July 23, 2021, by sustainablenottingham

Gamify university carbon-reduction strategies to encourage action, Nottingham University student suggests

With global climate temperatures set to increase by 1.5C between 2030 and 2052, we face an urgent need for genuine and sustained change. As a collective, as a species and as a community, individuals and institutions from all areas of society must come together and act to prevent the impending climate change catastrophe, and universities are no exception.

CHAS — industry-leading providers of risk assessment and certification services, including sustainability and environmental practice — recently launched a nationwide student competition. The 2021 Sustainability Award offered students the opportunity to share their innovative ideas for reducing the carbon output and environmental impact of universities, with entries in the form of essays that discussed the path to net-zero within higher education (HE).

Sparsh Bhure, currently undertaking a Masters in Business Administration at the University of Nottingham, was a shortlisted finalist, one of only three runners-up. Bhure’s essay was noted by the judging panel — consisting of Jonquil Hackenberg, Global Head of Sustainability at PA Consulting, and Garath Rondel, Sustainability Business Lead at CHAS — as offering a truly unique insight into how universities can make their mark on reducing the effects of the environmental crisis.

Gamification and utilisation of infrastructure for lower carbon emissions

Bhure’s essay focused on the influence HE institutions have on shaping the values and mindset of students and future thought-leaders. The concept behind the idea was to leverage the ecosystem of interlinking students, faculty and supporting bodies to create a carbon-reduction strategy that was both effective and adhered to. The foundation of the essay was based on moulding student behaviour at the same time as making changes to institutional infrastructure to help reinforce said changes in behaviour.

By putting an emphasis on both changing community mindset and adapting university facilities management, Bhure’s goal is to make new environmentally friendly practices a way of life.

A strategy for cutting carbon across university campus

Step one in Sparsh Bhure’s plan for a more eco-friendly university lifestyle is identifying energy consumption through measurement. To do this, universities would need to invest in better infrastructure to monitor and measure their energy consumption and develop robust carbon accounting and reporting procedures.

By accurately looking at assets with trackable consumption rates — such as water, electricity and digital content — universities can then build a picture of a cumulative carbon footprint figure for their campus, individual buildings and even rooms on campus, based on energy use.

This creates what Bhure calls an institution’s ‘carbon score’.

Once identified, the carbon score can also be displayed. By integrating smart technology and new solutions to better monitor and track energy consumption on university campuses, institutions can provide clear visual data on their current carbon output. These displays, in the form of physical meters, can be placed across university sites, including lecture areas, student accommodation and commuting spaces. Digital data can also be made available through intranet portals. When combined with educational input on how to better harmonise energy consumption and use less energy, these displays can effectively gamify energy-reduction activities by showing students and faculty how much energy they are using and what their carbon footprint is. This will encourage them to take on initiatives to reduce their carbon score.

Placement of such visual displays can apply to individuals, specific communities and entire university bodies. For example, displays in accommodation can show a student household how much energy they are using within their accommodation and how they can reduce it, which they can personally identify with and work to lower. Such awareness also encourages positive competition with other student households or between groups like departments, lecture groups and university clubs. In essence, it becomes a game of who can achieve the best results. Through this methodology, students are encouraged — rather than enforced — to effect change. The no-mandatory mindset reduces the chance of resistance to change and lets students join in at their own pace.

As the culture around gamification of eco-friendly practice develops, natural uptake of interest amongst student groups would be expected. Bhure’s idea includes allowing both students and universities to develop specific challenges for classmates and student bodies as a way of creating unique opportunities across campus to help engage individuals. Reward schemes and incentives for getting involved and lowering carbon scores, such as vouchers and discounts for university partners or events, can further incentivise student involvement.

Outside of direct models and carbon scores for students and student groups, displays measuring the entire university carbon output can be shown in reception areas and public locations. This would encourage a sense of community pride and incentivise students and faculty to work as a collective to support the perception, reputation and overall success of their chosen higher education institution. League tables of sustainability would also be introduced, with those with the best carbon score achieving notable accreditations to add their offer to prospective students, partners and funding providers.

An innovative solution for a developing crisis

The key to Sparsh Bhure’s concept is making sure that such gamification is supported by changes in infrastructure. It must be simple for students and faculty to engage with the project, examine their carbon scores and acquire knowledge that helps them effect positive change.

Bhure’s idea is well-deserving of a finalist position for the CHAS 2021 Sustainability Awards. It’s both forward-thinking and achievable, with genuine universal applications that can help universities and other HE institutions reduce carbon output and move towards a future of net-zero.

Using these ideas at Nottingham

It’s encouraging to read about Bhure’s successful proposal, and this is very much in line with the approach we are taking here at Nottingham.

Earlier this year as part of our Go! campaign, we launched our Green Rewards platform that uses an element of gamification to drive and reward positive environmental behaviour. People are a key component of us improving our environmental performance and being able to see the impact of actions is an important factor in this. We are also currently working on plans to expand and improve our metering network to be able to show real time data to building users to support further positive behaviours. Thus bringing Bhure’s ideas to life.

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