unique in this respect I should add.

I worked just under two years at the University of Edinburgh doing a similar job, and before that worked in a few research labs and got a MSc in biology. Chatting around with lab people and learning how things and people work was pretty useful.’

Generally speaking, Martin urges everyone to be the change they want to see: ‘I really love working in and the idea of sustainability. Figuring out how as a species we’re going to survive on this planet without making it too painful for ourselves seems to be the big quest of our time, and it’s fun to be involved in a small way.’ Also, he suggests enjoying your local organic apples!

While he was at Edinburgh, Martin initiated an ongoing study into cold storage units, which seeks to discover the impact of various extreme cold temperatures on sample viability. Martin will write more in the future about laboratories to help those unacquainted to understand better what labs can and need to do in order to become more sustainable.

On another note, the Sustainability team is excited to welcome another new member, Ann Maclachlin, who steps into the role of Operations Sustainability Manager. We’ll share more about what she’s up to in coming weeks.

Unfortunately, due to last-minute scheduling conflicts, we have decided to re-schedule our second Sustainability Forum for January. The topic – green spaces and well-being – is one that we feel is very important, especially in a large city like London, and so we are very much looking forward to hosting the event in the new year. Keep checking back here for details, and we apologise for the late notice – we hope it doesn’t cause any inconvenience!

Until next time, keep it sustainable!

Upcoming events

Some news and stories

Tales of an Aspiring Sustainable Citizen

[This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Robert Zlokower, a MSc student in Sustainable Cities. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]
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Humble beginnings

The rainy monsoon season.

This was when the ancient ‘sangha’ – as the Buddhist community was and still is called – would settle down, coming together in huts or shelters to meditate and study together.

We are like them. The rainy season marked a change in the climate. And the settlement is like our campus. But rather than paralyse from fear or deny the climate, the sangha used it as a time to grow together. The same applies to today.

Climate change is the best thing to happen to humanity.

At no other time have we had such a clear knowledge of our potential apocalypse than now. When past speculations may have been based on visions and scriptures, today’s predictions are based on scientific evidence. So we really know what we’re up against.

So too do we know the solution: a society based on sustainable principles and technology. A society based not on war, but on working together for the common good. Technology that we actually already have, but just hasn’t been diffused enough yet. The sun’s increasing UV rays are actually a golden chance for humanity to band together. In order to save ourselves, we must commit to the biggest act of selflessness – that is saving nature.

This obstacle is an opportunity.

The 1968 photo of Earth from space ignited consciousness of humanity as ‘global’ and fuelled environmental movements. For sustainability, action is taken not only on a global scale, but also at national, city, community and citizen-levels. To be completely upfront, I’m only in the humble beginnings of sustainable citizenship. My desire started out of frustration when I went to B&Q home supply a few years ago to get a solar-PV panel for my shed, and the staff replied, “a what panel?” I was working in media at the time, managing a forum for the world’s opinion-leaders to debate sustainability, climate change and dwindling resources. I wanted to put these global problems into practical on-the-ground solutions.

Much of my activity is actually daydreaming. Any D-I-Y I undertake generally results in excessive man hours made up of swearing and broken timber (both accidental and purposeful). And as an impoverished student, I can barely afford a discounted pint at the student union, let alone investment in low-carbon technologies. Still, I’ve been inspired to have a go, so at least that’s a start. Here’s what I’m personally looking into as an aspiring sustainable citizen….

The boat life

I recently moved off-grid onto a narrowboat in the canal. I cruise along the Regents Canal and Lea River.

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The rooftop solar-PV array

I had the boat fitted with solar photovoltaic panels to charge my on-board batteries. This in turn powers my lights (mainly LED), water-pump and most appliances. To conserve energy, I try to keep to 12-volt appliances, and I leave my fridge off in the winter (I cool perishables either next to my water tank or on my deck). I periodically take on board drinking water from water points along the canal. I’d like to look into collecting and filtering rainwater from my roof. So with limited electric and water on board, I need to be consciously frugal with my resources. Or use my resources wisely – for example, when I cruise the boat, the engine heats the water tank, so it’s the perfect opportunity to later take a shower and wash the dishes.

My engine, apparently the same as in a London taxi, runs off of diesel. At some point, I’d like to explore an alternative fuel, for example used Cooking Oil. In the meantime, every time I run the generator for a high wattage appliance, I’m reminded by the noise and fumes that I’m sucking up fossil fuels. When you turn on your electric iron, are you aware that a power plant somewhere in the distance is guzzling up in 2 and a half minutes a finite resource that took a 2 and half million years to produce?

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And the beautiful rooftop garden

For heat, I have a solid-fuel stove. I collect wood chips for kindling from the rubbish heap of a woodcutter at a local hardware store. And I saw spare wood from a local city farm in exchange for volunteering as a gardener. The volunteer work also garnered me a discount with the locally-sourced vegetable service.

I got a composting toilet fitted, so I don’t need water to flush and I can convert the waste to fertilizer. I also have bokashi bins to compost food waste. Eventually I would like to use these wastes to fertilize the canal towpath or my garden on the rooftop, where I also store my bicycle (Btw, King’s College buildings have showers, which helps after long-distance cycling!). I’d like to explore building a small chicken-coup into the front deck of the boat.

Living the canal life means I’m usually surrounded by nature – marshes, woodland, fields, swans, geese, ducks, fish. It helps me as a city-dweller appreciate planet earth. And without a TV on board, I’m no longer brainwashed from TV commercials to buy useless junk that wouldn’t even fit in my little abode anyway!

I’m interested in applying for a mooring at a sustainable narrowboat community in a basin in East London. In the meantime, due to canal regulations I must change moorings every 2 weeks, which actually pushes me to explore a different neighbourhood every time (perfect for a KCL geography student such as myself!).

My goal with this boat is to get as close as possible to being an off-grid self-sufficient microcosm. I also own a house in East London that I’m renting out, but I eventually would like to convert it into a carbon-neutral bed & breakfast – replete with solar-PV panels and batteries, rainwater collection, composting toilet and composting boxes in an urban garden and whatever else I can do to make it off-grid like the narrowboat. A friend warned me I should watch out that someone might steal my ideas. I say bless the thief! If he can kick-start some sustainability quicker than me, then my hat’s off to him!

I’m inspired by Dick & James Strawbridge’s “Practical Self Sufficiency: The Complete Guide to Sustainable Living.” But to be honest, I really could do with a bit of help! At least it’s an opportunity to make some friends and have fun getting creative.

Sitting here in the boat typing this blog post, the rain pattering my steel rooftop, I’m reminded of the sangha, settling from sweeps of rain splashing their huts. I look out my window; a swan floats along night-time waters. Does the swan think about climate change the same way I do? Does she realise it’s a chance for unselfishness, compassion, camaraderie and fun?

The swan dunks her head into the water.

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– Robert Zlokower (robert.zlokower@gmail.com)

Let’s meet Tom, Energy Manager

So what does the Sustainability team actually do? You know we put together events like Blackout and the Sustainability Forum, and maintain this blog. But as important as these things are, they form only one part of what we’re up to. Our goal is to embed sustainability within King’s at all levels from operations and administration down to the actions of staff and students. One major focus of this work is energy, and this week we’ll meet Tom Yearley, our new Energy Manger, to gain some insight into what his role entails and what it means for everyone at King’s. So, Tom, what does the Energy Manager do?

Tom Yearley

The man himself, likely pondering how best to increase energy efficiency at King’s. Or surfing. He also likes surfing.

‘As Energy Manager at KCL and a professional environmentalist, my work involves minimising the environmental impact of the use of utilities at the University. This includes gas, water, electricity and oil. More widely the role involves influencing and reporting on the University’s carbon footprint, including broad factors such as travel, waste and procurement. Fortunately, sound environmental practice leads to financial savings and compliance with legislation which are also key deliverables for me. On a daily basis, I may have my head buried in a spreadsheet, be out and about engaging people in carbon reduction projects or completing energy surveys of buildings.

My primary challenge now is to accurately measure how and where we use utilities. This will enable us to demonstrate to staff and students exactly how great an impact they can have on not only the University’s environmental impact but also on its finances at an individual level.

I have enjoyed a varied career in the environmental sector over the past ten years. I have worked for private and publicly funded organisations including a chocolate factory, consultancies and upstream oil and gas. For the past five years I have been working in the higher education sector. Before KCL I was employed at the University of Reading. I passionately believe that the greatest contribution to a reduction in societies’ environmental impact can be made by responsible use of resources. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, including technological innovation and especially by changing the relationship individuals have with natural resources. Working at a university, I not only aim to influence our consumption directly now, but also hope to influence future leaders, providing a social norm for how business can be run with a minimal carbon impact.’

So, basically, Tom is an energy expert in a position to affect tremendous change. His top sustainability tip for everyone is to ensure that hot water temperature and timers are correctly set up at home. ‘Not only can this dramatically affect your carbon footprint,’ he explains, ‘it can also save you hundreds of pounds per year. It’s amazing how little changes that do not affect comfort levels can significantly alter energy consumption.’ And Tom knows his home energy; this year, he won an Observer Ethical Award for improving his own home’s energy efficiency. He also urges everyone to turn off unnecessary equipment that’s not in use at work (yes, he had a ridiculously fun time at Blackout).

If you’re interested in hearing more about Tom’s work and energy and sustainability at King’s, he happens to be participating in EcoSoc’s panel discussion tomorrow evening (see below for details). We hope to see you there!

Upcoming events

Some news and stories

  • International Maritime Organisation adopts Arctic protection measures: Are they enough?
  • New Fairphone offers sustainable, ethical option to mobile users (so probably everybody?)
  • The importance of communicating climate science consensus (because some people still don’t get it)

Gorilla Warfare: conservation in warzones

[Our second weekly guest blog comes courtesy of Richard Milburn, a PhD student in the Department of War Studies. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

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Eastern Lowland Gorillas in Kahusi-Biega National Park. Picture courtesy of the Pole Pole Foundation, a Congolese charity working to protect eastern lowland gorillas in the DRC and promote the sustainable development of surrounding communities (www.polepolefoundation.org)

Many of the world’s most iconic and endangered wildlife species are affected by war: tigers by ongoing insecurities in Assam, India; snow leopards by conflict in Afghanistan; and elephants and rhinos falling victim to conflicts all over sub-Saharan Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where wars of different intensities have raged for the last two decades and which remains insecure to this day, is home to the Mountain Gorillas, the rare Okapi gazelle, the Bonobo and the world’s second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon. Even outside of warzones, the effects or organised criminal poaching for the illegal wildlife trade is causing large losses of wildlife and creating insecurity for the people living around those animals, a situation which is perhaps best exemplified by rhino poaching in South Africa.

While war can be very damaging for wildlife and the environment as a whole, it can also be a most effective form of conservation. Areas such as the Korean Demilitarised Zone, where humans fear to tread, have become de-facto nature preserves. In such places, peace is more of a danger to the environment than war, for when peace comes intensive resource extraction often follows both to rebuild nations in the aftermath of war and to exploit previously inaccessible resources.

In spite of the many links between conservation and war, it remains an often overlooked topic. To help address this, the Marjan Centre for the Study of Conflict and Conservation was established in the War Studies Department. In addition to publishing articles and offering an MA module on this topic, the centre holds regular talks delivered by conservation and conflict experts and experienced practioners, and each year presents the Marjan-Marsh Award, in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, to an exceptional conservationist working in a region of armed conflict.

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War-damaged gorilla statue in Bukavu, DRC. Picture courtesy of the Pole Pole Foundation

Outside of the College, November 6th has also been set aside by the UN as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict to highlight the damaging effects of war on the environment, such as: the use of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam; the burning of oil wells in Iraq and Kuwait; and the ongoing impacts of war on the environment around the world, which are summarised in a very good recent article by the Guardian. Work is also underway to try to establish ‘ecocide’ as a war crime, and to generally improve the protection of the environment during times of war.

For those interested in conservation, protecting the environment during and after war is critically important. While arguments about the moral case for protecting the environment during war are often presented, these arguments regularly fall on deaf ears. Given the toll of human suffering as a result of war, arguing for the preservation of the environment can be difficult. For instance, around 5 million people have died as a result of war in the DRC over the last two decades, so dedicating resources to protecting gorillas or forests in that country might strike many people as a waste of resources. While the moral arguments for conservation are still valid, they are often not effective, and so more anthropocentric arguments need to be put forward, focusing on the importance of the environment as a threat to security and a tool for promoting post war recovery.

The loss and degradation of the environment undermines the natural resource base upon which many poor people in countries such as the DRC depend. Additionally, the sale of illegal ‘conflict-timber’ and ‘conflict-ivory’ may provide funds to actors in the conflict; Charles Taylor used conflict timber to finance the war in Sierra Leone and the illegal ivory trade has been linked to rebel and terrorist outfits such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Shabab. Further, since climate change has been identified as a ‘threat multiplier’ to international security, the preservation of large areas of forest in warzones, which act as carbon sinks, is vital.

While the exploitation and degradation of the environment may contribute towards armed conflict, it can also help to bring an end to war and support a resilient post war recovery.

‘Peace Parks’ are being established to support peacebuilding between countries previously at war. These are trans-border national parks where countries cooperate over their management and use that cooperation as a mechanism to help establish trust and create a platform for peacebuilding. Additionally, some ex-rebel soldiers are being given jobs as park rangers, helping to provide alternative jobs as part of the disarmament and reintegration process in the aftermath of war.

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Sunset over Lake Kivu, DRC. Picture courtesy of the author and the Pole Pole Foundation

The environment also provides a host of economic benefits. Forests help to anchor soil and improve its fertility, and also provide an array of valuable ecosystem services to support agriculture. Additional revenue may be generated from carbon offset schemes, such as the UN’s REDD+ scheme, that can generate millions of dollars for countries that protect their forests. Tourism may also provide revenue and improve the image of a country emerging from conflict.

However, in spite of the many potential threats to security and the support for post war recovery provided by the environment, it is important to stress its limitations.

The environment is rarely, if ever, a direct cause of conflict. Environmental loss and degradation may place stress on weak institutions and increase ethnic, religious or other divisions within society, but it will not cause conflict by itself. Additionally, illegal trades in wildlife and timber are rarely the sole, or even main, source of finance for actors in conflict; resources such as diamonds, gold and coltan that are easier to extract and transport and which have a higher value will tend to be more readily exploited.

Similarly, with post war recovery, Peace Parks have been shown to offer some benefits for peacebuilding, but this has usually occurred at a low level and not translated into broad-reaching effects. The economic benefits are also often intangible and difficult to generate revenue from. Ecosystem service valuation remains fraught with difficulty and is often poorly understood by people on the ground. Tourism takes time to establish, and even a well-established industry can be destroyed by any renewed outbreak of conflict or a fear of insecurity.

Clearly, then, conservation is not the main issue in warzones. However, it is still an important component of the causes of war and the processes required to build peace. Effective conservation work can reduce the likelihood of conflict breaking out, prevent exploitation of the environment to fund conflict and help promote post war recovery. The key is to ensure that the value of the environment is realised and that it is seen as a core component of preventing war and promoting peace.

– Richard Milburn (richard.milburn@kcl.ac.uk)

Big energy savings over Blackout weekend

First things first: A huge thank you to all of the student and staff volunteers that joined us for some serious energy-saving escapades (and a shout-out to those who helped by powering down their rooms as they left for the weekend). Fifteen teams of committed carbon-cutters helped cover fourteen buildings on three King’s campuses Friday evening. It couldn’t have been done without so much help, so thanks very much indeed.

So, how much energy did we manage to save?

King's Blackout results infographic

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The Denmark Hill crew, questioning their own sanity after auditing 130 rooms.

Quite a lot! We switched off 508 computers, 559 monitors, 522 lights and 131 printers, among other things. Overall, Blackout made for a 12% reduction in energy use compared to an average November weekend, amounting to roughly 8 tonnes of carbon saved (and nearly £2000, if anyone is counting). As such, each participant managed to save about 130 kilos of carbon. In one evening! If we did this every weekend, King’s would save 432 tonnes of carbon (and almost £100,000!) in a year. Of course, these numbers could be significantly higher with wider participation across the university. Among buildings we covered, the Henry Wellcome building at Denmark Hill saw the greatest reduction at a massive 46%. The Strand building fared pretty well, too, with a reduction of 21%, while the Macadam saw a 20% reduction.

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One of two Waterloo teams, rightly impressed with themselves after helping to switch off every classroom at FWB.

These are some pretty big numbers. But what do they mean, in everyday terms? Let’s just look at computers. If the 500 computers we switched off were left on over the weekend, they would have produced enough carbon to fill more than four London buses. That would be one stuffy commute! The 550 monitors, meanwhile, use enough energy over a weekend to microwave a little over 10,000 dinners (figures from the Carbon Trust). Of course, these are just a portion of the computers even in the limited spaces we covered. Across the five campuses, there are nearly 1300 student computing stations. That’s a lot of potential energy savings. Indeed, this weekend has clearly demonstrated what a major impact the simple actions of staff and students can have in reducing the College’s energy use. Combining those actions with the College’s own plans for increasing efficiency and reducing emissions can make a huge difference going forward.

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One of many Strand teams, who appear to be having the most fun ever.

Blackout has been a major focus of ours for some time, but it’s not the only thing that Sustainability has been up to. The NUS caught up with our Sustainable Labs Project Coordinator, Martin Farley, to ask him some questions about the importance of laboratories in sustainability, and he offered some insight into what his work entails (labs, by the way, were not included in Blackout). We are all getting ready for the launch of Green Impact next month, which you will read a lot about in this space as things develop. Beginning next week we’ll be offering glimpses into some of the most sustainable minds on campus through profiles of our team members. If you’re interested in what we’re up to, be sure to stay tuned.

Until then, keep it sustainable. And thank you once more to those who helped with Blackout last week!

Upcoming events

Some news and stories

King’s College London – An Unlikely Setting for a Superhero Showdown

[Our first weekly guest blog comes courtesy of Fossil Free KCL, a student-led campaign urging King’s to divest its holdings from the fossil fuel industries. The authors are Titus Michaud, a master’s student in Public Law, and Mark Horowitz, currently pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

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The Fossil Free movement at King’s seems to have ventured into cartoonish superhero and supervillian territory of late. It was supposed to be a cut and dry campaign, reliant on diligent spreadsheet work and rational pleas for long term prosperity and safety.

It was not to be.

The Fossil Free movement at King’s has been growing rapidly towards resolution. Our petition to demand that our university sell its shares in the biggest polluters on earth has soared to 1200 signatures, we have assembled some of the most vibrant and passionate young men and women of the university into the campaign, and together we have gathered the energy to lead our university into a sustainable 21st century.

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Fossil Free handing over their petition

At its peak, however, Fossil Free ran straight into a concrete block of status quo twentieth century thinking in the form of our Vice-Principal, a man who spent thirty years of his career at British Petroleum (BP). So it was to an ex-executive of BP that we made our case for the university to sell its shares in BP. Not surprisingly, we were told that the university would not divest and were given a series of rationalisations as to why business-as-usual was the best course of action. We think this supervillian’s chief power is his ability to slow down action under the banner of ‘pragmatism’. He is global warming’s answer to Mr Freeze from Batman: locking us into business as usual trajectory to runaway climate change.

As in any good cartoon, for every supervillian there is a superhero. When it comes to Fossil Free there is one global superhero shoulders above the rest – Bill McKibben. Like Superman, he has a Clark Kent side. He began life as a journalist for the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic and the Boston Globe, focusing on environmental issues. He wrote the first book about climate change for a popular audience in 1989, The End of Nature, and spent the next twenty years writing about threats to the environment, hoping people would be compelled by his lucid communication of the science and do something about it.

It took him two decades to admit the Clark Kent act wasn’t working. So he ditched the glasses and founded the 350.org movement, the first ever global grassroots environmental campaigning organisation. It takes its name from the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air (in parts per million) compatible with a safe environment (today the concentration is 400ppm!). If people weren’t paying attention to his books, perhaps they would pay attention to 5,200 rallies in 181 countries. This was what the organisation achieved on its first day of planned demonstrations in 2009. Since then the movement has moved from strength to strength as the pent up frustration of people around the world appalled at the lack of political action on climate change has found an emergency valve in the form of collective demonstration and direct action.

In fact, the more appropriate superhero is Captain Planet – this is very much a story of our powers combined doing far more than we could ever hope to achieve by ourselves. 350.org took on the Keystone XL pipeline, descibed as“the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet”, and has successfully prevented its completion for four years. Bill and 350.org also realised the environment would never win if they were to just play defence – protesting against every new oil pipeline and every environmentally destructive development. We would also have to play offence.

So Bill and 350.org launched the Fossil Free divestment movement – a way to bring increased awareness of the influence of the fossil fuel industry on the direction our world was travelling. It would not be able to financially bankrupt the industry – it is simply too big, too rich, and too strong. But institutional leaders around the world – including universities, churches, charities and ethically minded businesses – could vote with their investments to show that we no longer condoned what these companies are doing and their plans for the future (more – much more – of the same). Perhaps this would create a viable context for political action at a national and international level and a much needed price on carbon would be set.

It may have sounded fanciful three years ago but today no one is laughing. A paper from Oxford University released last year found that it was the fastest growing divestment movement in history. More importantly, out of the 41 divestment movements that it analysed – concerning pornography, tobacco and Apartheid in South Africa – every single divestment movement had produced the outcome it sought in the form of political action. Univerisities, churches and institutional investors around the world are divesting their shares in fossil fuel companies – totalling 50 billion dollars so far – with new commitments emerging each week . There are thousands of active campaigns across four continents. Exxon Mobil, the biggest oil and gas company in the world, is not laughing – it has just launched a public relations attack against the campaign.

Although we are but one dot in a world wide map of campaigns we were hurting a little after meeting a tentacle of BP wedged into the leadership of our university. What we needed was a little boost and out of the sky that boost came in the form of Captain Planet himself. Last Tuesday he visited King’s to lead a flash mob sit-in to stress the importance of univerisities leading the way in this important movement.

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Sophocles looking particularly stoic

So we sat outside the Great Hall of the Strand Campus, decked out in festive manner with balloons, banners declaring that ‘Real Leaders Divest from Fossil Fuels’, with both Sappho and Sophocles in solidarity in their Fossil Free shirts listening to Captain Planet tell us that King’s would inevitably divest, it was only a matter of time, but that they would need a push.

He emphasised the point that as important (and necessary) are the individual actions we take to reduce our environmental footprint, ultimately what is needed is collective action to affect political change. We had an opportunity as members of a globally visible and respected university to make a change with global effects by going no further than our own campus. King’s 8 million pounds invested in BP, Shell, and Exxon Mobil might only be a drop in the bucket but its decision to divest would have a huge effect on the conversation around the world about what sort of planet we want to live on. Even our very own Mr Freeze acknowledged our campaign was pushing conversation in the right direction.

You may have seen our mildly amusing poster alluding to the strong support for the campaign by King’s most famous alumnus, Desmond Tutu. Bill McKibben made the point that the university can’t continue to ignore the voice of the man who face greets you at its front door.

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Professor Planet imparting some words of wisdom

At his speech at LSE later that evening, one thing Bill said was that, as an introvert and writer, organising was not really his thing. He did not think he was good at it and had bumbled through. He had decided that the urgency of the situation demanded that he do things he wasn’t exactly comfortable with.

I think a lot of us sitting there were pleased to here this from a global superhero – actually, given his nervous, halting way of speaking and his academic bent, perhaps Professor Planet is more appropriate – that he didn’t quite know what he was doing. Because we sure as heck don’t!

However, like him, we are determined to keep bumbling along because we think the importance of dealing with climate change means that we have to do what we can, even if we are not superheroes.

We know how this comic book story ends but it seems our spreadsheet powers alone won’t do it. If you would like to help – whether superhero or not – we can be contacted on facebook at Fossil Free KCL.

– Titus Michaud and Mark Horowitz

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