COVID-19 team update

Friday 17 July 2020

COVID-19 team update: what’s been happening and the impact of the pandemic on sustainability

After a few weeks of furlough under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Environment Team are once again up and running at full capacity (as of 5th June 2020). The team are working from home where possible, adapting to online communications with regular update meetings using the Microsoft Teams platform (see below!).

Image: Gary, Keith, David and Al conducting one of the teams’ regular online meetings.

We asked some of the team for their reflections on how COVID-19 has changed their role so far and any opportunities it has provided.

Al Clark (Environment Officer)

At the start of the lockdown, my role was to prioritise the clearance of excess waste, the removal of clinical waste ready for a new contractor and the close down of all Category C buildings. These are buildings that can be closed down and are not required during the shutdown period. These buildings however need to have any excess waste and recycling cleared out and collected before the building can actually be locked down. The recycling team is still working to support Category A and B buildings, whilst maintaining checks on Category C buildings. Despite the shutdown, we are still creating a bale of cardboard every 3-4 days and our waste contractor (RefSol) are still managing to operate general waste, dry mixed recycling (paper, cardboard, drinks cartons, cans, tins and plastic bottles) and glass collections. All British Heart Foundation clothing bank donation points, which we often see at this time of year being used due to students leaving for the summer, had one final collection at the end of March before they were shut down until after the lockdown. Project work is still ongoing, despite some projects being delayed by up to a year as a result of the current conditions.

Now that work has calmed down, we are focusing on September and more strategic plans such as the new Sustainable Resources Strategy, confidential waste, supporting work on project development and working with new contractors for waste collections- including working with the new clinical waste contractor and EHSS.

Keith Thomason (Energy Manager)

The lead up to lockdown and the first few weeks involved putting the majority of our buildings into a ‘lockdown’ mode, which is not a straightforward as it sounds. There are a number of essential systems that are still required to function, so it’s not just a case of switching everything off. Also occupants themselves often perform key parts of a building’s function. From a geeky side however, it has been an interesting time to review energy data of buildings – as you get an impression of what the ‘baseload’ of a building is and gain a better understanding of potential energy efficiency savings that can be made as we start physical works on buildings again.

This period has also been a good time to review strategy. Many institutions are in the process of developing carbon management plans in response to the Climate Emergency. This work can continue, and the challenge of how we can do this remotely has been thrust upon us all. I hope some practices we can take forwards in the future.

This leads me onto my last point, which is the opportunity lockdown has provided to find the space and time to reflect. Perhaps a key part of our roles is to think and encourage each other to consider what is important in this time of crisis. We have been working together as a Team to do lots of visioning work for the future.

Connie Dawson (Sustainability Coordinator)

My role as Sustainability Coordinator largely revolves around staff and student sustainability engagement. As a sociable person, I much prefer in-person engagement work and focussed most of my work prior to lockdown on hosting in-person events, presentations and training workshops. The arrival of COVID took me back to the drawing board for how to continue engagement in a virtual capacity. I have upskilled in Microsoft Teams to host presentations and training courses via Teams’ virtual video call platform, and injected renewed energy into this blog to keep communications going.

I have also used the time to write and submit reports and applications such as the Fairtrade University and College Award Accreditation (for which we achieved 2 Stars!), the annual Sustainable Development Goal Accord and the Green Gown Awards. Although it was a challenge to gain information for these reports from furloughed or busy colleagues, it has been fantastic to see these awards and accreditation platforms adapt their criteria/deadlines and be accommodating of reduced staff capacities during COVID.

Overall, I feel positive about the impact of coronavirus on sustainability in St Andrews. The lockdown has provided the opportunity to reassess dominant unsustainable University practices (such as single-occupancy vehicle commuting and flying for international conferences). I’ve also noticed a pronounced increase in my neighbours and colleagues using the time to engage with and support nature. I hope we can carry the lessons of lockdown with us into a green recovery, feeling more prepared to adapt to environmental, social and health crises both in the present and future.

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