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Greening the Union

Mar 14 2007 10:08
Ashley Brown
ICU passed a new environmental policy yesterday evening, creating new incentives and instructions for the Union and its clubs.
Council discussed environmental and Fairtrade policies

A new environmental policy has been passed by Council, after it was supported by over 1,300 signatories. That is nearly more than the turnout for this year's sabbatical elections and around 400 more than those who voted for John Collins last year.

The paper sets out a number of aims, including:

  • Reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2009 and achieve carbon neutral status by 2012.
  • Reduce waste sent to landfill by 50% by 2010.
  • Reduce water consumption via water conservation techniques.

Carbon Emissions and Tours

The new travel zones

Every term the Union makes funding available for "tours", where clubs take an excursion to somewhere out of the area of their normal activity. Rough calculations have shown that the majority of ICU's carbon footprint is as a result of tours, specifically air travel associated with them. Indeed, one trip by the rugby team accounted for almost one quarter of all carbon emissions of tours and around one eighth of the total emissions of the organisation as a whole. In all, approximately 240 tonnes of carbon are added to the atmosphere as a result of these trips.

A key part of the environmental policy is a new incentive to take the train rather than the plane, as was the case with the rugby team. The paper defines two zones, based on journey time by train, where subsidy for flights would be reduced. In zone 1 no flights will be subsidised at all, with train travel subsidised at the standard rate of 32%. Of course, should the plane prove to be 32% cheaper than the train then this provides no incentive. In zone 2 flights will be subsidised at 16%, with trains remaining at the standard rate of 32%.

There is some doubt over the green credentials of high-speed trains, particularly in the UK where electricity is supplied by gas or coal. In France, however, carbon emissions due to the Eurostar and other TGV services are greatly reduced due to over 80% of the electricity coming from nuclear power stations.

The use of on-site renewables and carbon-neutral technologies is recommended where feasible, as another measure of reducing an estimated 140 tonnes of carbon emissions due to the building itself.


No more of this please

The policy also calls for an end to disposal skiffs, paper or polystyrene plates and plastic cutlery, preferring a reusable solution instead. Hard-wearing plastic skiffs are recommended, with real plates and metal cutlery making a comeback. The last time it was tried, the metal cutlery mysteriously disappeared, presumably into the rooms in Beit Hall somewhere.

Also included are provisions for improving recycling provision and a composting scheme for waste from catering. This can presumably be used to fertilise the new plants which have sprung up in Beit Quad.

Water Reduction

The UDH was packed with councillors and supporters

A reduction in water use forms yet another part of this wide-ranging environmental policy, with aerated shower heads and cistern dams featuring amongst a number of water reduction methods.

New toilets constructed as part of the ongoing building redevelopment are expected to feature the latest water-reduction technology, with infra-red sensors and percussion taps reducing flushing of urinals and water left flowing when not required.

A "grey water" solution is suggested, were rainwater is collected and used to flush toilets. This is somewhat controversial, as the cost of adding this to the existing building has been described by the architects of the redevelopment as quite high.

Ethical Behaviour

In the same council a Fairtrade policy was passed, bringing Imperial one step closer to "Fairtrade University" status.

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Discussion about “Greening the Union”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
1. Simon   
Mar 14 2007 12:01

A lot of good things came out of that Council meeting, shame it lasted 4hrs.....

Fairtrade, Green, ICU Masterplan, NUS, all important.....

Ammusing on the Green side was the throwing out of the "carbon trading" section, due ot some members of council being dubious about how it would work and the legality. Not sure they realised that it just means that the targets set by the policy now have to be met by ICU on its OWN, with no margin to make up any shortfall.

More comical was the verging on farcical argument about NUS Extra, based on a summary of a motion that did not reflect the motion itself (and in fact was suggesting the opposite). Probably as well the NUS stuff was at the end, or we could have debated some of it for much longer.

I must say, i was pleased to see a few non-council member NUS delegates join us, shame they didnt ALL see fit to listen to council debate the positions they should take on the refered issues.

Mar 14 2007 12:05

Particularly one delegate who has no problem turning up to council to have her motions thrown out ...

Mar 14 2007 13:22

I did not enjoy Council

Mar 14 2007 17:01

As someone who has to design and build low and zero carbon projects, I think the union should first start to stop wasting electricity and gas. Get some PIR sensors, and turn off all the computers when not needed. That would be a start.

5. James   
Mar 15 2007 09:29

"...throwing out of the "carbon trading" section, due to some members of council being dubious about how it would work and the legality."

"...the targets set by the policy now have to be met by ICU on its OWN..."

I think that was the whole point. Why set targets that we cannot meet, yet we are happy to pay money to cover our backside. If the target was reasonable, we should put every effort into making it happen, not by trading it. As Dan L and many others have said, there are lots of little things that make the difference - investments into the building not investment in the carbon trading.

Oh, so that you know, Mark Flower just so happen to work with one of Imperial's expert on carbon emissions, capture and sequestration.

6. av   
Mar 15 2007 17:57

I was actually thinking the otherday about when the starbucks in cambridge used to give you a discount for bringing your own mug - they should really adopt this policy in the union. It would save on washing up and save the environment. And anyway, food on a plastic spoon tastes really rubbish (not that there was much to union food anyway)

Mar 15 2007 18:00

Just thinking that with this current obsession towards fairtrade food, are we going to put a zoned 'tax'/'charge' on our food as well, with all the insane foodmiles that a single bar of chocolate can have travelled coming from a third world country (or atleast the definition of 'fairtrade' seems to imply that it must have come from a 3rd world country).

It all seems like double standards to me.

Mar 15 2007 18:18

I believe cocoa beans in a fairtrade chocolate bar will have travelled exactly the same distance as cocoa beans in a non-fairtrade chocolate bar....not unless they've got cocoa plantations in Bournville now?!

I think you've not quite got the idea of Fairtrade.

Mar 15 2007 18:28

As a mountaineer going to the Alps, from a logistical point-of-view I'd love to take the train as it would allow me to carry more equipment and items such as stoves without having to worry about airlines getting p***y.

However, the train is 4 times more expensive than a flight to Turin and takes around 4 hours longer than the tube from my house, a coach to Stansted, a flight to Turin and drive from Turin to the article states, where's the incentive to take the train?

Nice to know all the future tours I will be attending are going to be more expensive (whether or not we get the train).


10. Simon   
Mar 15 2007 18:56

On the "Fairtrade" items costing more "carbon" to bring to the market, i think you will find they probably travel about as far as the average non-fairtrade item, and also if memory serves Fairtrade is committed to using the most eco-friendly source of transportation for their products, IE not flying them around, but using ships instead.

Though Kirsty can no doubt quote chapter and verse on that one for you.

Mar 15 2007 19:02

Simon, don't encourage her!

Mar 15 2007 21:17


there is a rather tasty clause in the policy where CSB can over rule any green style decision in "exceptional circumstances".

In fact the only things that stopped me crying at that council was the fact that nothing was enforcable, and once the current round of fairtrade/green fans have passed everyone will forget and it'll be one of those dead and buried policies.

Prayer room anyone?

Mar 16 2007 03:14

Of course the current fairtrade/green fans have at least 3 years left at College each...

14. Simon   
Mar 16 2007 14:12

And one has a year in a Union position, prime position to keep a eye on things.

How the Union is going to compost its waste is going to be interesting though!

Mar 16 2007 15:06

Erm... composting bins? I have three at home :D Helps with growing stuff like carrots and courgettes and potatoes and daffodils. And when the Local Council decided to reduce the amount of rubbish collections you are allowed.

Surely it's just a case of putting a couple for food waste somewhere. How about blocking the way into canoe club stores (only joking Ally...)

16. ironic   
Mar 16 2007 15:30

How is the Union going to compost its waste? It shouldn't be too difficult seeing as they serve compost for lunch every day anyway. Perhaps they should just cut out the middle man and put the stuff straight into the bins from the hotplate?

Mar 16 2007 17:56

well, yes, true a fair trade chocolate bar will probably have been grown in the same place as a non-fair trade bar, but you have to consider all the other stuff the college are trying to lump onto you these days with the 'fair trade' label, such as the 'fair trade' flapjacks and muffins. Last time I checked you could still grown oats and wheat in this country, together with milking cows and yeah... OK not all the sugar we require can come from EU sugar beets so I will give your provision there for preferencing it, but why should I have to pollute my planet to pay father akbhal an extra penny for some wheat?

18. hmm   
Mar 18 2007 13:01

Actually, with a lot of those products you'll find it is only the sugar and cocoa that are fair trade rather than all the ingredients.

Mar 18 2007 18:04

Correct. For a flapjack to be certified Fairtrade the products which are used in it which would have originated from thrid world countires anyway should be Fairtrade. This will include sugar, honey etc. During Fairtrade Fortnight Beit Hall residences cooked Fairtrade Cakes and things using a selection of Fairtrade Produce. Just putting Fairtrade Sugar in a cake made it a legitimate entry and we will be sending recipes to the Fairtrade Foundation for their cookbook.

I would also like to point out that a lot of people recently have been saying 'College's Fairtrade Status' as if it is something being forced on us by college. I would like to point out that Students have been lobbying College to go Fairtrade for over eight years. It was Union policy to lobby college to go Fairtrade for the last three years. How come now we have actually got somewhere and College are finally listening does everyone have a problem?

20. hmm   
Mar 18 2007 18:42

Yeah we do. I'm not paying more for a bloody chocolate bar. Better to buy a standard one and donate the difference to charity if you really care about Third World farmers

21. hmm #1   
Mar 19 2007 09:13

"How come now we have actually got somewhere and College are finally listening does everyone have a problem?"

Because they're people ranting on Live! discussion boards. They see it as their job to have a problem with things, and may even consider their rants to be making a contribution to the sudent body, e.g. defending students' absolute right to slightly cheaper chocolate from those suggesting they can afford an extra 5p just so that someone else, somewhere else, is not being exploited to make it.

(And no, I'm not including those who genuinely believe that the WTO can do more to help producers than fairtrade companies can- just those who are so vehemntly opposed to even being given a choice that costs 5p more than their usual chocolates, just because they consider their own 'poverty' to be so dreadful.)

Mar 19 2007 09:38

"Better to buy a standard one and donate the difference to charity if you really care about Third World farmers"

Erm... no. Charity does nothing to help people out of poverty. With Fairtrade you are not making a charitable donation you are investing in a scheme that encourages people to help themselves. By offering them a fair wage and educating them on increasing their yield and diversifying their crops. I understand that some people just want cheaper chocolate and I would defend the right to have a choice. However this has to work both ways because equally so there are those (not just me =D) who do want to buy Fairtrade.

(Just for the record, some Fairtrade brands eg. Cafedirect, are now the leading brands in the UK and especially with Fairtrade being the fastest growing market in the UK you will often find that the Fairtrade alternative is actually cheaper!)

23. Hmm.   
Mar 19 2007 11:00

"Erm... no. Charity does nothing to help people out of poverty. With Fairtrade you are not making a charitable donation you are investing in a scheme that encourages people to help themselves."

That's an extreme simplification, and most unfair on all those development charities who DO aim to provide the means for people to work their own way out of poverty...

Mar 20 2007 21:41

I've always had doubts over how 'fair' Fairtrade products are.

25. ...   
Mar 21 2007 01:27


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