My View

Adapting to the 21st Century’s Great Triumvirate

Dr Roddy Yarr shares his view on climate change, carbon reduction and escalating energy costs.

By Dr Roddy Yarr

St Andrews is known for its University and golf, and both share common sustainability issues.  

As an environment and energy professional working at the University of St Andrews and based at the home of golf, the three issues of climate change, carbon reduction and escalating energy costs keep me occupied. Responding to and managing all three of these major challenges require a range of solutions and strategies.

The work that I do at the University of St Andrews illustrates how an organisation, it could be a golf club or golfing society can take a positive approach to these issues.  Making yourself and colleagues aware of the issues and what they mean for your organisation is a good starting point.  At the University, we realised a number of years ago that we cannot carry on as we are.  Since then we have implemented a range of simple and more complex measures and more recently we have adopted a target to become carbon neutral for energy by 2016.  This bold step will make the University the first in the world to be carbon neutral for its own energy generation. It is part of a wider carbon reduction programme.  However, the premise is simple – reducing the use of precious resources saves money.

University of St Andrews

The work that I do at the University of St Andrews illustrates how an organisation, it could be a golf club or golfing society can take a positive approach to these issues

This idea is nothing new but it is very relevant and it should apply to us all, including golf course operations.  Most clubs will have experienced rising energy and waste disposal costs as part of their business planning reviews.   Looking at the bills that come across the Club Secretary’s desk is the first step in tackling the issue.  Understanding how much and what sort of resources are used and wasted helps define the size of the task and the steps that can be taken.

The Challenge

The challenges of rising energy costs, carbon reduction requirements, carbon taxation and climate change mitigation and adaptation mean that we need to fundamentally change the way that we generate, use and store energy. 

Without positive action energy use and cost will continue to rise at an alarming rate  

By way of example, the University’s approach to energy reduction is relatively simple and is made up of three elements.  These can all be applied in some form to golf course operations. Firstly, behaviour change to help staff and students to make a difference and explaining how they can do so.  Secondly, investing in improving the fabric of our buildings, the heating and lighting technology, the building controls and the equipment that make our buildings work.  Finally, we have decided to install new micro and macro-renewables into our buildings or when we build from new, we are incorporating renewables into the building from the start.

We see real return for our efforts.  Our staff and students know that we are trying to save resources because we have trained our staff, we have provided them with the skills and empowered them to be able to implement their ideas and processes.  Our cleaners will only empty your bin if it is not full of recyclable material.  This way our staff have learnt that they need to recycle their waste carefully.  The result is that we now recycle or reuse 74% of our waste.  We have reduced our waste to landfill costs and our well segregated recycled waste attracts a healthy financial rebate from our waste broker which we reinvest in our environmental initiatives.  Our boiler and energy systems replacement programme means that we can save money from fitting more fuel efficient plant with the savings paying off the investment.  This ‘SALIX’ scheme has enabled us to upgrade our buildings in a prudent and cost effective manner while at the same reducing our carbon emissions.

So we are achieving real progress with our energy strategy, however, to make the necessary ‘step change’ on carbon emissions, we are investing in two large scale renewable energy projects – our own windfarm and a wood fuelled biomass energy centre.  Together these two projects will reduce our carbon emissions by 29,000 tonnes and making us carbon neutral for energy generation. The graph below illustrates this ‘step change’. 

Planned developments
With the planned developments the University will see a progressive reduction in carbon emissions  

Kenly Wind Farm

The University has secured planning permission for a 12 MW wind farm on its farmland at Kenly by Boarhills, 4 miles south east of St Andrews.  The windfarm will save 19,000 tonnes of carbon per year compared to fossil fuels.

Some of the impacts of this project include:

  • direct and indirect investment in Fife - GDP benefit of £7.1M for Fife and £0.6M to the East Neuk
  • job creation during construction and maintenance
  • community benefit fund of £48K per annum, £1.2M over the life of the project
  • helps achieve Scotland’s objective of 100% of renewable electricity by 2020
  • means University complies with its duty under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009
  • secures energy pricing into the future
  • University will generate more electrical energy than it consumes.

Guardbridge Energy Centre and Guardbridge Sustainable Power and Research Centre

With the help of a £10M grant from the Scottish Government, we are also developing a £25M investment into the regeneration of the former Guardbridge paper mill.  The aim is to create an Energy Centre to generate heat which will be transmitted and distributed to the North Haugh part of the University.  This will reduce University carbon emissions by 10,000 tonnes per annum.

So what else are we up to?

We have lots of ideas that we are implementing. They all help save money and cut carbon emissions or they have some form of social payback.


  • We compost all of our own food waste.  Some of this is done on site and some is done by a third party contractor.  We use the compost from our own fruit and veg waste to nurture our numerous garden flowerbeds.
  • We offer waste items to others.  For instance all of our bikes are collected by a social enterprise and refurbished and then resold to new students at the start of term.  These second-hand sales are highly over-subscribed.  Our furniture is offered to other organisations in the town such as the local school or to charities in and around the town.  This way the items can often be reused rather than disposed of.
  • We are collaborating with the town of St Andrews to determine if it is feasible to form an anaerobic digestion facility that can generate methane from the town’s food waste to run a generator and generate electricity and heat.  There is a good source of food waste in the town and the local area to make this seem feasible.

Fairtrade St Andrews

Both the University and the town of St Andrews are accredited as Fairtrade as a result of offering Fairtrade products and goods in the form of tea, coffee, chocolate, fruit and clothing.  Now we are collaborating with and working together with The R&A to make The Open a Fairtrade event.  This will add further ethical value to the products that are offered at The Open. 

Electric and Fuel Efficient Vehicles

We have one electric vehicle working in our parks and playing fields and we are actively seeking another to use on our University mail run around St Andrews.  Lots of stop-start journeys in the town centre mean that this technology is perfect when compared to a standard diesel van.  Even our small car fleet is designed to be low emission with small engines.  For our journeys in the town, that is all that we need.  Our savings on fuel and tax mean lower running costs.

climate change
Golf can learn from and work with others to combat climate change, carbon emissions and escalating energy costs.
  1. Find out where your resources are being used.  Utility bills tell you how much you pay for heat and power and water. Paying by direct debit and understanding your tariffs can save you money.
  2. Ask yourself if you can reduce the amount of resource use by finding ways to cut down on consumption.  Installing timers on plant and equipment that is not needed 24 hours per day can help.  Reset your timeclocks so you don’t end up heating or lighting spaces you don’t need to. Procuring energy efficient products such as LED lights can help long term energy reduction. 
  3. Your waste uplifts and how much you pay for the waste to be removed can often be ignored. Less waste to landfill means less money draining from your club.
  4. Recycling is a good way to save money.  Reducing the number of waste uplifts will reduce costs and you can secure rebates on well segregated, high value items such as cans, metal, computers and so on.
  5. Think about collaborating with the local community to pool ideas and resources.  Joining together can often be a way to collectively benefit from similar ideas and sources of funding such as National Lottery or Climate Challenge Fund. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not those of the R&A.