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The University of Auckland is a prime example of an organisation committed to environmental excellence and among the world’s top international universities committed to sustainability. With more than 44,000 staff and students, the University’s task is immense. Designed and implemented by key staff from the energy, waste, procurement, IT, grounds, buildings, campus development/planning, transport, and research & teaching sectors the University’s Sustainability and Environmental Programme seeks to reduce resource use, wastes and emissions in five areas: energy and water; rubbish and recycling; procurement; buildings; greenhouse gases; and, transport. “The programme focuses on encouraging everyone in the University to accept responsibility for helping to improve our environmental performance,” says Lesley Stone, the University’s Sustainability and Environmental Coordinator.

[Staff at Tamaki Campus in the grove of nikau palms they planted to help off-set carbon emissions]

The University’s Environmental and Sustainability Programme is informed by formal commitments to making progress to becoming sustainable: the University’s Charter, a high level governance document that broadly outlines the Universities commitment including “working to advance the intellectual, cultural, environmental, economic and social well-being of the peoples of Auckland and New Zealand”; the Strategic Plan which sets out the vision of the University and key objectives; an Environmental Policy that includes specific commitments regarding teaching and research, environmental and resource management, and community partnerships,  and the Universitas 21 (U21) Statement on Sustainability,  an international commitment amongst the University’s premier benchmark  universities.  Upon signing the U21 Statement, the University has committed to making progress in: research towards research towards sustainable futures; education for sustainability; Universities as ‘living laboratories’ for sustainability; enhancing citizenship and engagement and building capacity through cross-network collaboration and action.



The University uses electricity, gas, steam and heat as energy sources. In 2010, energy usage declined 47% per full-time student compared to the early 1980s when monitoring began. This reduction was achieved by shutting down buildings and their operating plants after hours, upgrading to more efficient equipment and lights, and designing energy efficiency into new buildings.


In 2010, the University used 72% less water per full time student compared to the early 1980s when monitoring began.  This has been achieved by identifying leaks and replacing corroded pipes and inefficient fittings with more efficient ones, by controlling flushing of urinals, and by recycling water in buildings and research equipment wherever possible.


In 2006, when reporting began, the University used 156,000 reams of paper: a pile nearly 24 times the height of Auckland’s Sky Tower. In 2010, this was reduced by 21% (5 Sky Towers worth). This was achieved by encouraging double-sided copying and printing, and provision of course materials in electronic form, changes in the design and delivery of other printed materials, and changes in the way some administrative functions are carried out (e.g., electronic vs paper ballots). In 2010, 49% of the printing done on networked printers was double-sided.

Waste minimisation:

In 2006, 61,000 ‘wheelie’ bins worth of rubbish was sent to landfill, or about 14,640 cubic meters. By the end of 2010, this was reduced by 13%. The University has also improved its recycling practices. The glass, aluminium, steel, plastics, paper and cardboard recovered for recycling more than doubled between 2008 and 2010.  The ‘4Rs’ programme encourages staff and students to re-think, reduce, re-use and recycle. Offices with the system tend to reduce their waste by about 40%.

Carbon emissions:

So far, the main focus for carbon has been to save energy in buildings and to minimise the materials used and wasted. In 2010, energy savings reduced the carbon emitted as a result of buildings by 56% per full-time student.

To better understand and quantify other sources of carbon emissions, baselines are being developed for work-related travel and fleet use. Research into the off-setting potential of hundreds of trees growing on campus is also being carried out.

[The Population Health Complex incorporates sustainable design principles]

The University’s approach has been to build on what’s already been achieved and to undertake new activities that have the potential to act as catalysts for learning, build commitment and embed change.  The University is in a unique position in that comprehensive monitoring systems for energy and water have driven down consumption per student, and have led to a strong culture of gathering and using data as a basis for change. By building on the knowledge gained and extending to other areas where improvement is necessary, provides a strong footing for further improving management responses to sustainability issues.  As such, the University is well placed to become one of the leading organisations in New Zealand in terms of environmental performance improvement and sustainability.

Focussing primarily on “Greening the University”, the University also encourages student involvement to reinforce its programme. Communication tools such as its Facebook page “Help Green our Uni” (click here to go to page) help to encourage the University of Auckland’s students to learn about and get involved in activities that help reduce the University’s environmental footprint.

[ Green teams help to minimise waste in student halls of residence]

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