Fight for Planet A: Episode 3 - Food - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Fight for Planet A: Episode 3 - Food

25 Aug 2020

The ABC is airing three episodes of Fight for Planet A: Our Climate Challenge in August, hosted by Craig Reucassel. The series focuses on Energy, Transport and Food and aims to motivate Australians to act on climate change. USC has been active in these areas from operational, teaching and research standpoints so we’re using this opportunity to highlight some of that work.

If you saw the first two episodes you would have seen several households learn about their carbon footprints. If you want to understand your environmental impact, take a survey to calculate your own ecological footprint.

Make sure you tune in on Tuesday 25 August for the final episode which features USC's very own Professor Nick Paul!

Episode 3: Food 

In terms of USC’s carbon emissions, the impact of food is minimal compared with transportation and energy. However, this is an area that highlights the work of staff across teaching, research and operations.

Research

Methane Reducing Seaweed: Fight for Planet A's third episode will feature an interview with USC Professor Nicholas (Nick) Paul about his research using seaweed to significantly reduce the methane produced by cow burps. As food production has a significant carbon footprint, and the methane produced by ruminants is a sizeable contributor to that footprint, the ability to greatly reduce or remove that emissions source is a potential game-changer.

Seaweed for Fish: One of the PhD candidates that Nick supervises, Valentin Thepot, has been researching the use of seaweed as an immune-booster for fish. This could remove one of the biggest barriers to a healthy aquaculture industry, disease, and will have positive flow-on effects for food security.

For more information on these, and other, seaweed projects visit the USC Seaweed Research Group.

Biliran Reforestation and Regreening: USC Professors John Herbohn and Robin Chazdon and USC Research Fellow Nestor Gregorio have been working on a community-based restoration project in the Philippines to plant crops in areas degraded by deforestation. These new crops, including fruit trees, provide the dual benefit of restoring the landscape and providing the community with an economically and nutritionally valuable food source.

For an interesting article on this work check out The Washington Post’s January 2020 climate feature, “The audacious effort to reforest the planet”. If you want more specifics, check out the following research papers:

Further research is also available in the areas of Aquaculture, Forestry and Nutrition and Dietetics.

Operational

The Catering and Venues team at USC takes sustainability seriously, from offering vegetarian and vegan options at food venues on USC campuses to working with local suppliers and producers to reduce food miles. The Sunshine Coast region has a wealth of food producers that the University uses, from locally sourced milk from Nambour to eggs and poultry from Beerwah. USC also works with businesses with a local profile to source other products including baked goods from Kunda Park, produce from Eumundi and beverages from Montville. The team ensures that its fruit and vegetable supplier use local products when in season, including mushrooms, pineapples and strawberries. Perhaps the most requested item, coffee, is sourced through a locally owned roaster.

The main emissions factor that USC measures regarding food is the level of organic waste that we compost annually. USC has been streaming waste since 2013, with a particular focus on processing organic waste onsite to prevent any food waste from entering landfill. In 2019, USC prevented 45% of its total waste at the Sunshine Coast campus from entering landfill through waste streaming and recycling efforts. Fifteen percent of that diverted waste was organic waste, including food scraps. This is accomplished by using OSCA, our On-Site Composting Apparatus. Moreton Bay has adopted the full waste streaming process, including compost which will be sent to a local company, NuGrow, to process.

Teaching

Teaching about, and engaging with, sustainable food choices occurs in a range of disciplines and courses.

  • ENS318 Plant Growth and Reproduction explores concepts of plant adaptations to the environment and covers areas such as fruit production.
  • NUT102 Food in Society is a general food course that considers a range of factors that influence individual/community food choices, including ecological and political factors.
  • NUT305 Food and the Consumer covers changes to food systems and challenges to balancing consumer demand with environmental pressures and other Australian and global forces.
  • LAW408 Intellectual Property examines emerging debates in intellectual property law, including food security and access to genetic resources.
  • MKG212 Food Marketing and MKG721 Food Marketing investigate opportunities and challenges facing food marketers and examine new trends.
  • PUB102 Environment and Health is a foundation course that develops an understanding of relationships between human health and the biophysical environment within a sustainability context, including the investigation of food security and agro-ecosystems.
  • PUB205 Food Safety Laws and Regulations builds knowledge of food safety principles and international regulation of food production and supply.
Episode 2: Transport

Taking the lead from last week’s episode, there are ways to make a difference and we need to engage with our community and companies to become more sustainable. Check out The Future Workforce: The Future is Clean video to see how USC is working with our partners to engage students on sustainability.

In terms of USC’s carbon emissions, business travel (i.e. flights) make up the second highest percentage of those emissions, ranging from 13-22% of total emissions annually (22% in 2019). Although we haven’t traditionally measured commuting, we anticipate staff commutes would equate to a similar level of emissions as business travel. Transport fuel related to fleet and contract vehicles make up 2% of total emissions annually. 2020 will see a decrease in these figures due to working from home and the cancellation of most flights, but it remains to be seen how much we return to previous travel and transport patterns in 2021 and beyond.

Operational

USC provides opportunities for students and staff to reduce their travel and transport footprint through the use of more efficient means of transportation. This includes:

  • Cycling to campus: All USC campuses have active transport facilities for staff and students to store their bicycles and use showers to prepare for work and classes.
  • Catching public transport to campus: Each USC campus is accessible by public transport, from bus stops on or near each campus to the Petrie Train Station across the street from the Moreton Bay campus.
  • Taking a shuttle between campuses: USC runs some free shuttles for staff and students to commute between campuses rather than driving their individual cars.
  • Driving a hybrid or electric vehicle: The solar panels that feed electricity to the water battery are also used to power 4 Electric Vehicle charging stations located in Car park 11 on the Sunshine Coast campus.
Research

Sustainable transportation research at USC ranges from examining trends in fuels to designing transport systems, to understanding the motivation/barriers to using sustainable forms of transportation. Some of the more recent research papers and articles in these areas include:

Part of Episode 2 featured impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. USC is active in conducting research on Marine and Coastal Ecology, as well as Global Change Ecology. Additionally, USC has a range of experts on oceans that examine impacts on marine environments and species due to human behaviour. Check out Leaf to Reef: Biodiversity of Lady Elliot Island to learn about the initiative that USC is running in partnership with The Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Teaching

Teaching about, and engaging with, sustainable transport choices occurs in both indoor and outdoor classroom settings.

Tying in with this episode’s additional focus on the Great Barrier Reef, USC provides several courses that examine the impacts of climate change in marine settings. One example of this is ENS204 Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, which provides students with an understanding of the basics of climate science and the relate impacts that are already emerging.

Episode 1: Energy

In terms of USC’s footprint, energy makes up the highest percentage of the University’s emissions, ranging from 70-80% of total emissions annually (71% in 2019).

Operational

USC has been implementing several energy efficiency initiatives to reduce the amount of energy that we consume and to source the energy that we do use from renewable sources. The biggest draws of electricity at USC are the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system, and the lighting.

The most visible example of our commitment to energy efficiency is USC’s water battery. The 4.5 Megalitre thermal energy storage tank supplies the HVAC system on the Sunshine Coast campus with efficiently chilled water. It is powered by over 6,000 solar panels (which also feed electricity into the wider campus and 4 EV charging stations). From its launch in September 2019 through July 2020, USC has been able to draw over 3 million kWh of renewable electricity from those solar panels, representing over 34% of the University’s total energy use on the Sunshine Coast campus.

To learn more about the water battery, check out USC’s Solar Studies video.

Teaching

Teaching about sustainable energy occurs in both classroom and practical settings.

PUB102 Environment and Health is a foundation course that covers the relationship between our biophysical environment and human health within a sustainability context and covers a range of issues including energy and transport.

ENS281 Sustainable Energy Systems provides an introduction to energy systems and challenges students to think about the long-term suitability of various energy technologies.

Sustainability Tours and presentations have been made available to students utilising the energy infrastructure at USC, in particular the water battery. The primary students to engage with the water battery have been Engineering students, who visited the site at key points during construction, and Business Students who looked at the model for getting the project off the ground.

Research

Renewable energy has been the topic of several research studies and reports produced by USC staff and students including:

 
Fight for Planet A Resources

ABC is providing several resources to the public to spur action on climate change. Here are some of those resources that you may find useful:

  • Community Solutions Plan: This link provides you with a personalised plan, complete with tips, tools and advice for ways to get involved with your community to reduce emissions.
  • Carbon Counter: Identify changes that you can make and see how much those changes will reduce your carbon footprint.