Switch to green

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Two years ago, during one of those “let’s change the world” conversations in a pub we were wondering what we could do for the environment at our university. We knew about the university’s environment programme: full of ambitious but vague commitments. What to do? At the time, the government was thinking about building new nuclear power stations (discussion now “postponed”) -madness! The least we could do was switch our university to green electricity from renewable sources (wind, water, solar..).

We spoke to some university authorities, who were positive, but who said that only a small percentage of green electricity could be used – more would be “too expensive”. We then started the “Switch to Green” campaign throughout the university: a campaign not run by the young greens, nor by the student union – we were simply a bunch of very committed people who met in a pub once or twice a week. We collected signatures, talked to people in the student union, to lecturers and professors and above all, to other students. Oxford university is split into many colleges and departments, and there are few common buildings which everyone visits, which makes all campaigning very difficult. We asked for the support of student representatives in all different colleges, and got the student union on our side. I spent several weeks in front of the lecture theaters collecting signatures for a “switch to green” petition outlining our demands. We collected over 2000 signatures – a sign that students do care about the environment, and are even willing to pay a little more for their electricity.

Collecting signatures also allowed us to talk to people about the problems of electricity consumption. Many students had no idea what “green electricity” was.

We had to explain that we excluded nuclear energy, although it is not a fossil fuel, and why renewable electricity from wind power is better for the environment. People were very positive, but didn’t believe we would achieve anything.

Many also said that our university switching would make little difference for the world. (what an attitude!)

We also wrote letters to celebrities. We gained support by a famous BBC-journalist (John Humphreys), by the head of the United Nations Environment Program, Klaus Toepfer… These -and many others – were invited to write to the head of the university in support of our campaign. This too may have had some effect next to the students’ voice.

The decision to switch to green electricity had to be taken by a body in which all the different colleges were represented, so we had to convince all the representatives of the different colleges separately.

However, on the 1st November 2002, the university announced that it would purchase 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.

We are now using Scottish Hydropower (water power) – we would have preferred wind turbines or solar power. Nevertheless, the university is now no longer responsible for 35,000 tons (!) of CO 2.

Oxford university is the third-largest consumer of green electricity in England and the sixth-largest in Europe (www.greenprices.com/uk/usertop.asp).
In England several universities had already made the change (we were not the first), e.g. in Bath, Edinburgh, at Sussex. Hopefully other universities will follow suit. Maybe YOUR university could switch? You don’t need much to get a campaign started at your university! We had no “formal” structures, no leaders, no professional help, and absolutely no money -if we succeeded, anyone can! Would be wonderful to see more universities switching!

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