How to solve a problem like… net zero

ENGIE’s ambition is to lead the transition to net zero places and communities around the world

We’re inspired by the UK’s bold ambition to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and by the growing number of universities and councils that are setting ambitious decarbonisation targets.

We also believe that universities are ideally placed to lead the transition to net zero – both in their ability to define and lead a local, place-shaping agenda, but also academically. For example, Michael Mann, the distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, has said that ‘every important social movement of the past half-century has begun on campuses’ (citing civil rights, free speech and anti-apartheid movements).

We know from our experience around the world that decarbonising buildings, campuses, and cities is complex. It requires strong, strategic leadership and the co-ordination of public, private and voluntary sector organisations across all parts of the economy.

However, universities across the UK are already taking strong action in becoming more environmentally friendly, with measures ranging from beef and plastic bans, to coaxing students into beekeeping on-site. A recent survey by PA Media, which drew responses from 144 UK universities and colleges, found that a fifth of universities have concrete plans to become carbon neutral or achieve net zero.

We believe that universities are ideally placed to lead the transition to net zero

A successful transition needs cross-sector collaboration to manage the interactions between the built environment, energy infrastructure, transportation systems, communities, and the local economy that are inherent in the decarbonisation process.  In addition, the influence of universities in education and research needs to be harnessed. Cameron Hepburn, a professor of environmental economics and director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, insists that focusing on carbon emissions on campus misses the point when global emissions of CO2 are 35 billion tonnes a year: “Mass education [is required] – a university like Oxford needs to be educating the world. Our impact on the world through our knowledge and teaching is just so much greater than what’s happening on campus.”  This needs to be allied to interdisciplinary approaches and research targeted to high-priority zero carbon challenges.

ENGIE is already working in partnership with universities in the UK and US, including a first-of-its-kind $1.2 billion, 50-year public private partnership with Ohio University, to manage, operate and optimise the university’s utility systems. In the UK, we are delivering landmark placemaking and regeneration schemes with Kingston and Leicester universities; providing low carbon heating to Aston, Newcastle, Reading, Solent and the Bloomsbury Colleges; regeneration and deep retrofit of student accommodation; and facilities management services at Sheffield, University of Edinburgh and the National Maritime College of Ireland.

In addition, ENGIE is willing to invest in and manage the infrastructure, and incorporate smart digital solutions and technological upgrades, so students and employees benefit from connected workplaces and state-of-the-art buildings. Our ‘shared benefit’ partnership approach to energy contracts ensures optimal plant performance, greater cost efficiency and lower client risk.  ENGIE can also support partners on electric mobility (second largest provider globally) and renewables installations and management.

Finally, we are also collaborating with a number of universities on joint research projects, to address the climate emergency and facilitate breakthroughs in educational research – these include Project Green SCIES (Innovate UK) with London South Bank University; the SMART Energy Network Demonstrator (SEND) with Keele University; and, with Harwell Campus Innovation Hub (Oxford), on hydrogen from green ammonia (with the Science & Technology Facilities Council). 

Tackling the climate emergency involves multiple actors, across multiple organisations, across multiple sectors of the economy. Only if we work collaboratively towards a common set of goals and objectives will we be able to solve a problem like… net zero.

For further information, contact Andrew Troop, business development manager: [email protected]

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