The College's efforts to improve environmental sustainability began, like many things at King’s, as a spontaneous grassroots movement amongst students, staff, and Fellows alike. In 2009 this passion and commitment led to the College implementing an Environmental Policy, which asserted its commitment to acting sustainably at every level of its institutional operations. The College also created a working group of staff, students, and Fellows who are dedicated to making King’s greener.
Low Carbon Meals Scheme
King's is part of the University's Low Carbon Meals Scheme, which aims to create a wider awareness of the carbon impact of producing and serving food. It encourages people to choose more carbon friendly meals.
In the UK, a fifth of people's annual carbon footprint comes from the food they eat. If we are to reduce global carbon emissions we need to understand the carbon impact of our food choices. King's Catering Department labels food so that it is easier to choose the meal with the lowest carbon footprint.
A low carbon meal is a meal whose ingredients produce lower greenhouse gas emissions from farming/feeding, processing, transport and storage. The foods with the lowest carbon footprints are local seasonal vegetables, cereals and fruit. Food flown from across the world, or grown in heated greenhouses, produces considerably more carbon emissions. Animal products are generally higher in emissions, and the worst of all these are beef, lamb and hard cheese. In addition, frozen meals produce high emissions due to the power used to maintain them at low temperatures.
The 10:10 campaign
The College has embraced the 10:10 campaign, in which schools, businesses and other organisations try to cut their carbon by 10% in a year. We use low-energy cookers and light bulbs, and are currently replacing old boilers with energy-efficient ones. Insulating old buildings is a huge challenge, but there is an ongoing project to improve our energy efficiency through our insulation.
The Conference & Dining department buy locally and seasonally, both to get the freshest food and to reduce their carbon footprint. General College supplies are also sourced locally wherever possible.
The IT department has used virtualisation software to mimic physical servers, and in doing so has cut the number of servers in the college from over 20 to just two. This has cut the electricity consumption in the server room by two-thirds.
All the departments in the College buy ethically and sustainably wherever possible. King's is a Fairtrade College, and the Conference & Dining department serve Fairtrade products to staff, students and guests.
We also buy One Water, which supports the building of water wells and clean water tanks in Africa, and Puro coffee, which supports projects to save the South American rainforest.
The furniture and fittings of the College are sourced from ethical suppliers. The furniture contains wood from sustainable sources and mattresses are bought from suppliers who take them back at the end of life, dismantle them and recycle the components.
The College recycles everything from glass, plastic, and food to batteries, clothing and mobile phones. The Housekeeping Department recycles all cleaning cloths and bottles, and has a stock replacement policy where cloths and bottles are not replaced until the old ones are returned used or empty.
Old bedclothes left behind are donated to Jimmy's night shelter for the homeless or to the Cats Protection League. College furniture is stored and re-used or donated to charity.
Most of the garden waste is composted on-site (70-100 tonnes a year). The compost is then spread back on the gardens.
Unclaimed bicycles are donated to a local charity called Opportunities Without Limits (OWL), which provides vocational training for adults with learning disabilities.
As a College, we face considerable difficulties in heating old buildings, and we are trying to reduce energy usage through improved insulation and more efficient generation. All of our electricity is from renewable sources, and new buildings are constructed to high, PassivHaus standards and we are installing sustainable generation where possible.
The College's new graduate accommodation on Cranmer Road comprises the first major Passivhaus buildings in Cambridge. The buildings are designed with a long lifespan in mind, with incredibly low energy consumption and low space heating requirements. Heating is provided by point-of-use electric heaters, helping keep energy losses from distribution to an absolute minimum. This 'plug-and-play' approach is consistent with M&E services that are simple, efficient and easy-to-maintain. It also eliminates the need for plant rooms freeing up space for an additional bedroom. Point-of-use electric water heaters minimise losses and showers benefit from integrated heat recovery.
The buildings also benefit from an all-timber cross laminated timber structure, to reduce embodied carbon and deliver a rapid construction programme. This also helped achieve a remarkably low airtightness performance: The Villa Building achieved 0.21 m3/h.m2 (0.16 air changes), while the Garden Building achieved 0.31 m3/h.m2 (0.19 air changes), up to 47 times better than Building Regulations.
The recent replacement of the roof in Bodley’s Court, using traditional slate roofing methods, has also included the introduction of bat boxes for those wishing to remain resident over the winter months for the purposes of roosting!
The College believes that it has a responsibility for its investments. We do not hold, and have not held for a long period, any direct investments in fossil fuel companies. The great majority of our investments are in collective funds, which are monitored by the Investment Committee for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) aims. The active funds that we currently hold all have ESG policies and, where we do not consider these are adequate, we have withdrawn funds. Additionally, we have invested in funds that aim to have a positive environmental impact, such as Impax Environmental Markets.
The investment area that we have found most difficult to manage sustainably is index funds that invest in a very broad range of shares. Until recently, there were no alternatives to these index funds that provided a similar low-cost exposure to the major stock markets. Some investment managers are now developing such products and King’s has joined with a few other Oxbridge Colleges to invest in an Amundi World Index Fund that limits its investments to more sustainable companies. The Investment Committee will continue to examine similar alternatives that better reflect our aims.
Finally, we invest in the Cambridge University Endowment Fund. That fund has announced that it will aim to eliminate fossil fuel investments from its portfolios by 2030. We support that and expect to reach net zero by 2030.
King's is most famous for its buildings, but it also has a long tradition of tending animals and gardens. The Back Lawn once contained a kitchen garden, and sheep grazed the grass to keep it short. Scholar's Piece behind King's contained the College orchards and pasture for the Fellows' horses. Today Rare Breed cattle graze on Scholar's Piece. They not only keep the grass short enough for a variety of grasses and flowers to flourish, but their dung provides a breeding place for insects, which in turn provide food for the birds.
We encourage wildlife in the gardens at King's by providing bird boxes, bumblebee houses and log piles. We also make the gardens more peaceful by using electric instead of petrol mowers. The accommodation buildings at Garden Hostel and Cranmer Road both offer allotments for students to grow their own food. The gardeners look after the allotments in the summer when the students are away. We use environmentally-friendly products, including solvent-free glues and paints where possible, as well as environmentally-friendly cleaning products.
Improving King’s sustainability is a large-scale project and one that should involve as many of our members as possible. All members of the College are welcome to attend meetings, and to propose ideas and events. Get involved and help us do better!
If you would like to know more about King's green initiatives, contact the King's College Student Union Green Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org.