May 6, 2020, by sustainablenottingham

The New Normal

Environment Manager Gavin Scott reflects on the current situation and some thoughts on how we retain some behaviours

How things have changed over the last 6 weeks!

Life has changed significantly for us all and I’m sure we are all wondering when things will get back to normal and indeed what that new normal will be.

We’ve moved from a fast-paced carbon rich life of travel, entertainment, resource consumption and social interaction into a forced slower-paced and more considered approach. For me like many it hasn’t been an easy transition, I very much live for the outdoors and movement and it is the most consecutive nights I have slept in my house in the three years I’ve lived here and I’d never have thought I’d find myself in a queue for an hour to buy a pint of milk from a local shop.

At the University, almost overnight, we transitioned to online teaching, schools and departments supported by our amazing Moodle and IT Services teams, mobilised rapidly to home working and the University in parts shut down.  The thousands of cars that enter our campuses each day no longer enter, the grass on campus is growing longer and we are seeing rewilding taking place – we had a deer on campus earlier this week! The hundreds of flights taken each week to support our global activity are no longer taking place and the hundreds of tonnes of waste that end up in our bins each week simply isn’t being generated because we’re no longer buying the tens of thousands of pounds worth of goods and packaging.

Many of our buildings have moved into a state of hibernation, with energy consumption reduced significantly and we’re thankful to our technical teams in Schools and Departments that we have worked with to turn off non-critical equipment.  The net result is that we have seen an overall reduction in our direct and indirect carbon emissions on our campuses. Our electricity consumption has reduced by over 55% and we are doing work to try to shave more off the remaining 45%.

I’m not naive enough to think that all of this hasn’t come at a huge social and economic cost globally and also impacted and will continue to impact on the ability of the University to deliver its Teaching, Research and Operations.

The new normal…..

Getting back to normal isn’t going to be easy, personally I long to the time when I can ride my bike all day, have coffee and cake mid ride and enjoy a hug with loved ones.  I’m also looking forwards to the distraction and annoyance of a loud open plan office when I’m trying to concentrate and that nonsensical conversation in the kitchen when making a coffee.

As we start to think about the prospect of returning to life at the University (although let’s be honest we don’t know when that will be or the impact that social distancing may have on that) I want to reflect on three areas where we have seen changes in ways of working and behaviours over recent weeks that we should seek to maintain, not only for our own benefit but also to reduce the environmental impact of our University community and also to support the significant financial pressures and challenges we will see over coming years.

The role of technology

Personally speaking I’m not really tech savvy, yet I find myself (as I’m sure we all do) living a life in the virtual world with the use of teams, share point and zoom as the tools that we use to meet, catch-up, network and collaborate, in a very effective way. Moving forwards, we should use these new found (in my case) skills and competencies to reduce the need to travel, whether that be between our campuses for meetings, nationally for meetings or globally. Whilst social interaction and face-to-face connection is important and, in some instances, essential it would be a real shame if we didn’t harness the opportunity and efficiency that using technology delivers in terms of time, carbon and financial savings to the University.

How we travel

I have loved seeing the vast amount of people that are out and about on bikes, running and walking, indeed globally we have seen a significant increase in bike sales, with bikes at one point being referred to as the new toilet paper. Whilst much of this activity is probably in place of usual activity there is the opportunity for us to retain that active travel for part or all of our commutes to our campuses rather than revert back to the use of the private car or public bus.

Energy & Water

One of the largest single budget lines across the University is our utilities expenditure which was around £14 Million in 18/19. We have understandably seen a significant decrease in our use of energy during the last 6 weeks and, as a result, our associated carbon dioxide emissions have dropped too. Our University Strategy commits us to some deep carbon cuts in the coming years and the challenge for us all we get back to our campuses is to ensure that we continue to use energy as efficiently as we can and eliminate unnecessary energy use. We, within the sustainability team, are working on a number of initiatives – but we need all of the University Community to work with us to delivery significant energy reduction. Over coming weeks we will be reaching out to the University community to work with us as it is only through this collaborative approach will we be able to deliver our 15% savings in this area. In the meantime if you have any ideas on how we can reduce carbon emissions please do email the team on

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