David Somervell steps back

At the end of February David Somervell steps back from his role as Sustainability Adviser to take up new challenges within and outside the University. SRS Director Dave Gorman reflects on David’s 27+ years at the University.

CHP and David Somervell

I first met David in the mid-2000s when we worked together drawing up the University sector’s climate commitment. I chaired the board working to draw up the declaration, and it was - as some might say - an ‘interesting’ experience. I remember the penultimate meeting well, where David argued the case for climate change with passion and determination, and - after an awful lot of negotiation over words and meaning - we got there.

I think that is a small example of David’s commitment and tenacity over the last nearly 30 years with the University. In that time the world has changed enormously (think Berlin Wall, the internet, mobile phones, the human genome and a host of other things) and sustainability and social responsibility are now firmly established as key components of a modern and successful University. I am sure that is in no small part due to David’s insights, energy and abilities.

As many readers may know, David started out as energy manager, and oversaw key developments in the University’s thinking on these issues: from building design to modern energy efficiency materials and onto the ever thorny issue of how to capture and record accurately energy data across a vast and increasing estate.

Working with Estates colleagues David was a key player in driving the £20m+ investments the University has made in 4 Combined Heat and Power plants; soon to be 5. The CHP plants combine lower carbon heating and power with sound financial savings for the University, and are ever popular as choices for ‘tours’ from staff and international sustainability colleagues as well as reducing our emissions by almost 10,000 tonnes per year.

During the 1990s and the early part of this century, David’s role broadened again to include the wider concept of sustainability. Sustainability is often thought of as being about environmental issues, but its reach and importance is much wider, taking in issues as complex and difficult as fairness between and across generations, impacts of our decisions on far-away places, and even the purpose and nature of economic activity.

During that time the University made steady advances in managing waste and improving recycling, reducing the impact of travel and supporting active travel and promoting fair trade. Indeed, supported strongly by staff students and procurement colleagues, the University became Scotland’s first fair trade University in 2004.

Moving on, the University increasingly developed and supported action on ‘social responsibility’. This is, if you like, a 'self imposed' duty to consider how to avoid harm in going about our activities. It means we must consider and look for ways at both local and global level to deliver a significant contribution to the well being of society.

Of course this means a much broader range again taking in our learning and teaching, the positive contribution our research makes, issues of human rights and harms in our supply chains, responsible investment and a host of other concerns.

Throughout this growing remit, culminating in the establishment of the SRS department, David has continued to impress with his dedication, outstanding and encyclopaedic knowledge, and willingness to raise the hard issues, and continues to make the case. The loss of his knowledge and experience will be keenly felt in both the SRS department and more widely, and we wish him all the very best in the next chapter of his ongoing adventure.


Learn about our party for David on Friday 26th February 2016.