UK universities could be greener…

Research by Brite Green shows English universities fall further behind their own targets and national carbon targets set by HEFCE

The Higher Education sector in England is further away from achieving its 2020 emissions reduction target compared to last year. The sector target of 43% was set to help meet the UK’s carbon reduction commitment set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.

The research by sustainability strategy consultancy Brite Green has found that although many universities have delivered wide-ranging efficiency programmes, commercial growth in the sector has limited the absolute reductions in emissions achieved, mirroring the challenges faced by the economy as a whole to tackle climate change.

The performance of the sector continues to pose important questions about the effectiveness of existing policy mechanisms to achieve the institution and HEFCE set targets, as well as the legally binding long-term objective of 80% reduction by 2050 for the UK as a whole.

The most recent data show that the projected emission reductions for 2020 are slowed to 12% (behind the sector target of 43 per cent). The year-on-year increase in 2013/14 means that the sector has only reduced emissions by 7% from the 2005 baseline with more than 75% of universities set to miss their own 2020 targets.

The majority of universities have however improved efficiency significantly, both in relation to revenue and floor space. Since the implementation of carbon management plans, institutions have incorporated effective carbon and energy use reduction programmes, as well as behavioural change initiatives.

In its second University Carbon Progress Report, Brite Green analysed publically available data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and HEFCE. To improve data quality, it also undertook a sector consultation and incorporated revisions into the data set.

The report finds that there is a large gap between top and bottom performers across all carbon metrics. Of the 127 institutions analysed, only 31 are on track to meet or exceed their 2020 carbon reduction targets. The top ten performers, led by London Metropolitan University, have all achieved absolute emission reductions of more than 40% from the 2005 baseline. Conversely, the bottom performers continue to move further away from their targets compared to last year.

Darren Chadwick, Managing Partner at Brite Green, commented: “The university sector faces the same defining sustainability challenge as our economy at large: how to achieve meaningful carbon reductions in absolute terms whilst growing?

“Climate change is likely to be the defining challenge of the 21st century. Universities have been pivotal in developing not only the underlying climate science but also many of the solutions needed to address its consequences. It is important that they continue to take a leadership role in carbon management and innovative abatement technologies, and lobby for effective government policy in the UK and on the international stage.”

To read the full report click here