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Students' environmental expertise helps shopping centre go 'green'

Published: 
18 December 2008

As consumers rush to get their essential shopping done in the lead up to Christmas, the 'Green' credentials of their local shopping centre are probably the last thing on their minds.

However, the South Coast's premier shopping centre is taking steps to reduce its impact on the environment by commissioning expert consultancy advice from students at a local university.

Postgraduate students studying for Masters degrees in Environmental Sciences at the University of Southampton are undertaking an environmental project at WestQuay Shopping Centre in the city as part of their studies.

The aim is to develop an environmental management system (EMS) and gain international environmental management standard ISO14001 for WestQuay.

Working in six small consultancy groups, thirty-four students based in the School of Civil Engineering and the Environment are assessing how WestQuay can best manage its facilities and systems to reduce its overall environmental impact.

The project is assessing all WestQuay's activities that impact on the environment, such as waste and energy management through heating, cooling and lighting, lifts and escalators, public and retailer waste, car parking, and the service yard. Only the common areas of WestQuay are included in the project, as the energy and water management of individual retail shop units are the responsibility of traders.

WestQuay has energy requirements to run heating, cooling and lighting and other vital services, many of which shoppers never see. The shopping centre already taps into the city's district heating scheme heating and cooling services, which is a good source of low-carbon energy.

Following weekly teaching sessions focusing on theory, the student teams are making regular visits to WestQuay to identify possible environmental issue and gather essential data to feed into the development of the EMS.

In January, the six consultancy groups will present the results of their projects and their proposals for an EMS to the key members of retail and office property company Hammerson plc which owns WestQuay.

The group pitching the best proposals will have their ideas taken forward and developed into an environmental management system. University course director Simon Kemp will then work alongside WestQuay to assist them in implementing the EMS and achieving the ISO 14001 standard.

Simon explains: "This is a fantastic opportunity for University of Southampton students to help solve real-life problems and to apply the things they are learning as part of their studies to a commercial organisation. Working with WestQuay in this way offers them a unique learning experience, enabling them to develop really good skills and increase their future employability.

"But there are huge benefits for WestQuay too: it gains a professional consultancy service for free, which will result in a certified environmental management system in place, an international environmental standard and the opportunity to reduce its environmental impact."

Professor Debra Humphris, University of Southampton Pro Vice-Chancellor, Education, says: "I'm delighted to see this successful collaboration in action. This is yet another example of how the University of Southampton helps to support the local and regional economy through its expertise and links with business and industry. It also demonstrates the excellence of the University's teaching and learning practices, which focus on skills and employability of students."

Carl Brooks, Sustainability Advisor for the Hammerson shopping centre portfolio, says: "Hammerson is taking a lead role in the sustainability agenda within commercial property and the effective management of our operations is essential in ensuring that we minimise our impact on the wider environment.

"ISO14001 is important to Hammerson as a demonstrable way of communicating our commitment to sustainability to our stakeholders. By working with the University on this and other projects, we are also forging symbolic links between our business and the communities in which we operate, he continues. "The students from the University have worked in a professional and competent manner throughout this project and we are really excited to see the results in January."

Student Holly Stowell is enthusiastic about the opportunities the project is offering: "Not only do we receive 'hands on' experience of environmental practice in real business, but the fact that WestQuay is one of the largest retail and leisure destinations in the south of England provides us with a unique opportunity not afforded to many students.

"On a personal level, the increased understanding of how businesses function in the real world is a precious insight, and is something that can't be gained in a lecture theatre," she says.

Simon Kemp is already looking for a local company in need of an environmental management system to work with the University as a case study next year. He is also keen to identify a number of small businesses who could host students to carry out an environmental review from February 2009, identifying impacts and legislation compliance and delivering an environmental policy statement and advice on improving environmental performance.

Any local businesses interested in finding out more about what it involves and the benefits to them should email Simon Kemp on: s.kemp@soton.ac.uk

Notes for editors

  • For further information
    Simon Kemp, School of Civil Engineering and the Environment,
    Tel. 023 8059 5868, email: s.kemp@soton.ac.uk
    Sue Wilson, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8059 5457, email: sjew@soton.ac.uk
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