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Universities are not confident in meeting green campus targets

Research from Shakespeare Martineau finds that universities still have a long way to go to meet ambitious green campus targets. Smita Jamdar has the findings.
This article is more than 1 year old

Smita Jamdar leads the education team at Shakespeare Martineau

Just one in ten further and higher education providers were “very confident” that they would meet their decarbonisation targets.

Recalling the government goal of a 78 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, around two in five (42 per cent ) stating that they are not confident or unsure that they will achieve this for their own campuses.

Out of the UK’s more than four hundred universities and colleges, there are very few easy-to-find examples of carbon neutral or net zero campuses. Indeed, despite being a widely accepted concept across the education sector, there is no standardised definition for what a green campus actually is.

As part of the Building a Green Campus – what’s stopping institutions report, we surveyed more than 130 FE and HE representatives to understand what the challenges and barriers were to becoming a green campus, defined across a range of different characteristics. We also asked 1,000 16 to 19-year-olds planning on applying to college or university whether sustainability had any influence on their decision making.

Funding, leadership and accountability

Of the 130 educational representatives 77 per cent stated finance as a barrier to becoming a “green campus”, 42 per cent struggle to deliver renewable energy campus-wide and almost a third (31 per cent) blame a resistance to change within the institution.

Leadership was a key theme in the open responses from colleges and universities. One respondent stated there had been a “delay in signing off the environmental strategy”, while others raised concerns about a “lack of engagement”, “limited interest” and “lack of imagination” from senior leaders when it came to achieving a green campus.

Currently, the majority of further and higher education providers in England are not subject to mandatory carbon emissions reporting – but on the basis that what gets measured, gets done, we recommend that the EAUC’s Standardised Carbon Emissions Reporting Framework should become mandatory to drive accountability.

What students want

Our research showed that nearly 69 per cent of prospective students are worried about climate change and almost a third (29 per cent ) believe colleges and universities are responsible for address it.

Some 79 per cent of prospective students want institutions to have clear strategies for tackling climate change. Yet less than half (48 per cent) of institutions agree that factoring climate change into decision making would be important to prospective students, indicating a clear disconnect between perceived priorities.

It is great to see is that 90 per cent of the prospective students we surveyed said they would be proud to attend a green campus. But time is running out and changes urgently need to be made across funding, planning, energy, and governance if we are to help meet climate change targets and provide students with a campus, and a future, to be proud of.

The solutions to becoming a green campus lies in cross-institutional activities, such as leadership and management, teaching and learning, research and innovation, and services and facilities. These will be challenging to coordinate and implement, but also offer a common, cohesive goal for the whole institution to work towards.

So, in order to make a real difference sustainability needs to run through every aspect of strategy and not just be the delegated responsibility of estates or sustainability managers.

So what is a green campus?

Taking into consideration all the aspects identified as being associated with a green campus by both prospective students and education institutions, we developed the following definition for a green campus:

A green campus collects and reports on its energy consumption, is carbon neutral, limits or eliminates food, water and energy waste and only works with like-minded suppliers and partners. The institution works closely with the community, colleagues and students to educate, innovate and drive sustainable improvements, making a positive contribution to local biodiversity and the environment through research, course curriculum and proactive projects.

Achieving green campus status is a huge undertaking for institutions, with some aspects more challenging than others and credit should be given to those en route to achieving the many aspects required. In light of this we also propose the concept of an ‘emerging green campus’.

Becoming a green campus and hitting sustainability targets is not something that can be achieved overnight. We believe that transparency and collaboration within and between institutions and partners such as lenders, lawyers and consultants could be the key to unlocking potential in campuses across the UK.

Download the report in full here.

One response to “Universities are not confident in meeting green campus targets

  1. With many universities expanding and pouring tons of very high carbon concrete in the process I’m not sure many will achieve a ‘green status’ any time soon.

    One I know only too well has played the green game for years, with water ‘recovery’ swales that are permanently dry and other green projects often turning out to be worse environmentally for all the extra costs involved. Several resent projects have required importation of ~1,500 tonnes of ceramic cladding panels from China, a similar amount of marble from Italy and again tonnes of high carbon concrete with high carbon footprint steel rebar, but hopefully those buildings will at least be energy efficient with all the latest air conditioning and heating systems. The older buildings on campus are cold come the Autumn, with electrical fan heaters being illicitly snuck in by staff just to keep themselves barely warm in winter.

    Even today my office is barely legal (16.3°C) in a 15-year-old ‘modern building’, a temperature most will complain about, but some cannot cope with at all, the mainly glass walls are warmer, by 4°, than the aluminium framing that holds them, so much for being an architectural prize-winning design! Still, I’m better off than some without any heating at all due to district heating system failures… Another green idea that has proven to be very costly both to implement, and due to illicit fan heaters high carbon through energy consumption.

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