Murdoch University – An analysis of its environmental awareness and implementation
Murdoch University publicises its sustainability objectives, which warrants an examination of how they are being achieved, as well as a comparison with other universities in WA, nationally and globally. Murdoch has listed sustainability as one of its four core values, alongside equity, social justice and global responsibility. I’m going to look at where Murdoch is meeting, falling behind and exceeding other universities in the area of sustainability.
A few things Murdoch is doing (that other universities in wa are also doing)
• Murdoch is buying green power.
Murdoch has been vocal in advertising its Greenpower program. As of 1st August 2010, Murdoch is purchasing 16% of its electricity needs from Greenpower, the only Government accredited renewable energy reporting organisation. Curtin is also doing this, purchasing 15% greenpower (ok, one percent less).
• Murdoch offers a sustainable development course.
So does Curtin University, in a bachelor of arts program. (An undergraduate sustainable development degree is sadly lacking from ECU and UWA’s offerings).
• Murdoch has recycling, water reduction and energy saving programmes.
Any university worth its salt reports on its water and energy use reduction program. Both UWA and Murdoch report on water, energy, green building, recycling, and “zoning”/landscape. Murdoch had plans to launch a website called “Green Planet” last year, which would report on and provide advice for all areas of sustainability to staff & students which did not eventuate. The waste, water and energy reduction programs are described on the websites in very limited terms.
Where Murdoch has shown leadership
• Murdoch’s recycling program is exceptional.
The number of bins and the extent of signage at Murdoch exceeds that of the other campuses. Talk to anyone from Curtin and they will tell you finding a recycling bin is a challenge. We’ve also installed signs all over the vending machines, and in the toilet cubicles, so it’s hard to get away from the recycling message. Our recycling goes to the Regional Resource Recovery Centre in Canning Vale which is the largest recycling plant in Australia. And while I have your attention – Recycle! We can recycle pretty much anything, as long as it’s dry(ish) & has no food scraps in it. That includes plastics (types 1-7).
• Murdoch students maintain the campus surrounds.
We have the largest campus in the state, and the areas which have been left are managed for flora and fauna, partially by commercial services, and partially by a student group which relies on volunteers and grants.
Murdoch is a leader in sustainability research. There is a Research Institute for Renewable Technology (RISE), an Algae Research centre, and the rumoured-to-soon-be-closed Environmental Technology Centre on the South side of campus, all active research centres in their respective fields. Among other fields, Murdoch researchers are also involved in research into energy-efficient wastewater treatment, Amorphous Silicon Solar Cells, social change & community research. According to the Murdoch strategic plan 2010-2015, establishment of a Murdoch University Renewable Technology Centre will be a priority in coming years.
• Murdoch is a power station.
Murdoch has purchased 363 photovoltaic panels, producing ~56Kw at a market value of ~$400k. This was done at the end of 2009 and represents a major and investment in a sustainable campus. It should be noted that the educational importance of the array outweighs the economic significance of the array, as green energy can be purchased more cost effectively from Greenpower.
•Murdoch has a Sustainability School.
The major difference from an undergraduate perspective is the presence of a specialised sustainability school which offers a range of undergraduate courses, including energy management, international development, sustainable development and business sustainability. The sheer range and interdisciplinary nature of the sustainability school sets Murdoch way ahead for undergrads seeking sustainability courses.
What Murdoch could be also be doing
• Get certified.
Murdoch is not certified in ISO 14001. To become certified, Murdoch would have to engage an Environmental Management System, which has become standard practise for many organisations. Considering Murdoch already makes efforts for a “greener campus”, certification in ISO 14001 would represent an attainable benchmark that students could understand and set a standard for other universities. Alternatively;
• Report on sustainability and meet the GRI standard.
Many organisations, including the Ball State University in the US, which is a similar size to Murdoch, have done their own sustainability reporting and registered it with Global Reporting Initiative. This is an international standard that recognises reporting on sustainability, including water, waste, energy reduction schemes, as well as overall organisation management and community / social and economic factors. Murdoch releases a 1 page sustainability section with its annual report, but this should be expanded upon, made to be a separate sustainability report and audited to meet GRI standards.
•Community and Student involvement in Sustainability events.
UWA is the leading university for community sustainability events with its annual Sun Fair which roughly 10,000 people attend. The fair is largely technology based which is a limited view of sustainability. Murdoch could show leadership in this area by hosting its own sustainability fair annually to show other approaches to sustainability. Murdoch could also follow Curtin University’s lead by starting a community-run vegetable garden on campus.
• End the plastic bottle trade.
University of Canberra went water bottle free in January 2011. The campaign to end the bottles was largely student-lead. Lost revenue from outlets was in part replaced by single-use water dispensers. Following UC’s lead would be in line with Murdoch’s values.
• A bike repair centre, greater involvement & autonomy in sustainability efforts in general, a sustainable food program, a sustainability award program, more bike paths to & from the university
• Incorporation of a bio-recycling system would set Murdoch up as a true leader in sustainability in WA.
MUST, the Murdoch University Sustainability Team, is a ragtag group of students involved in various sustainability projects around Murdoch South Street Campus.
Words by Phil Vlachou, Guild Council Sustainability Rep