Manchester Met University’s James Woodward wins 2013 Ecologist Environmental Hero award


James Woodward (right) accepts the award from the Ecologist's Paul Creeney. Photo credit Paul Creeney.

James Woodward, Client Services Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), has won this year’s Green Impact Universities and Colleges Environmental Hero Award. James, 37, explains the importance of green IT to the Ecologist’s Paul Creeney

How did you first become interested in green issues?

Initially, I was asked to join the Environmental Strategy board at MMU because the head of IT basically didn’t have the time! I’ve always had an interest in green issues, but in the past I wasn’t in a position to do a lot about it. Since joining MMU two years ago and working with the strategy board I’ve realised that I can make a difference, and the enthusiasm of the head of environmental sustainability here, John Hindley, has also helped a great deal.

I’m also not the type of person who would join a group or campaign and then sit there and do nothing. If I get involved with something I want to do it properly!

Which scheme that you have implemented are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the datacentre work we have done. I was given a remit of moving some servers to the bottom floor of the building because there had been a few problems with the room they were in. The original plan had just been to bring the servers down and plug in a few fans next to them if needs be, but I thought we could do a whole lot more to make it greener and more efficient. We then realised we could close down the other server rooms, consolidate everything into this one room, and build a proper energy saving environment including a water based cooling system. We’re also installing LED lighting with sensor controls in there, so as little energy as possible is wasted through heat and light when no one is in the room.

We’ve turned moving the servers into an extremely sustainable project, and will have spent around £500,000 by the time it’s finished on making MMU’s datacentre less taxing on the environment. It’s a lot of money, but it pays back financially as well as through savings to the energy bill.

We also introduced 100% recycled paper, which costs more for the university, but from an environmental and sustainability point of view it was judged to be worth it.

What is the main difficulty you face when trying to introduce greener schemes to the university?

The main difficulty we had was being able to prove that what we wanted to do was going to pay back, in both monetary and sustainability terms. We had to make sure we were using the right technology, and make sure we prioritised the right factors. For instance, in IT we needed to keep our datacentres cool, so we worked with the environmental team here to find the most sustainable way of doing that.

In an ideal world, what schemes do you think would help to make offices greener?

From an IT perspective, more could be done when people leave the offices after work. Building management solutions such as computers, phone systems, lights and Wi-Fi switching off at the end of the day would make a huge difference in making offices greener. When a building closes it doesn’t need Wi-Fi or for the phones to be switched on. If money was no object that would definitely be top of the list.

How did you feel when you found out you’d been nominated, and when you won?

I knew I had been put forward for a nomination, but to be honest it was a box on the form that had to be filled, so my name went in there! I didn’t think I would win though, as I thought there were other people in this university alone who have done more than me in terms of sustainability.

When I was announced as the winner I was pretty shocked, although I still managed to make an impromptu speech! When I first started here the IT department were only awarded the bronze award, so I had a word with the manager because I was sure we could do better. I’m also proud to be a part of MMU, and was chuffed to bits when we finished top of the Green League.  It’s outstanding compared to where they were four years ago, which was barely in the top 100. A hell of a lot of effort has gone into this, so we’re all delighted!

Paul Creeney is a freelance journalist focusing on environmental and human rights issues.

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