Universities and the Olympics have more in common than you think

Holly Knight, Manager Campus Planning and Strategy at Murdoch University is certainly someone who knows about delivering sustainability. Having recently joined the team at Murdoch University, her first major task is to develop the Murdoch University Campus Masterplan. Holly has spent 15 years working on sustainable development in the private and public sector, and was most recently Head of Sustainability for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) as part of London 2012

As a result of that role, Holly was invited by the U.S. Embassy and the State Department to tour the USA as part of their International Visitor Leadership Program themed on Sustainable Cities and designed to introduce emerging leaders to their counterparts in the United States. Holly was also invited by UK Trade and Industry, the Foreign Commonwealth Office and the United Nations Environment Programme to visit Japan, Brazil, and various parts of Europe to disseminate best practice learning and in 2012 she was honoured by Building Design Magazine as one of their 50 most influential leaders in sustainability.

Ahead of the Campus Development Summit, I caught up with Holly to see where the potential lies for Australian Universities to create something as inspirational as the Olympics..

What are you excited about in terms of sustainability potential?

Design – Often people think of technology to deliver sustainable buildings when actually good design is more important. For example, asking ourselves; how can we design out waste within our structures and save on resources?

I’ve come from the background of mega construction and the concept of lightweightingbuildings saves money and embodied carbon. It’s not a concept that’s big yet in the educational space here, but it does align really nicely with creating flexible buildings, which is a core feature of education now. We’re looking to design buildings that are fit for the future and be able to modify them down the line without being wasteful.

Technology – In addition to that, there’s exciting stuff happening with technology, particularly around energy. The cost of renewables has decreased massively and it’s at a tipping point for photovoltaics. There are other countries & cities ahead of us in terms of smart infrastructure, but within our masterplan we can start to include and plan for those technological changes, for example electric vehicle networks and off grid energy supplies. . That space in university master planning is really exciting. We’re only just scratching the surface on what we can do.

What’s your current focus at Murdoch?

Murdoch is just about to turn 40 years old and a lot of our buildings are at the stage where they need to be refreshed, refitted and retrofitted. I’m looking at a number of things within our Campus Master Plan. One task is to look at our existing building stock and see what we need to add to ensure we can meet the future demands of our university. We also need to look at our social and informal break out areas and make sure we are meeting the needs of this new generation of students. The other part is our amazing ecological resource at Murdoch – the ‘Bush Campus’. At the moment it’s quite wild, but we’re starting to look at how we open up this amazing resource so that people who come here can enjoy the natural beauty of the place. The overall aim is to manage development and to activate spaces on campus for different purposes and excite people about coming here – not only for their education, but for their social experience. These are the key things; the educational and research spaces, the social spaces and the landscape and natural space..

What were some of your key lessons learnt during time as Head of Sustainability for the Olympics Delivery?

A lot has been transferable both within a facilities space and an educational space. It is a great opportunity to transfer some of the best practice learning from London 2012. In fact we worked with a group of organisations such as the UK Green Buildings Association and the Association of Project Management to develop the Learning Legacy Project, which provided

training and papers on best practice in Sustainable Development, Health and Safety, Engineering etc., they can be found here. This is open source material and can be shared for educational purposes, but also these papers were designed to help demonstrate that sustainability can be delivered easily. It shouldn’t be overcomplicated and it’s actually not a big cost and there is a lot of evidence to say you’ll actually save money long term.

In an environment where budgets are tight, most good facilities management teams are looking at ways they can save operational costs – the efficiency side of that is perfectly aligned with sustainability.

Ensuring sustainability that withstands macro changes – what are you expecting in the future?

As a key service provider on Campus, we need to be constantly evolving and responding to the needs of our organisation. First and foremost being sustainable means we need to ensure we are efficient with our funding to support the University’s key focus of research and education. That means providing smart utility provision and holistic building and grounds management.

Because of the age of Murdoch and a new Strategic Vision – it’s time to reassess a lot of our management and capital strategies and begin a new phase of planning and whole-life costing, that’s great because it almost always favours the most sustainable options. We also need to start future proofing our campus for a changing climate, whether or not that’s re-assessing our thermal strategy or going back to look at groundwater and land management from a long term water supply perspective.

Within utilities, we’re also assessing diversity of energy supply and improvements to efficiency because we’re expecting changes to the cost of power and gas. The strategy will address the challenges and protect us against them.

These are all in an investigation phase at the moment; we’ll hopefully have some answers by the time of the presentation.

You’re running a workshop at Campus Development – tell us a bit about it

I want people to see that sustainable development is easy if you plan for it and set up a clear, well thought out and achievable strategy at the start. It is also important to embrace the notion that it can create a really special place. Students and academics are generally concerned with issues like climate change, and are very open and enthusiastic about sustainable initiatives and helping out with energy efficiency. As a campus facilities team, we are service providers for those people and it’s our duty to give them a place that excites them and helps them perform at their best. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of London 2012, especially when the Games received accolades for sustainability. Sustainability unites people and it’s an area we can influence in the Higher Education Sector – it’s a real opportunity to inspire people.

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