'Our people make a difference' the watchword

Cromwell College pupils take climate change strike action last month. PHOTO: CROMWELL COLLEGE
Cromwell College pupils take climate change strike action last month. PHOTO: CROMWELL COLLEGE
In light of last month's climate change action by high school pupils, Jen Rodgers, sustainable practice adviser at Otago Polytechnic, provides a stocktake of her institution's initiatives in this area. 

I would like to let the youth of Dunedin know that Otago Polytechnic is committed to carbon neutrality by 2030.

Climate change is upon us. Here in Dunedin we are experiencing warmer sea and air temperatures and more storm events.

I work at Otago Polytechnic in sustainable practice and I want to share what we are doing now to reduce our carbon emissions, with the acknowledgement that we still have many systems we could change.

This action is in two strands: making our campus operations more sustainable; and in ensuring all of our graduates can carry out their profession sustainably. This is how we work towards our vision: "Our people make a difference".

We are the first in the education sector to have joined the Climate Leaders Coalition NZ. This places us alongside major companies such as Spark, Z Energy and Air New Zealand. Through the coalition we have made a public commitment to:

•carbon neutrality by 2030.

•80% reduction in waste to landfill by 2021.

•30% energy use reduction in existing buildings by 2021.

•80% energy use reduction in new buildings by 2021.

•planting 3000 trees by 2021.

•100% of our undergraduate programmes directly addressing issues of sustainable practice by 2021.

We are well on the way to delivering these commitments and have undertaken a series of actions.

In 2012 the decision was made to replace our three Forth St coal boilers with two woodchip boilers, which utilise a byproduct of Otago forestry operations; the result is a 90% reduction in carbon emissions.

Improvements to the system include running only one boiler when there is reduced heating load; changing corridor heating from adjustable thermostatic values to fixed temperature valves; and adjusting boiler start times according to outside air temperature.

Overall the calculations indicate our CO2 reduction in the heating system is 536,000 kilowatt hours/7.6 tonnes of CO2.

We also run electric heating in some parts of our campus so have made changes to those systems to reduce our load/emissions, including replacing 1500 fluorescent lamps with LEDs, and are in the process of replacing an additional 1250 lamps, and improving campus-wide head pump control to remove out-of-hours use.

We are also transitioning to a 100% electric vehicle/hybrid fleet.

We reduce our waste to landfill emission through on-site composting (for which a new system with increased capacity is now being developed), removing 500 cups per day from landfill through use of ceramic cups at campus cafes, and installing air hand dryers in all remodelled and new-build bathrooms (removing paper towels and associated emissions).

A colourful, vibrant home to 231 young people, Te Pa Tauira-Otago Polytechnic Student Village is another innovative example of our sustainability principles.

At 6000sq m, it is the largest timber-framed structured building by height and volume in New Zealand. It is also the first student accommodation complex of its size to use prefabricated cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, which are up to 80% lighter than concrete and 100% sustainable.

Extensive heat loss and moisture analysis were undertaken to ensure the most efficient building envelope, while ensuring there would be no long-term cavity mould or moisture issues.

This has resulted in a highly energy-efficient building. As an example, bedrooms and apartments only require a 300-watt heater as a heat source.

Elsewhere on our Dunedin campus, staff and students are encouraged to participate in events and challenges throughout the year that involve them questioning practices around waste, consumerism, travel, biodiversity and food, all of which can lead to personal reductions in carbon emissions.

When students study at Otago Polytechnic they can expect to learn how sustainable practice applies to their chosen study path, and be involved in industry projects that address sustainability issues.

We have a dedicated team of learning and teaching specialists who help design new qualifications and are continually working to improve our learners' experiences and outcomes.

At the heart of their work is integrating sustainable practice and thus climate change into those experiences. You can see this as an emphasis in the expectations of every graduate when they leave - in the lessons, in the assessments and in the experiences they are exposed to.

Increasingly, this is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). The UNSDGs broaden the conversation to a global level: our learners understand how what they do has an impact at a global level.

While every graduate is expected to be able to carry out their profession in a sustainable way, we have some programmes that focus on sustainability. The hands-on education at Otago Polytechnic means that learning about sustainability is not just knowing more about it - but learning by taking action.

The graduate diploma in sustainable practice has helped learners turn bright ideas into real and evidence-based action for sustainability.

Last year we launched the highly innovative bachelor of leadership for change, which brought the opportunity to do a qualification that makes the world a better place to school-leavers and those who do not already have a degree.

Learners can now graduate with a bachelor of leadership for change focusing on climate action. This, as far as we can find, is unique not just in New Zealand but also globally.

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