If you can get to your student digs' appliances, you may find the related costs prohibitive (apologies to all the clean students out there)

Mike Thornton

While student protests and occupations against proposed fee rises have dominated the news over the last few weeks, the other, more general expenses of student life are often forgotten – the food and utility costs that we all have to face.

The old cliché of students permanently ensconced in the pub rings less and less true, as they push to get the grades to justify the expense of going to university. More of student life takes place in the shared house or flat these days, and as much as they’d welcome it, there’s no student discount on energy bills. 

In many ways, students are an ideal target audience for the energy efficiency message:  they’re on a budget, they need to save money wherever they can, so lower fuel bills are a very real incentive.   

They’re mostly young, they will be living through climate change, so they’re often interested and concerned and they’re usually receptive to new ideas.  Not to mention that they will soon be tomorrow’s mainstream carbon consumers, so influencing them now means big carbon savings later.  

But on the other hand, they usually don’t own where they live, so changing things may be harder and they’ve got lots of other stuff to do, like learning, socialising not to mention those part time jobs to make ends meet.

 A project at Edinburgh University aims to take advantage of these positives and avoid the negatives, by employing the Transition Model, an idea most often seen in “transition towns.”  

With funding from the Scottish Government’s community focused Climate Challenge Fund, Transition Edinburgh University aims to create a community of students and staff who can work together to make their university building and their homes more sustainable. Six paid full time staff members, 20 student and non-student interns and a number of student and staff volunteers help to run a varied and exciting programme of work. The key projects so far, as detailed here include: 

  • Fun and educational events around campus.
  • A volunteer-led ‘Big Green Makeover’ scheme surveying student and staff residences to find ways of reducing environmental impact. Volunteer advisers visit to provide tailored advice on saving energy, over a free pizza!  Advice given covers insulation heating systems, lighting and water and waste and includes installing a smart energy monitor
  • ‘The Big Switch’, finding ways to cut energy usage at university halls of residence including an inter-halls energy competition.
  • Working with the University’s accommodation services to train their 40 resident assistants to provide energy advice through home visits to all first year students in self-catering flats.  

The Energy Saving Trust manages the Energy Saving Scotland advice centre (ESSac) network on behalf of the Scottish Government and one of these centres, the Energy Saving Scotland advice centre South East, has been closely involved with Transition Edinburgh University in the development of the Big Green Makeover project, providing expertise and training for volunteers, while makeover clients can be referred to the advice centre for further advice and support.    

It’s not just us talking and the students listening – it’s very much been two way traffic. The enthusiasm and fresh approach of the group’s staff and volunteers has stimulated staff at the centre to be even more creative on community engagement, including looking at ways to extend their services to new audiences through information sessions that are more interactive than a traditional ‘talk’. As is no more than appropriate in a student-centred scheme, we’ve all learnt something!