The Green League: Policy and Performance

Friday, 11th June 2010 at 20:28 UTC Leave a comment

This week saw the release of People and Planet’s annual “Green League”, a very handy and well-researched table of all the Universities in Britain and their impact on the environment. It makes interesting reading; the differentiation between the top and bottom University are enormous (though this is largely the scoring system), though they both happen to be in the same place: Plymouth.

I’m sure many people rushed to see where ‘their’ uni came out (which you can do here), either the one they studied at, or worked at, or are currently a member of, or perhaps one that happens to be near them. I’m delighted that Bradford is 7th, a 1st Class Honours qualifying result, with no awful performances and only 2 poor performances – it is also the highest ranking Yorkshire institution.

York scored a more mediocre 48th place, taking last spot on the 2:1 award. with “Awful” Carbon Emission and Water performance, balanced against 3 green stars for good performance on 3 policy areas. And its this discrepancy that somewhat irks me, because York is just one example amongst many of University’s that are talking the talking and failing to walk the walk.

I’m not keen on the idea that “environmental staffing” has become something to measure for starters. What does this actually mean? Does it mean that they employ someone to do public relations work for the University with a remit for accentuating climate-positive news whilst washing over the bad press? Just because someone is employed to as environmental manager doesn’t mean they are actually anything more than an exercise in Corporate Social Responsibility in all its vacuousness. Or is People and Planet merely trying to generate jobs for its graduating members?

Whilst Universities are to be commended for trying to build up an image of being Green, its the reality that matters. And that reality is actually lacking. If you cover over the part of the table with the “policy” scores, you’ll see that actually even the top universities are showing an alarming quantity of red. Whilst policy is a step in the right direction, targets are just targets: they bare no effect on reality in and of themselves.

So I thought perhaps the best thing to do might be to total up the greens (Excellent and OK)  from the 1st and 2:1 sections of the table, and see what they tell us.

Category 1st Class (out of 26) 2nd Class (out of 26)
Environmental policies 26 23
Environmental staffing 26 25
Environmental Auditing 24 16
Ethical Investment 15 13
Carbon management 14 13
Food and Fairtrade 25 23
Staff/Student Engagement 25 25
Energy 13 4
Waste 21 19
Carbon 9 8
Water 9 7

Bare in mind that the top 7 categories are Policy categories and only the bottom 4 are performance, and the story told is one of Universities eager to look good with almost no reference to the reality of their carbon emissions. Aside from Ethical and Investment and Carbon Management, its a rosy picture that almost tries to say “move along, nothing to see here”.

The Staff and Student Engagement section puzzles me somewhat. Its like saying that having a democracy is good for ending climate change. There is certainly some evidence to show that democracy as it is practiced in the west is at best a neutral force in climate change, and at worst tolerates a few individuals with good lifestyles whilst everyone else continues along expanding and consuming.

And the experience of campaigners in other areas shows there is a thick glass ceiling at more or less this precise point. Even if People and Planet use the same methodology and levelling next year, short of a government that actually cracks down on CO2 emissions (currently not happening), I’d be surprised to see any of these changes actually coming into fruition.

The next question for climate activists on campus is not simply one of negotiating new policies in the hope that they will be acted upon. It must be for students and concerned staff to make those policies reality. And as this glass ceiling of rhetoric-not-moving-to-action is recreated throughout society and the economy, that need for initiative will become wider and more desperate.

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Entry filed under: Climate Change, Education, Environment, News, University.

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