Colleges are the key to developing sustainable behaviours

Angela Cox in pump room

Angela Cox – Borders College Principal

Students are more engaged in the world around them and feel more empowered to influence and effect change within their communities, organisations and even governments than ever before. 

Colleges are in the powerful position of having the opportunity to influence the mindset and values of the many thousands of students that come through our doors each academic year. We need to grasp this opportunity to change the behaviours of our students and our communities through demonstrating the importance of moving towards a more sustainable society, preparing our students to be global citizens and committing to a circular economy. 

We will not fully realise the opportunity of transitioning to net zero unless there is an equal focus on developing the understanding of how our individual behaviours contribute to a circular economy, alongside the technical green skills colleges are developing and providing.      

The interconnected relationships colleges have with industry, our community and our students enable us to act as the catalyst for behavioural change and take a leading role in the cultural transformation of how we live and consume energy. We need to be the exemplars of how to operate a business sustainably and insist on practice that ensures the behaviours we encourage become habits that our graduates adopt in their future life and work.  

Our estate has already won a Green Gown Award for our heat from the sewage system, which is the first of its kind in the UK. The development sees a heating plant using sewage/wastewater as a sustainable heat source at the Scottish Borders Campus. The technology extracts the natural warmth contained within this water and transfers the heat to the clean side of the heating system via a heat exchange mechanism. The recovered heat is then amplified via heat pumps to generate the appropriate temperatures for use in buildings. The system now provides around 95 per cent of the heat needed by the Galashiels campus and does not impact on the normal operation of the local wastewater network.

With the current focus on the use of electric vehicles, Borders College was an early adopter in the use of electric cars as part of our fleet. With service costs of around £300 per car per year and CO2 savings in excess of 18,500 kg, the investment that we have made is contributing to our sustainability targets and responding to the climate emergency. 

We have introduced a travel hierarchy with staff which forces staff to reflect on the necessity of the journey and use of an electric car first, as a part of any request for a vehicle to carry out College business when public transport is not a suitable alternative.

The average battery life of the cars is over seven years and running costs are around 3p per mile, with a projected life expectancy being up to 20 years. The benefits will continue to contribute to the carbon savings of the College for many years to come.

Electricity for the charging points at Scottish Borders Campus is generated from our onsite Solar panels, which additionally help to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce running costs.

Angela Cox standing next to solar panels

In addition, we have installed a total of three charging points: two at Scottish Borders Campus and four at the Hawick Campus, which allow six cars to be charged simultaneously.

Our newly launched Renewable and Energy Efficiency Training Centre in Hawick is training the current and future construction industry to be able to save energy by building in a way that is zero-carbon and uses very low amounts of energy.  

The Training Centre also provides the construction industry access to the latest and emerging technologies, so that they are aware of the alternatives and can adopt into their business with the support from Borders College. 

At Borders College, our staff and students have a strong sense of identity and belonging; our local towns, the heritage, the customs and traditions, all shape our feelings toward our local community and make us who we are. The region’s natural capital provides us with more opportunity to transition to a green economy than most, and our communities have a sense of responsibility as guardians of the future. Our land-based students are leading a research project to measure natural capital at one of the many estates we work with.   

The sustainability strategy at Borders College is underpinned by the interlinking of behavioural change, global citizenship and the circular economy, and our purpose-driven ambition will be achieved by working in partnership with others and developing a belief in ourselves that we can make a significant contribution to the race to net zero. 

We are taking a leading role in our community to find our own solutions and challenge those long held behaviours, but the impact will not be seen immediately, so having a team that remains enthusiastic and driven to achieve our strategy, even when other priorities emerge, is essential.   

All students will have sustainable practice embedded into their programme, with opportunities to innovate the current practice within their sector. This education programme is being expanded into our schools and community through our housing associations.    

So, for us, our legacy of changing behaviours is as important as new skills development. A reduction in our waste and increase in ground source heat pump courses has equal importance. This impact of behavioural change is not easy to measure, but is essential.

Colleges are about developing people, not just skills, and that is why the ambition at Borders College is about developing Global Citizens who will go on and make the world we live in a better and more sustainable place. 

You can read the Borders College Sustainability Strategy online at: www.borderscollege.ac.uk/sustainability

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