Sustainability a priority for just one quarter of UK colleges and universities

Sustainability is a strategic priority at just one quarter of UK further education institutions, a new survey from the Environmental Association for Universities & Colleges (EAUC) has revealed.

A third of college sustainability staff and a fifth of university sustainability staff said they were expecting a decrease in budget

A third of college sustainability staff and a fifth of university sustainability staff said they were expecting a decrease in budget

The poll of 548 staff involved in sustainability in universities and colleges, also revealed that two fifths think their institutions are unlikely or very unlikely to meet emissions reductions targets.

EAUC chief executive Iain Patton said, “Already this pioneering collaborative survey is flagging warnings that colleges in particular are struggling with sustainability.

"We won’t be waiting for next year’s survey to act and we will be supporting our Members across the UK to ensure sustainability is a critical agenda item at senior level.”

A lack of financial and staff resources was identified as the biggest barrier to sustainability with support from the highest levels seen as the most important way of overcoming these barriers.

A third of college sustainability staff and a fifth of university sustainability staff said they were expecting a decrease in budget.

Government impact

Piers Telemacque, the vice-president of society and citizenship at the NUS, which collaborated on the report, said, “This important survey gives us a benchmark from which we can see how things change over the years ahead.”

“I’m really worried about the effects of the anti-renewables and sustainability slashing rhetoric from the Government of late, which goes against the hopes and aspirations of our students.

"This data is a rallying call to our member unions to call on their institutions to do more on campus sustainability, ethical investments and education for sustainable development.”

One of the biggest controversies around the environmental impact of higher education has centred around the divestment debate, with universities like Oxford, Edingburgh and Warwick coming under pressure from the student body, with varying outcomes.

According to the EUAC survey, just 16% of respondents rated their institution’s performance on ethical investments as ‘very good’ or ‘good’.

Flunking

The survey is not the first to point out the environmental failings of higher education. A report in April pointed out that universities and colleges in England will miss their collective 2020 carbon emissions reduction target by half based on current trajectories.

A separate report from September warned that universities had fallen even further behind these targets. Sustainability consultancy Brite Green forecasted that the sector will only achieve a 12% reduction in absolute carbon emissions by 2020 from a 2005 baseline - well behind the 43% target set by the sector in 2008. The consultancy said that growth was a priority for universities over sustainability.

In an exclusive interview with edie in May, Aston University’s energy manager said part of the problem was caused by the tuition fee hike as students expected energy-intensive facilities to be widely available and well-heated.

Brad Allen


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