Strategic Plan: our sustainable commitments

One of the University’s commitments, of interest to many people, is to increase the opportunities for staff and students to travel sustainably around Oxford on a bike. So how are we delivering that please?

There are lots of ways that the University helps to encourage cycling and make it an attractive option. Safety is a top priority and all staff and students can sign up to take a free cycle training course (six hours in total). This covers everything from basic bike handling skills through to advanced skills to help with cycling in challenging traffic situations.

Other initiatives include on-site bicycle maintenance (labour costs are covered by the University, with only any parts charged for), an interest-free loan scheme to purchase a new bike and subsidised bike lights and locks can be purchased from Security Services. You can also talk to us about setting up a pool bike scheme in your department.  And don’t forget that cyclists can claim 20p a mile for any business travel made on their bike during the working day. 

Please visit our Travel website for the full details of what is on offer.

There is also mention in the Plan of improving the local environment through traffic- free cycle and pedestrian routes...

Yes, we work closely with departments and Oxfordshire County Council on schemes to help both cyclists and pedestrians, and the money charged for commuter parking on University sites is ring-fenced into the ‘Green Travel Fund’ which is spent on sustainable travel initiatives. This ranges from more cycle parking or retro-fitting showers into our buildings all the way through to investment on the public highway, such as the (OPT award winning) raised junction table at Broad Street / Parks Road outside the Kings Arms which the County Council couldn’t have delivered without our funding support.

We’re also always looking at how to create better spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. The Radcliffe Observatory Quarter is a good example, with convenient access through the site for those on foot and bike. It is a virtually car free space as no commuter parking is provided and all contractor vehicles are parked securely underground and out of the way.

Another commitment in the Strategic Plan relates to ensuring our buildings comply with the highest standards of environmental sustainability – how are we working to deliver that?

Whenever we are carrying out a capital project, either to refurbish a building or when creating something new, we strive to ensure we end up with a comfortable and energy-efficient building. Large projects we are currently working on include the replacement Tinbergen and the Old Power Station.

We’ve recently produced a substantial Sustainability Design Guide, particularly aimed at project design teams and project managers. This provides a framework to minimise the operational energy consumption of buildings and to deliver wider sustainability benefits that mirror University policy requirements and the Estates Standing Orders.

How will the Guide help?

The proposals a design team make to a building project could make a difference of thousands of tonnes of CO2 over the building’s lifetime. They will also have a significant impact on the occupying department’s energy and maintenance costs. The Guide is a comprehensive document to help ensure all aspects of building sustainability are addressed.

Is having this guidance new for the University?

Not entirely, we’ve been providing internal guidance on the sustainability of all capital projects since 2008. In 2009 the existing guidance was supplemented by a requirement that all capital projects (with a construction value over £1m) would achieve the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) Excellent standard. 

In February 2017 the University elected to move from its BREEAM Excellent requirement to using the Passivhaus methodology to guide its projects.  The design guidance in the new Sustainability Design Guide supports the delivery of this policy change and summarises expectations in other areas of sustainability.

The expectation is that new projects will obtain Passivhaus certification, but with the understanding that project managers may exercise discretion over the feasibility of full certification – depending on the unique requirements of the building and its users. 

We hear a lot about Passivhaus – what is it?

I’m glad you asked that as there are a lot of myths flying about, including one that suggests you can’t have any windows that open – you can!

To sum it up simply, Passivhaus is a voluntary building performance standard that is based around a high level of occupant comfort while using very little energy for heating and cooling.

It all sounds great – how can we get involved?

We all need to do our bit to help deliver our ambitious new carbon target of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030.  Lots of amazing work is already being carried out across the University by our Green Impact teams. Please get involved with any initiatives your department is delivering. If you don’t have a Green Impact team yet in your work area – you really need one! Please do speak to us about getting one set-up.