Hanna Łądkowska: Carbon footprint monitoring is a demonstration of environmental responsibility
Published On: 2023/12/20
– ‘Many sustainable development advocates point to the important, if not leading, role of universities as opinion leaders in education in the broader sense, also in terms of reducing the carbon footprint,’ says Hanna Łądkowska from the Department of Marine Ecology at the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography of the UG, author of the report “Carbon footprint monitoring generated in research and development activities” (pol. “Monitoring śladu węglowego generowanego w działalności badawczo-rozwojowej.)” The publication was produced as part of the reSEArch-EU project (Strengthening Sustainable Action, Resilience, Cooperation and Harmonisation in the SEA-EU Alliance.)
Szymon Gronowski: You have prepared a review report on “Carbon footprint monitoring generated in research and development activities.” It was developed as part of the reSEArch-EU project which aims to develop the SEA-EU alliance in the context of research, innovation and coexistence with the environment. What can we learn from this publication?
Hanna Łądkowska: The report presents both the issue of carbon footprint monitoring compared to existing regulations, examples of good practice in the academic community in Poland and abroad in monitoring activities in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as recommendations for conducting such monitoring at the University of Gdańsk. The report is also supplemented with appendices. Among them, there is a database of articles presenting the issue more widely: how universities deal with monitoring their own carbon footprint, which approach is dominant and which methods and IT tools are used.
The report presents good practices relating to both the legal framework and specific examples of solutions implemented for monitoring and reducing the carbon footprint at universities both in Poland and abroad. Nearly 1,200 institutions have signed up to the Race to Zero for Universities and Colleges initiative by the UN, including Polish universities. Universities are also establishing agendas aimed at taking action to reduce the carbon footprint. What other actions on the legal level are universities taking to monitor and reduce their carbon footprint?
Let me mention here, in particular, the creation of internal regulations in the form of decrees, issued by the Rector, which favour and prioritise efforts in this area. Such documents are, for example, the The Climate Change and Sustainable Development Agenda of the University of Warsaw, the Climate Plan of the Gdansk University of Technology or the Environmental Sustainability Strategy of the University of Oxford, creating a friendly environment that takes into account carbon footprint monitoring in daily operations. Often, the decrees are also followed by the establishment of units and expert teams at universities, made up of specialists from different fields. Some universities also choose to make an additional commitment to reduce their carbon footprint. They close ranks in international agreements such as the Race to Zero campaign you mentioned. So far, four universities from Poland have joined: the Gdańsk University of Technology, the Łódź University of Technology, the University of Warsaw and the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences.
In the report, you also describe the carbon footprint monitoring through the example of the campus of the University of Talca in Chile. How was this study conducted there?
This is a geographically distant example, but one that I believe is worth citing, especially as the solutions analysed for the report indicate that it is difficult to monitor the carbon footprint of scientific research without reference to the day-to-day operation of the infrastructure in which this research is carried out. Therefore, a frequently used approach is to determine the carbon footprint for a university campus or its selected buildings. This is how it was decided to proceed at the University of Talca.
Carbon footprint monitoring based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, or the GHG Protocol, has been carried out since 2012, across the five campuses of this university. The emissions generated by all students and staff using the campus were taken into account, expressing the emissions in tonnes ofCO2 per student or staff member. The aim of the analysis was to show how the carbon footprint was calculated on campus and to identify the stress factors, i.e. those with the greatest impact on the carbon footprint generated. The GHG protocol covers emissions in scopes from one to three. These are direct emissions, indirect emissions and other indirect emissions, respectively. For the purposes of the study, direct and indirect emissions arising from academic work on the Talca campus were identified. The first group includes fuel consumption in the form of liquefied natural gas used for heating, fuel consumption for on-site and off-campus car transport and fuel consumption for university bus transport used for field trips and practical training. Indirect emissions detail those from energy procurement and consumption by the university cafeterias, canteens, water heating boilers, generators, air conditioners, the electricity grid, business travel, campus access, paper consumption for printing, landfill and waste recycling. Other indirect emissions generated by student travel as part of field trips, air and land travel by academic staff, staff and student commuting, paper consumption for printing, LPG consumption, landfill and waste recycling.
How were carbon emissions calculated on the Talca campus?
By dividing the total emissions from scopes 1, 2 and 3 by the number of people. The main sources of emissions were fuel consumption, electricity consumption and commuting. Similarly, theCO2 emissions from each scope per person were calculated by dividing each source of consumption (fuel, electricity or commuting) by the number of people. The data was analysed for the factors having the greatest impact on the carbon footprint in order to make improvements to the campus. The authors of the study indicated that in scope 1, energy consumption for heating was the dominant factor, and analysis of the calculated carbon footprint factor showed that scope 3, which measures indirect emissions generated by activities such as transporting people to and from campus, generated the highest contribution calculated in tonnes ofCO2 equivalent per person. The results showed that it is the transport of students and lecturers to and from campus that is one of the main stress factors and has the greatest impact on the carbon footprint generated on the Talca University campus.
Reading the report also brings us closer to good academic practice and research on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in relation to laboratory work. You describe in detail the activities at the University of Oxford, including the Sustainable Labs programme, the development of low-carbon and renewable energy sources and the construction of Passivhaus-certified buildings. Why are the measures introduced by this university so innovative and should inspire others?
The proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is directed there to everyone – students, own employees or external collaborators, and to the extent that everyone is willing and able to get involved at their workplace. The University of Oxford reports that laboratory buildings account for more than 60% of total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, the mentioned Sustainable Laboratories programme focuses specifically on reducing the consumption of energy and other resources in laboratory work. It also offers support for employees in the form of laboratory performance evaluation tools, as well as financial rewards for outstanding teams. Easy access to online information, specific guidance and tools, such as, for example, the good practice guide for the use of equipment and recycling of laboratory waste, the preferred service provider database, the equipment sharing database, the material and furniture reuse portal or the electronic laboratory notebooks, is also important.
Which solution particularly caught your eye?
Reviewing the solutions used at the University of Oxford, I particularly liked the Passivhaus concept, or passive house, simply the low-energy building design. Its first example, The Hub serves as a co-working room and café for one of the colleges. It also functions as an easily accessible example for visitors to the campus. Buildings certified under this methodology are characterised by a comfortable indoor environment with extremely low energy consumption. Since mid-2017, the projects of the University of Oxford have been using the Passivhaus building construction standard which translates, among other things, into reduced building complexity and maintenance costs, better indoor air quality and greater protection against rising energy prices.
The climate benefits of reducing the carbon footprint seem obvious. What benefits can universities reap from monitoring their carbon footprint and why should they do so?
First and foremost, the reputational benefits. Many sustainable development advocates point to the important, if not leading, role of universities as opinion leaders in education in the broader sense, also in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of human activities. In addition to this, carbon footprint monitoring is also a way to gather information about the university activities in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, identify opportunities for cost reductions, incorporate the impact of emissions into decision-making processes. It is also about demonstrating environmental responsibility and meeting the requirements of customers and business partners who may be interested in the carbon footprint of the services offered to them, and above all it is about educating by example and, soon, about the obligation associated with non-financial reporting.
It would be perfect if the theory was backed up by the practice – the implementation of carbon footprint monitoring in your own operation. This is especially the case given that many universities also undertake research in this regard, publish, produce bachelor’s and master’s theses and provide expertise for business entities. The most popular are those for calculating the Business Carbon Footprint and the Product Carbon Footprint. The carbon footprint as an emissions indicator is also used in a broader context, for example to analyse supply chains across economic sectors. Interesting studies on this topic, also from a global perspective, are published by, among others, the Stockholm Resilience Centre. I particularly recommend this to those interested in climate change and anthropopressure.
In the report, you point out that examples of laboratories carrying out energy audits of resource-efficient technologies, such as backflow systems, are promising in terms of carbon footprint monitoring. At the University of Gdansk, two international projects are currently underway in this field: AquaLoop and TETRAS. You are co-author of the first one and are collaborating on the second one. What are this two projects about?
AquaLoop, or “Aquaculture Forum Towards the Development of Circular Economy Practices,” and TETRAS, or “Technology Transfer Towards Recirculating Acquaculture Systems in the Baltic Sea Region,” projects aim to develop circular practices in aquaculture based on the aforementioned recirculating water systems, the so-called RAS[Recirculating Aquaculture Systems – editor’s note], increasingly used for fish and shellfish farming, as well as in aquaponic systems. Both projects are funded by the INTERREG programme and implemented in international teams, with our partners coming from Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany, Poland and Sweden. The first project, AquaLoop, focuses on the sustainable management of aquaculture waste and the popularisation of aquaculture products. The most essential resource here is water. In the planned pilot projects at our University, in the Department of Marine Ecology, as well as in Rostock and Klaipėda, we will develop methods for the use of aquaculture waste, such as the culture of macro- and microalgae in post-breeding waters of white shrimp, the use of former farmed fish waste and the construction of aquaponic systems in combination with recirculating water systems.
The TETRAS will seek to improve production techniques and increase the scale of production in fish and shellfish farming, for instance, using technology that allows the management of excess water and energy used by the industry, based also in this project on RAS recirculation systems. Systems that, despite high maintenance costs, can be efficient food production methods, but with a small caveat – preferably in combination with geothermal power plants, reusing water from other production or in aquaponic systems.
What is the contribution of the University of Gdańsk to this project?
The participation of University of Gdansk will consist of a life cycle analysis, known as a Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA. The aim of this study is to assess the environmental and energy efficiency of aquatic organism rearing systems, in pilot projects conducted in Denmark, in the Guldborgsund Municipality, where a small-scale demonstration RAS installation will be assessed, and in Lithuania, at the University of Klaipėda, where we will analyse a semi-industrial-scale RAS system used for shrimp farming.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that when the pilots are completed and successful, we will be happy to share the results obtained. Based on the results of the work of both projects, we are preparing an educational offer for students, schoolchildren and professionals, also in cooperation with entrepreneurs from the industry and associated partners. There will be courses, RAS demonstrations and study tours, as well as feasibility studies, business models for circular systems in aquaculture to propose to entrepreneurs interested in introducing circular economy solutions in their farms.
I wish you the best of luck and thank you for the interview.
Thank you very much!
Hanna Łądkowska – an Oceanography graduate and a project management specialist with experience in European programmes (Framework Programmes, LIFE+, INTERREG, BONUS EEIG, EEA, EMFAF), involved in technology transfer, education and cooperation with business in the field of blue bioeconomy, especially in the aquaculture sector. Manager of projects promoting innovative technologies in aquaculture (e.g. InnoAquaTech, AquaVIP, TETRAS, BlueBioTechpreneurs.) Her professional interests include the use of RAS in aquaculture, spreading awareness of the circular economy, LCA and raising funds for interesting ideas. In the InnoAquaTech project, she coordinated a pilot dedicated to the experimental (first in Poland) culture of white shrimp in RAS. In her daily work, she connects scientists with entrepreneurs – she has co-organised specialised courses and training for students and professionals interested in developing a career in aquaculture and related sectors. She is a member of the European Aquaculture Society, the Euroshrimp Network, the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators and a coordinator of the University of Gdansk’s cooperation with the SUBMARINER Network for Blue Growth EEIG. As part of the European University of the Seas, she co-founded the Observatory for Blue Economy. She works in the Department of Marine Ecology at the Faculty of Oceanography and Geography of the University of Gdańsk.
Interview by Szymon Gronowski (the Centre for Sustainable Development of the UG)