The University of Tasmania is aiming to be the one of the most sustainable universities on the planet.
Here we talk to the driving force behind these ambitious plans, Corey Peterson, who has been appointed the inaugural Sustainability Mission Integrator at the university and is accountable for achieving this goal by 2024.
As a forward-thinking organisation, you were the second Australasian university to take up the Warp It reuse system nearly four years ago. Tell us how it went.
It actually took two and half years to get management on board to support implementing the system, but since then we have embedded it and are reusing items across all three of our Tasmanian campuses.
Currently, Warp It facilitates the transfer and claiming of goods such as furniture, stationery, office accessories, fixtures and fittings. and we are now working to expand that capability and encourage greater use of the existing system by adding the transfer and re-use of scientific equipment.
Like many of the Warp It community, anything that isn’t reused within the university campuses are donated to charities.
And it works brilliantly. In fact, it works so well that it has helped us to create and sustain a role that is essentially a general waste officer. It was the very quick and early, undeniable and solid benefits from the reuse system that have enabled us to continuously renew our license and generate support and full engagement from management to continuously expand the system.
Left to right: Will Plaister, Jasper McCormack, and Corey Peterson.
Another key to achieving buy-in was the way we referred to the system. Because the university has an academic profile system called WARP, I knew it was important to establish absolute clarity between the two systems, so we refer to it as the Re-Use Program and we do NOT have a storeroom or warehouse; instead we have a clearinghouse meaning nothing is there to stay for a long period of time. The use of language is important for engaging people and we realised that this case was especially crucial.
It is undisputed that the reuse system works. This year so far, we have reached $100,000 savings, and that’s during a global pandemic! In total, since we have been using the system the savings are estimated to be approaching $500,000.
How do you ensure ongoing engagement?
Communication! This is vital. We regularly share the statistics on the website, bulletins, formal reporting, and the like on what we achieve with the system so everyone can understand and appreciate how the system works and the huge benefits it offers.
The carbon savings, the costs savings and, of course the jobs it supports, all keeps everyone enthused and committed.
Your vision to become one of the most sustainable university on the planet is admirable. How are you going to achieve this?
Our focus is on doing all that we can to give us fighting chance to see a different and better future for our planet.
As well as the Warp It reuse programme, which is an integral element of our sustainability work, we have a lot of initiatives taking place across the campuses led by an active sustainability committee made up of representatives from right across the university.
Above: Will Plaister, Sustainability Projects Officer at the Newnham campus Re-Use Program Clearinghouse.
They play a key role in helping us to achieve our sustainability objectives and their ongoing effort and commitment have helped deliver sustainable change across a whole range of areas – from food, waste, and electric vehicles to integrating sustainability into university research, teaching and learning.
We have been certified carbon neutral since 2016 (meaning all three scopes of emission sources) and completely divested from fossil fuels in direct investments since December 2018. Currently our investments that are indirectly linked to fossil fuels represents about 0.6% of our portfolio and the Vice-Chancellor has formally confirmed that we will work to be out of them altogether by the end of 2021.
Moreover, we have taken the view that divestment is not enough. Our investment strategy will now target investments that support the delivery of a zero-carbon economy alongside the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We recognise that we need to invest to change the world and actively support an economy consistent with a stable future for our climate.
Above: Nick Towle, Will Plaister, Varunjani Jayaseelan at the Cradle Coast campus.
It is a true team effort and the ongoing work of everyone involved in guiding how we think about the threat we face and the urgent need to create a more sustainable world is working. We have come a long way in 10 years – back then we didn’t even have recycling bins!
And you are a STAR! Tell us about that.
We currently have a Silver STARS rating and are aiming to go Gold by end of 2021 and Platinum by 2024. STARS is the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System used by over 1,000 universities across the world – there are only 10 Platinum-rated so far.
It is a transparent, self-reporting framework to measure sustainability performance and it not only gives recognition for sustainability efforts, but helps to generate new ideas, make progress towards sustainability, and creates a baseline for continuous improvement.
Why is this work so important to you?
After completing my two Masters, I spent many years in Antarctica as a lab manager and saw the ice sheets collapsing before my eyes. I knew then I had to do all I could in my life to help address all of the issues we face, and ‘sustainability’ captures that holistically.
After all, if higher education isn’t going to do this who will?
You have achieved some incredible results so far. How to do keep going in what must sometimes feel like a daunting mission?
I venture into the natural world for kayaking, bushwalking, and so on. I spend time in my garden to recharge and I love having animals around. Living in a small city, the most I can have are my dogs and chickens, but they provide a bit of entertainment. My garden is slowly growing into a productive and insect-friendly space as well.
All of these things help keep me centred and calm!
Main photo credit: Osborne Images.