22 April, 2024
Education, environment and elevating universities 
Read our latest article where we discuss how we support the higher education sector with creating sustainable and inspiring education spaces.

Last week we were delighted to attend AUDE’s Annual Conference 2024 – our first as an official Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) Business Partner, where we were also shortlisted for AUDE Supplier of the Year. Joining from our team were Managing Director, Alex Hunt; Senior Partner, Angus Taylor; Marketing Manager, Georgina Barkworth and Head of Furniture Tania Bustamante.

A message from the ice

This year, the event was hosted at Northumbria University, and from 15th to 18th April the three-day conference zeroed in on a topic that is forefront of many of our minds – climate change.

Drawing on the observations of Northumbria University’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, as well as other leading research, the event reflected the deeply pragmatic nature both of AUDE and its members.

Alongside celebrating the research specialisms of Northumbria University, the focus was on practical solutions within the higher education sector. Front and centre was the question of to how sustainability can be proactively delivered in terms of education, expertise, and the university estates themselves. 

Reinforcing those values, the timing of the conference was also in the lead up to today’s Earth Day celebrations. The annual event is using this year to highlight their work for human and planetary health, emphasising the reduction of plastics and the improvement of climate and environmental literacy amongst citizens.


Supporting Universities’ sustainability

In 2022 the Department for Education (DfE)’s sustainability and climate change strategy set out parameters requesting that universities must baseline their on-site emissions by 2024. By 2025 universities must report against national targets and have climate action plans in place that increase carbon literacy, implement decarbonisation and nature-based solutions.

With these target dates looming, AUDE’s objective was to look at how institutions can deliver against those requirements (and preferably exceed them) meaningfully, with reasonable timelines, budgets and allowance for logistical needs. Crucially, how do those of us supporting the sector facilitate that progress?

Constructing a better future

The built environment at universities is fundamental to achieving sustainability goals and simultaneously improving educational experiences for individual and community impact both in the short- and long-term.

By truly understanding everything from carbon footprint to biodiversity gains and the realities of off-setting alongside a uniquely connected and informed approach to development, the design and build sector is in a unique position to make a difference.

At Maris, we use our design and technical expertise to create spaces to inspire, improve performance and well-being, stimulate minds and ultimately help students and academics to achieve their full potential. Crucially, this is done both professionally and at pace, thanks to our fully employed team encompassing the whole spectrum of design and build skills. That level of in-house skill allows for total connectivity and rapid resolutions.

University impact

Reimagining estates to be healthier and more connected, better serving students, staff and the environment is not merely an inward-looking goal, but one that has a knock-on effect both within local communities and as students go on into their careers, contributing to society.

Individual features might include maximising spatial use, improving energy efficiency, incorporating natural light and plant life, using recycled materials and installing specialist features. Cumulatively, designing the right educational environment delivers transformative experiences both for students and beyond.

University design in action

In an example which Alex Hunt, Senior Partner and Managing Director at Maris described as “one of the proudest projects of my career”, our work at Buckinghamshire New University (BNU) in High Wycombe saw us deliver a complex project in just 61 weeks. The work transformed tired legacy buildings and created a vibrant ‘heart of the campus’ for better use and better experiences.  

Meanwhile, at London South Bank University (LSBU) we turned a dilapidated Grade II listed building, Electric House in Croydon, into state-of-the-art student experience.  Both restoring a much-loved building in the heart of the community and ensuring the sustainable, electrical, mechanical and digital requirements befitting a first-class education facility, it’s now a unique and inspiring learning environment.


Looking to the future of universities

Universities are in a pivotal position for shaping the future of our world in terms of delivering the skills needed in the working environment as well as providing the inspiration and education necessary to solve challenges facing all corners of society. Achieving that requires the facilities to attract and deliver experiences that students want, as well as leading by example when it comes to showcasing modern ethics and values, particularly when it comes to community and the environment. 

“Attending our first AUDE Annual Conference as an official business partner was a privilege. We have enormous respect for them as individuals and as an institution and are constantly enthused by the proactive mindset of all members, whose passion for progression is as emphatic as our own. We work with so many exceptional universities that seek to make a difference, not only in the classroom but beyond as well, and we are wholeheartedly present to help deliver the practical and visionary capabilities that they need to help make that happen.”

Angus Taylor, Senior Partner at Maris Interiors

Find out more about our work in higher education