Campaigners crown Manchester Met most sustainable, ethical university

Universities are improving in terms of sustainability and ethics, but must do more on carbon targets, according to grass-roots student campaigning group People & Planet

Manchester Metropolitan University has topped a league table of UK universities ranked on sustainability and ethics.

Student campaign group People & Planet assessed publicly-available information on 154 providers – awarding them a first class degree, 2:1, 2:2, third, or fail – according to 13 criteria including environmental policy, carbon reduction, waste and water recycling, student engagement, sustainable food and workers rights.

Findings were then combined with data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) 2019/2020 Estates Management Record (EMR) covering the period from 1 August 2019 to 31 July 2020.

The resulting 2021 People & Planet University League is published today – and shows that while the higher education sector’s sustainability and ethical efforts are improving, the majority of providers are still failing on carbon targets.

Manchester Metropolitan University scored an overall 86.3%, topping the league for the third time since it started in 2007. It scored 92% on policy-related criteria, and scored highly in terms of carbon reduction, with a 64.77% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions since 2005.

In the age of the climate crisis, transparency and accountability on sustainability must not be seen as a burden, but as a necessity – Jack Ruane, People & Planet

Russell Group universities have improved this year, according to the analysis – Durham University has jumped 66 places to 29th position – however, the most common classification for a Russell Group university remains a 2:2. By contrast, post-1992 institutions occupy eight out of the top 10 places.

It has not been mandatory for universities in England and Northern Ireland to report estates management record (EMR) data to Hesa since the 2019/2020 academic year. Sector-wide bodies such as the The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC) have been encouraging providers to continue doing so – but the number of institutions opting out has risen.

“The improvement of some Russell Group universities and the increased number of institutions on course to meet the carbon reduction target are positive signs,” said Jack Ruane of People & Planet.

“However, it’s disappointing that the majority of the institutions are still not on course to meet the 15-year-long sector-wide HEFCE carbon reduction target before next year’s deadline. The sector must prioritise immediate and rapid decarbonisation, rather than celebrate target-setting as far away as 2050 in some cases.

“In the age of the climate crisis, transparency and accountability on sustainability must not be seen as a burden, but as a necessity. We will continue to encourage the sector to submit EMR data to Hesa and call on the Office for Students (OfS) to work with the sector to provide regulatory leadership by mandating its reporting once again.”


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