Lack of funding blamed for poor university sustainability results

A lack of Government funding to support sustainability in Britain's higher education establishments has led to a year-on-year fall in carbon emission reductions across the sector since 2013, according to new research from a student campaign network.

People & Planet’s annual study of higher education sustainability found that only 24% of universities are still on course to meet sector carbon reduction targets of 43% by 2020.

The campaign network places the blame on the removal of Government support through schemes such as the capital investment framework and student green fund, stating the policy landscape “now looks bereft of any support or incentive.”

However, the lack of support has not prevented all universities from taking a holistic approach to tackling climate change on environmental issues. The People & Planet report revealed that UK universities are leading the way on fossil fuel divestment globally, highlighting that 42 higher education institutions have committed to exclude the fossil fuel industry from around £10.7bn of endowment wealth, overtaking other European Union (EU) countries, the US and Australia.

People & Planet campaigns and movement building co-ordinator Amoge Ukaegbu said: ‘UK universities have been world leaders on cutting-edge research into climate solutions. By severing their ties with fossil fuel companies, universities are standing in solidarity with the communities across the world that are on the frontline of fossil fuel extraction and climate change.”

‘Giving an edge’

Nottingham Trent University tops the People & Planet’s 2016 University League, which scores universities on a range of audits such as environmental sustainability, carbon management, and staff and student agreement. The opening of Pavilion, Nottingham Trent’s first carbon-negative building, and the integration of sustainability into its teaching and learning through a “green academy” helped the institution to top the pile

Commenting on the report, Nottingham Trent University environmental manager Grant Anderson said: “We made it a formal requirement six months ago that all of our courses incorporate at least one of the 17 UN sustainable development goals. We think it will give our students an edge in their careers to have considered some of the environmental challenges they will face in their lifetimes.

“So chemistry students are looking at the role they can play in finding solutions to feeding the world in a sustainable way and primary education students learn practical gardening skills that they will be able to share with their pupils at the university’s food share allotments.”

University of Brighton and Manchester Metropolitan University placed second and third in the league rankings, with the former managing to reduce its carbon footprint despite expanding in size and opening its buildings for longer hours. 

The positive contributions of the leading universities were not matched on a wider scale, however. The People & Planet report found that 60 institutions lacked any evidence of a senior role with responsibility for sustainability issues, also noting decrease in university environment staff as one third of universities now appear to have no dedicated environment team at all.

University challenge

The student is not the first report to highlight the higher education sector’s struggle to stay on track with 2020 energy reduction targets. Nevertheless, positive progress on environmental commitments has been made by a number of institutions.

Oxford Brookes University recently became one of the first educational establishments in the UK to use demand response as a way of reducing energy usage in student accommodation. Additionally, the first ‘carbon-neutral’ student accommodation will be opening later this year at the University of Herefordshire, having secured a BREEAM Outstanding rating.

Students at the University of Northampton will soon have their heating and hot water generated by a CO2-saving on-site energy centre, incorporating woodchip biomass boilers and a combined heat and power (CHP) system.

edie podcast: Back to CSR school

In September, edie visited London Metropolitan University to discuss the university’s low-carbon commitment, which has seen them rank second in the Brite Green report. The interview is was broadcast in an episode of edie’s Sustainable Business Covered podcast, and can be listened to below. 

George Ogleby

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