University of Canterbury, Christchurch

February 2017 – What with being in New Zealand again, I wanted to make the most of the trip and meet others working in similar roles to me (at the University of Cambridge) around sustainability efforts. Here’s what is going on at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.


 Where? Christchurch, New Zealand. We met at the Lemon Tree Café – lovely spot!


When? 18th January, 2017


Who? Matt Morris, Sustainability Advocate, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – part of Engineering Services (Facilities Management)


What? Matt leads the sustainability team at the University, made up four people all working part time roles (Matt’s other hat is with the Food Resilience Network [] – a conversation for another time!). Before the 2011 earthquake, Canterbury was leading alongside Auckland within STENZ (the network of sustainability teams in universities across New Zealand). Sustainability was part of the University charter. The team had a wide-reaching remit. Now though, the official position is that the sustainability strategy is under review. The team are all working part-time roles. Their mandate has been reduced and they have been working with an unapproved draft strategy for the last five years to inform their work.


What struck me most during my conversation with Matt was the importance of stability for sustainability initiatives. Since the Christchurch earthquakes, the University of Canterbury has been struggling due to so much disruption and damage. As Matt put it, it is hard to prioritise long-term sustainability when the short-term sustainability of the institution is in question. As an example, Canterbury’s eco-office programme has been shelved. Like Green Impact in the UK, it provided a framework for teams to go through in order to improve environmental performance within their offices. However, when staff have to shift offices regularly, throw out unneeded items and consider the place they are in as temporary, they feel a lack ownership and control over that space, and therefore are unlikely to feel motivation to make improvements. A number of other initiatives have gone on hold too.


The team has had to cease or dramatically reduce their work on student engagement, staff engagement, curriculum change, certification of green buildings and events. The core mandate now is to administer the CEMARS (Carbon and Energy Management And Reduction Scheme) emissions measurement scheme, to which it joined in 2011 as the first university to receive this certification in the southern hemisphere. They also do some work on waste and recycling, energy reporting, transport, water and fair trade.


Matt considers they are going through a transitional period and that they will reach their previously leading role again once the University is properly back on its feet. How long that will take is currently unknown.

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