Find out more about the College’s approach to cutting carbon and planning for a more sustainable future in this interview with Clerk of Works Grace Finlay.

The College’s main site is Grade 1 listed. What challenges or opportunities does this present for making it more environmentally-friendly?

The single biggest challenge relates to the windows, which are single-glazed and cannot be replaced with double or triple glazing.  It is possible to use secondary glazing which we have done in the High Street facing rooms in Drawda Hall (this method is approved by Historic England and Oxford City Council).  We are now conducting a trial in Back Quad whereby we have made our own bespoke timber window frames to avoid the carbon emissions associated with aluminium production.  We have to be very sensitive to aesthetic considerations, while at the same time working to reduce our carbon footprint.

Other challenges include considerations of where we can locate new technologies on such a compact site where every time we go underground, archaeologists need to explore first.  For example, we now have ground-source heat pumps for both the Shulman Auditorium and the New Library but the installation of both pumps required weeks of preliminary archaeological work and they are both so large that it would be very difficult to install further pumps of this kind on the main site.

On the plus side, main College has a high thermal mass due to the huge masonry walls.  This means that heat is retained in the winter and the buildings also stay cool in the summer. 

The College’s carbon committee is dedicated to reducing our carbon emissions. What are some of the ways we are doing this with our buildings?

All new buildings meet new building regulations and there are lots of requirements for reducing carbon emissions contained in those.  We have installed passive infrared (PIR) lighting, which have motion detectors, in the new Front Quad bathrooms and Back Quad communal toilets.  We have applied secondary glazing in Back Quad One.  We installed photo-voltaic (solar energy) panels on the roof of St Aldates House back in 2012 and since then it is estimated that we have saved 108 tonnes of CO2. (We have also received £66,000 in reimbursements.)  Most recently, we have been trialling the use of smart thermostatic valves on some radiators.  These valves sense when someone is in the room and adjust the temperature accordingly and can also switch off radiators when they sense the windows have been opened.  We are collecting data from rooms with and without the valves in order to measure their effectiveness.

What sustainable measures are being taken with respect to the College masterplan and forthcoming projects such as the new Porters’ Lodge?

As mentioned, all new building projects have to abide by the new building regulations, and specifically new thermal regulations.  A large part of the masterplan is to do with heating systems and replacing old gas boilers. We are exploring all options, such as installing gas boilers with hydrogen compatibility capability or ground/air-source heat pumps.  The difficulties with the pumps are space, noise (in the case of air pumps), and sufficient electricity supply as the grid in Oxford is already severely limited.  We are already replacing lighting with LED lights in communal areas.  Thames Water conducted a water audit on the main College site and installed saver flush devices, restrictors on showers, and fixed a number of leaks.  They estimate that these measures save us a staggering 51,742 litres of water per day. We also have an electric charging point for cars and have just made extra provision for bike storage in main College.

Our energy suppliers supply us with 100% green energy (from wind farms), which is backed by REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) certificates.

How can students, Fellows, and staff do their bit within College?

We have a flyer in all student rooms about how people can help to make the College a more sustainable place: advice ranges from unplugging appliances when not in use, reducing waste by avoiding purchases with excessive packaging, and shortening shower times.   Often seemingly small things like remembering to turn lights off when you leave a room or office can make a big difference. We also ask people to turn their radiators down (or off) instead of opening windows, COVID-19 measures notwithstanding. Setting an ambient temperature a degree or two lower than you might otherwise and adding an extra layer of clothing all helps.