Sustainability Action Week

February 28, 2022, by Ryan Neal

The Sustainability Challenge – day one

In celebration of Sustainability Action Week, we’ve challenged two of our senior leaders – Andy Nolan, Director of Development and Sustainability; and Professor Sarah Speight, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education and Student Experience – to spend the week living as sustainably as possible. Each day they will be chronicling their experience and sharing some tips so make sure you check back regularly.


As Director of Development and Sustainability I think it’s important to show commitment to the sustainability agenda – after all, I can’t expect people to do things if I don’t do them myself.

Apart from it being Sustainability Action Week, this week is pretty normal. I’ll be working on campus, from home and one or two other places as the week goes by. There are some great things happening across the university so make sure you get involved – more info at

My day started in Sheffield, where I live, when my alarm went off at 05:45. I’m on campus today so it’s a slightly earlier start for me. I left home at 06:20 for the two-mile, 30-minute walk to the station listening to Radio 4’s Today programme – it’s a good way to catch up on what’s happened overnight, and the invasion of Ukraine is of course dominating the news. Walking as the sun comes up is a great way to start the day although unfortunately there was no spectacular sunrise this morning and I reached Sheffield station at 06:50 in plenty of time for my train to Nottingham.

Sign for TramsI’ve been doing this commute since the end of 2013 and up until March 2020 it was five days per week. The train journey is around 50-60 minutes and gives me a good amount of time to read (and delete!) lots of email. Over the past few years, the rail companies have provided free power and WiFi to use on most of their trains which has made the journey even more productive. Sadly, this morning Northern Rail decided to roll out one of their relics – no WiFi, no power, no tables even! Still managed to get a bit of work done though and prepare for the day ahead.

Alighting from the tram is always a lovely way to arrive to University Park campus – I never tire of the wonderful view of the Highfields Lake, the Trent Building and the beautiful collection of trees on campus. The University has won many awards for its landscaping and grounds management, including a Green Flag Award for University Park every year from 2003 – we remain the only university to have achieved this status. A Green Flag Award indicates that the park or garden is a well-maintained, well-managed and environmentally sustainable green space with excellent facilities.

Highfields Lake with Trent Building in the background

On a good morning you’ll be treated with swans, cormorants, heron, all manner of smaller bird species around the trees and, of course, the geese. Creating an environment that promotes biodiversity is central to what we do in the Estates team and the Landscape Team do an amazing job to keep the campus looking so vibrant. They’re working on some exciting plans for more wildflower planting and improvements to biodiversity. You can find out more on our Sustainability webpages.

At 10am Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West and other members of University Executive Board spoke to all Finance and Infrastructure staff in an online ‘Town Hall’ style event via Teams. These kinds of sessions are one of the positive things to have come out of the pandemic. It just isn’t possible to do a session like this face-to-face but via Teams it gives everyone the opportunity to participate or watch the recording back later. Shearer mentioned the University’s 2nd place ranking in the UI Green Metric and some of the other notable achievements we’ve made – including a silver award for a hedgehog friendly campus!


Ready, steady, go. 

So, it’s day one of Sustainability Action Week and I’ve challenged myself to up my game and see if I can adopt a few more positive behaviours. The weather isn’t great, but fine for my usual commute to campus: walking from Carlton into Nottingham city centre and catching the tram or bus. This morning it was a packed tram, but I met a colleague at the university stop and enjoyed walking up the hill with them to the Trent Building.

Today, I’m thinking about food – buying it and growing it. But during the week, I’m also trying to reduce my energy consumption and the amount of waste I produce while thinking about how living sustainably helps my mental health.

I’ve planned ahead to help keep to my resolutions. I won’t eat any meat this week. That will be easy (although I’m not vegetarian) but it’s harder to stick to seasonal produce. My favourite vegetables are all Mediterranean – tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes. It’s taken a few food miles to get these into our shops at this time of year but all is not lost because I love growing my own food.

Vegetables in jarsEven in February and March, I still have homegrown produce to eat. I have some bottled tomatoes from summer 2021 – I save glass jars and stuff these full of my own tomatoes, with homegrown garlic and herbs. Add some salt, boil the jars in a saucepan for a few minutes and you have produce that can see you through the lean months. I haven’t eaten all the parsnips yet either. And for my sweet tooth I have plenty of homemade strawberry jam, and apple and blackberry compote from summer 2021 to keep me going. I’ve taken care to source the other veg I want this week from a local greengrocer where I can buy without packaging.

I’m lucky enough to have a garden but you can grow in the smallest of spaces and use all sorts of recycled materials. My broad beans are quite happy in toilet roll cores, or in some compostable packaging. I start them early on a windowsill inside the house, and then plant them in the ground along with the packaging as soon as the frosts are over. Most vegetables are annuals (you have to grow them from seed every year), but you can collect your own seeds to reuse, which I do with the larger ones such as peas, squash and courgettes. But there are perennial vegetables too, and lots of fruits which keep coming back year after year. I’ve got artichokes, lots of herbs, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, plums and apples. I also have self-seeded tomatoes popping up in unexpected places.

Bag of penne pastaI have upped my game today by visiting the zero-waste shop in the Portland Building on University Park. It’s the first time I’ve used one of these. They have a good selection of pulses, nuts, seeds and pasta. Using my own bags (paper and re-used plastic) I bought 500g of penne which cost £1.52. That’s about the same price as an Italian brand pasta, although more expensive than a supermarket own-brand. I also bought cashew nuts which I will use in a stir-fry this week. I don’t want to make a special journey to a zero-waste shop as that would waste energy, but I can get into the habit of calling into the Portland shop on the way to and from my office in the Trent Building. I can’t buy too much at a time because I will have to carry it on my back!

Cat stalking parsnips and green beansDinner tonight will simply be pasta in a tomato sauce made from my own produce and the pasta I bought in the Portland Building (with some cashews throw in). There won’t be any waste. The vegetable peelings will go into the compost bin, the glass jar will be rinsed and ready to be re-used in the summer, and I will take care to make just the right amount!

That’s it for today. Tomorrow I will try to make it to the Sustainability Fair on University Park.

Find out how Andy and Sarah got on on day two, day three, day four and day five.

Posted in sustainability