Quo vadis, Campus Real Estate?

How can we unite and coordinate environmental efforts in Norwegian universities’ real estate departments?

Text: Torbjørn Bjønness, environmental advisor in the University of Oslo

Campus: green or greedy?

Most campuses are not as green as they appear. They consume vast amounts of energy, water and materials – which in turn generate huge climate gas emissions and pollute the local and global environment along the value chain. The economic cost related to the (over-)use of resources is also considerable. Because of these challenges most of the universities in Norway have a designated environmental coordinator or advisor. Their main task is to offer advice to project leaders, purchasers and the management in order to make the most environmentally friendly decisions possible. However, most of the environmental advisors lack local and national networks and arenas to get new ideas from and discuss challenges with. Additionally, although the field is important, the environmental advisors lack formal power in their organizations. As a result they often end up isolated and their impact is limited.

Bringing universitities, environment and real estate together

As an environmental advisor I have experienced some of these challenges in my work. I therefore took the initiative to invite environmental advisors and coordinators as well as leaders and project managers from four other Norwegian universities’ real estate departments for a two days seminar in Oslo on the 18th and 19th of September 2014. Blog_UiO2014_pic1

 Director of the real estate department at UiO, John Skogen, opened the seminar.

Plan, do, check. Act?

We started out with environmental management systems. All Norwegian universities are obliged to implement this, but only few have accomplished to do so in a holistic way.. We heard presentations on how different universities approach the task, and what kind of experiences they had made in the process of doing that. We got to learn that when Norwegian hospitals now are planning to become certified according to ISO 14001, there are quite a many similarities with universities when looking at the benefits they want to reap and the challenges they are facing. A particularly interesting presentation was given by Eddy Omrcen from the University of Gothenburg (www.gu.se), environmentally smartly delivered by video connection. University of Gothenburg has not only been ISO 14001 certified for a number of years, but also holds the high hanging EMAS certification. Accordingly, they have a lot of useful experience and insights. The seminar representatives were also given the opportunity to share their own experiences and discuss challenges and opportunities related to the implementation of environmental management systems in their organizations. Finally, the representatives got the opportunity to visit Blindern Student Garden. This is a student-run organization aiming at growing ecological produce and at the same time building a community of students from all over the university. We learnt how the students started the process ending up with the garden and the organization to keep it running, and how they are running it on a day-to-day basis. And of course: what they are growing.

Climate action: breeze or storm?

On the second day the topic was climate and energy. Hans Olav Hygen, head of section for climate information at Norwegian Meteorological Institute (www.met.no), started out by introducing climate change trends and how they are affecting the real estate sector today, and how it might affect the same sector in the future. Norwegian municipalities are already making their own climate action plans. Should we as real estate departments at the biggest universities in Norway do the same? One university that has indeed tried to limit their impact on climate change is the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). They have calculated their greenhouse gas emissions, and used the opportunity to share their experiences with us. The total volume of purchasing activities and the number of air flights stood out as the main sinners. Energy use is another big contributor. However, the biggest potential for emission reductions might sometimes be in other areas due to organizational priorities and resources. This makes it a complicated matter to discuss and an even harder challenge to address.

Award-winning green operation

Once we entered into the energy part of the program, we were fortunate to have Aspelin Ramm (www.aspelinramm.no) to present us what their award-winning maintenance team had achieved. We got an introduction to a culture that embraced environmental thinking and action, and that had turned it into a competitive advantage. The University of Oslo also presented how we successfully have managed to apply for, and report on energy efficiency projects funded by Enova, a public enterprise aiming to strengthen the work in converting energy consumption and generation into becoming more sustainable (www.enova.no). Blog_UiO2014_pic2

 Aspelin Ramm is an innovative company. Here they are introducing bees to the Vulkan-area in Oslo! Source: Aspelinramm.no

Visiting tomorrow today

The last post on the program was a visit at Powerhouse Kjørbo (see links below), an existing office building renovated to an energy plus house level. This means that the office building will produce more energy in its coming lifetime, than the energy it took to renovate it, and the energy spent to run it for the next fifty years. For more information about the project, please see this article on Treehugger: http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/powerhouse-kjorbo-worlds-most-environmentally-friendly-office-building.html

Drive the Talk

Now you might wonder: how did we get to the Powerhouse ? Talking about renewable energy – we used an electric car share pool made available at UiO’s campus. The five-car long parade was also a way to introduce electric cars as a mean of transport to the participants. Taking the event itself seriously: our two lunches were meatless, and our evening dinner seafood of species that are not subject to overfishing. Hopefully, the seminar brought those of us working on environmental issues at the campuses of the Norwegian universities one step closer. It is one step forward towards taking action and have been addressing some of the shared challenges we face. One effect it surely has, is that it’s now easier to ask for advice and utilizing the resources amoung us, maybe even start joint projects. This seminar might also foster a better coordination of the environmental efforts throughout the university sector in Norway. NSCN has the potential to play a part in that.

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