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Higher education sector reduces carbon emissions

Brite Green reports that although emissions fell by seven per cent in 2015/16, the sector is still off-track to meet its 2020 target

Posted by Julian Owen | October 13, 2017 | Sustainability

The higher education sector in England continues to improve its carbon emissions reduction performance, having its best year to date. In 2015/16, research by sustainability strategy consultancy Brite Green found that sector emissions fell by seven per cent, compared to a total reduction of 10 per cent over the previous 10 years. 

Brite Green’s University Carbon Progress Report reveals that despite improved performance, the sector remains off track to meet its 2020 carbon reduction target of 43 per cent. If emissions continue to fall at the current rate, the sector is forecast to achieve only a 23 per cent reduction by 2020. Universities now have less than five years to deliver the significant carbon reductions needed. 

“Universities across the country are demonstrating the benefits of implementing carbon management programmes, with some delivering incredible reductions” commented Darren Chadwick, Managing Partner at Brite Green. “Many universities are behind the curve and there are still some significant challenges for the sector to overcome to achieve their targets. Sustainability is a key strategic issue for universities and leading institutions recognise that it needs to be managed across all aspects of university life; from teaching and research to investment strategy and estates management.” 

Key findings show that each year more institutions are improving their individual performance, though the majority are still off track to meet their own targets. Of the 127 higher education institutions analysed, only 52 are projected to meet or exceed their 2020 targets. 

Universities now have less than five years to deliver the significant carbon reductions needed. 

London Metropolitan University topped this year’s league table, having reduced their absolute emissions by an impressive 57 per cent since 2005. 

“We believe universities have a duty to play a constructive role in reducing carbon emissions”, notes Professor John Raftery, Vice Chancellor at London Metropolitan University. “Our success with sustainability is the result of hard work and determination from our outstanding sustainability team and the engagement in this issue by our students and staff. We are constantly building on these efforts and have this year installed 221 solar panels on the roof of our Science Centre and run schemes such as Green Week to engage with our community. The work is important to London Met and our neighbours and we are exploring new curriculum innovations to complement our excellent sustainability efforts.” 

This year’s report also looked at the performance of the Russell Group universities, which account for over half of the sector’s total emissions. The group face unique challenges in reducing their emissions partly due to their energy intensive research facilities and the number of listed buildings across their estates. These universities will require more innovative decarbonisation measures. Even with improved performance over the last year, 18 of the 20 universities are not projected to meet their reduction targets. 

Ian Patton, Chief Executive of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) commented, “Reports like this one don’t always make for easy reading. But it is through collaborations with sector partners such as Brite Green that we build a new understanding and case for building campuses and courses which will produce the graduates our future needs.”  

Each year, Brite Green produces free detailed reports for each individual university to provide the management teams with tailored benchmarks of their performance. 

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