Ethics and the environment at university

Many unions have Ethics and Environment Officers. Their aims are to help reduce emissions from the union and university. They also ensure that the dealings of the university are done ethically. It is taken very seriously by the NUS, who currently run several campaigns, including one encouraging the sale of fairtrade products only in unions

Schools can also help the environment in several ways as well. Many of these pieces of advice can be used in Schools, workplaces and universities.


Most of the environmental advice has come from Big Green Switch. The majority of the advice taken from Big Green Switch has been consolidated here

Paper Concious

Schools are a haven of paper products - from books, writing paper and art materials to paper towels and toilet rolls, schools in the UK gets through a large volume of paper every year.

With such a volume being consumed, it makes sense to use products made from recycled materials. Recycled products have come a long way over recent years and no longer carry the higher-cost, lower-quality stigma of old.

It’s also important to make sure you are getting the best out of all the paper materials in your school. Ensure writing paper is being used on both sides. Consider whether assignments and projects need to be printed out from computers or if they can just be viewed/marked on-screen instead?

Put used paper to good use in other areas of the school, and if you can't think of anything else to do with the paper, make sure it goes into a recycling bin instead of being thrown in with the main rubbish and sent straight to landfill.

Collect and recycle litter

Many schools traditionally have litter problems around their buildings and grounds with research suggesting that this is mainly due to the attitude of some children, particularly teenagers, towards care-free littering.

Addressing the issue of litter around your school can lead to a more appealing environment for all concerned and help to return suitable waste for recycling.

An important step in reducing waste is to ensure pupils are suitably educated as to the need to dispose of litter correctly. Encourage this by ensuring there are sufficient bins around the school and its outdoor areas for pupils to dispose of all their rubbish. Why not set a school-wide challenge to see how many recyclable materials can be collected over a term?

A safely organised litter pick can be a good way of gathering litter together and, for younger pupils at least, is often seen as a fun event, particularly if rewarded by drinks, biscuits or perhaps merit points for their efforts. Again, use the litter pick as an opportunity to reinforce the important issues regarding litter and recycling. For universities, it is a great way to improve the campus and also improve relations with local people.

Discuss and make people aware of their environment

Getting children interested in environmental issues from an early age is a good way to introduce them to the subject and encourage them to think about the future of the planet. Projects of this nature can also be quite practical and interesting for students, meaning that they are more likely to want to be involved in the assignments.

Try to keep pushing an environmental message throughout all lessons, reminding students not to waste paper or other natural resources. Getting children used to thinking in this way will help them to be more environmentally aware at home and in later life.

If students in your school are becoming very interested in the environment, then consider getting involved in the Eco-Schools scheme. By registering with the scheme your school will become part of an international group working towards education for sustainable development and a better quality of life for local and global communities

Becoming an Eco-School can enhance learning styles, raise the school profile and has potential money-saving benefits. It’s a great way to get your students interested in, and focused on, the environment and what it means to them.

Save water in toilets

A standard toilet cistern pushes 9-11 litres of water down the toilet pan with every flush. Yet the majority of toilet trips probably only require 50-60% of that amount for a clean flush.

The quickest and cheapest way to reduce the amount of water used in a toilet is to fill out some of the space in the cistern with a suitable object (such as a house brick wrapped in plastic) to prevent the cistern filling with as much water after each flush.

Alternatively, you could fit a flush-flow device to each toilet, giving full control over the amount of water used. The devices only flush while the toilet handle is held down and stop the water flow as soon as it is released. This allows you to flush exactly the amount of water you need each time to clear the bowl. Devices are available for around £20.

Run a recycling scheme

There are many ways to run recycling schemes. You could get students and staff to bring in their unwanted goods for a giant jumble sale, or maybe donate items to a local charity or recycling agency. You could even offer a swapping service where students can swap books, CDs, DVDs and computer games they no longer want, although you would need to get parental permission to run schemes of this type.

The less we consume, the less pressure is put on natural resources to make new goods. By educating children that second hand really is just as good as new and shiny; you’ll be helping to decrease the amount of demand for new items, also cutting packaging needs and the transport of goods.

A scheme like this can teach students the value of items, putting less pressure on parents at Christmas and birthdays. Getting young people used to buying second hand is also likely to help them save money in later life.

Switch Electrical Equipment off when it is not in use

This is one of the easiest switches you can make; when you’re not using a TV or computer, simply switch it off. That’s really all there is to it, and it can make a huge difference to the amount of carbon dioxide your school is chugging out into the atmosphere.

Some appliances will use a quarter of the energy in standby mode as they do when they’re on as normal. Yet, for this energy expenditure, they do absolutely nothing.

TV’s will use around 7 watts when in standby, and computers can use up to 15 watts. This means that a classroom of 20 computers and 2 TVs will use 314 watts in standby mode. If you leave these systems on overnight, you’ll be burning up nearly 314 watts all evening. Over a year this would cost £160 extra on your electricity bill, with absolutely no benefit coming out of the energy usage.

Cut waste in the canteens

Encourage students to only take the amount of food that they need, rather than piling their plates high and leaving most of it. Also try to cut down on the quantity of food being prepared, especially if the canteen staff are throwing a lot away at the end of lunch.

Invest in a compost bin

Think about investing in a compost heap or compost bins as part of a council recycling scheme. This is a great way to reduce the amount of organic waste produced by a school, as well as giving students a fun way to learn about nature.

Use Energy Saving Lightbulbs

Around 10-15% of UK energy usage is for lighting. This usage can be dramatically reduced by swapping traditional bulbs for energy-efficient bulbs.

Low-energy bulbs now come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different types of light fittings so, whenever a bulb needs replacing in your workplace, ask that it is swapped for an energy-efficient bulb. Better still, get all the bulbs in your workplace changed straight away.

The low-energy lightbulbs use up to 75% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb while still emitting the same level of lighting. This is because the old incandescent bulbs waste up to 90% of their energy through heat being emitted by the bulb rather than light.

The newer bulbs also last up to 10 times longer than traditional bulbs so they more than pay for themselves over their lifetime. In addition, the energy saved by the low-energy lightbulbs in your office could add up to as much as £100 each over their lifetime.

Switch Lights off

This is probably the easiest switch you can make. Rather than leaving a light on when you exit a room, simply switch it off. It couldn’t be easier!

The less time you spend with the lights on, the more energy you save. A normal bulb will use 60 watts of energy an hour, meaning that you could conserve nearly £1.50 worth of energy per year by just switching off one bulb for one hour every day. That’s enough energy to power one months worth of evening TV viewing!

Also try to consider how many lights you need on, or if you need one on at all. Is a lamp really necessary in a sunlit room? Do you need three separate sources of light in your kitchen?

By making small changes like this you’ll soon be saving energy and money.

  • A cut of just 6 hours of individual bulb lighting every day will save you enough energy for six-months worth of evening TV viewing!
  • Turning off one bulb for one hour a day will save you in the region of £2.20 a year. Therefore, if you can cut the 6 hours mentioned above, not only will you be offsetting your evening TV viewing for half the year, but you’ll also be saving over £13 per annum.

Buy more recycled Products

When purchasing workplace materials, make sure as much as possible of your stationary and other products are made from recycled materials.

Find out who orders the products for your workplace and see if you can find alternative items made from recycled material. Stationary is normally an easy place to start. Make sure that your printer paper contains at least 60% recycled materials if not more.

Also check your envelopes and letterheads as well as folders, files and other filing products. Look at your hygiene purchases too like toilet rolls and paper towels to check that they are also made from recycled materials.

  • Every ton of paper manufactured from recycled materials instead of virgin wood saves enough energy to power an average three-bedroom house for a whole year. It also saves 7,000 gallons of water – enough to fill 175 baths – and prevents the need to fell 17 trees.

Get rid of unwanted office equipment properly

If your company is upgrading some of its old IT equipment, make sure that the unwanted items go to a better home, rather than just the nearest skip.

As of July 1st 2007, any old electronic equipment needs to be disposed of in accordance with the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive. Any corporation not conforming to these standards could be in for a hefty fine; so making sure your business is disposing of equipment in a safe and environmentally sound way is vital.

There are an increasing number of computer and mobile phone recycling schemes now available which will happily take your old equipment off your hands and make good use of it. Many schemes are now related to charities, which use the old equipment to generate funds for their causes. Other schemes send the equipment to be put to use in the poorer communities of developing countries.

Another option availble to universities is to offer the equipment to students or the local community.

Computers and mobile phones can take hundreds of years to degrade in landfill sites so reusing the equipment for good causes can prevent the pollution generated from this unnecessary waste. Mobile phone batteries, for instance, can contain toxic substances such as mercury and cadmium which can leak into the soil and pollute the landscape around the landfills.

In addition to reducing landfill waste, putting the old equipment back into use around the world reduces the need to use energy to make new equipment.