Green Flag award for UCC a world first

 

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Cork (UCC) yesterday became the first third-level educational institution in the world to be accredited with an international Green Flag award.

An Taisce, on behalf of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), granted the international accreditation after a rigorous assessment by an expert panel.

The award, presented by Minister for the Environment John Gormley, on behalf of An Taisce, to UCC president Dr Michael Murphy is a result of the Green-Campus programme, a student-led initiative by UCC students and staff over the last three years.

The Green-Campus programme, operated in Ireland by An Taisce, has seen the university save €300,000 in waste-management costs, reduce waste to landfill by nearly 400 tonnes, and improve recycling from 21 per cent to 60 per cent. Furthermore, UCC has conserved almost enough water this year to fill the equivalent of the Lough of Cork.

The first step was for the students to establish a Green-Campus committee in conjunction with the buildings and estates department and academic staff. An environmental review followed.

“There were absolutely no recycling facilities for students walking on the campus,” recalls Maria Kirrane, a student representative on the committee. “In fact, our very first action was to put on overalls and literally dive into the skips to see exactly what types of waste were being disposed of”

In addition to staff recycling systems that previously existed, new recycling facilities for students are now available in front of the lecture halls and in canteens.

Students in lecture theatres and laboratories are alerted to turn off lights and electrical equipment. College maintenance vehicles now run on biodiesel. Enhanced park-and-ride and bicycle parking areas are designed to encourage more sustainable travel.

Each year the Students’ Union holds a Green Awareness Week on campus, where real actions are supplemented by academic talks on environmental sustainability.

“It is quite a leap, transforming the Green-Schools programme, geared for the typical school of a few hundred students, to a complex campus of 130 acres, 16,000 students and almost 3,000 staff,” said Dr Michael John O’Mahony of An Taisce.

UCC president Dr Murphy said: “In population terms, UCC is bigger than your average Irish town, so bringing together all the necessary parties and practices to develop it into a sustainable Green-Campus was a real challenge.”

UCC is now looking to build on the award. “We’d like to make it easier for students to cycle to college, possibly through a bike purchase scheme,” says Ms Kirrane.

“Also, while UCC is a beautiful campus, many of the plants here are non-native. We’re looking to address biodiversity on campus.”