The University of Gloucestershire has topped People & Planet’s 2019 University League table.
154 HEIs ranked by the student-led organisation were assigned a degree classification that reflects their track record on a number of metrics.
Gloucestershire is one of 29 providers that have been given ‘first-class honours’ by People & Planet for their records on sustainability.
Manchester Metropolitan University and Nottingham Trent University came second and third respectively.
People & Planet use carbon emissions data collated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and assesses them against the sector-wide target set in 2005 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) to reduce emissions by 43% by 2020.
We’ve made some progress, but Imperial still lags behind many other institutions – Prof Neil Alford
30 providers – mainly small, specialist institutions – were failed by People & Planet. Imperial College London, St Mary’s, and York St John were some of the notable names in the bottom category.
Imperial College’s incoming academic leader on sustainability, Prof Paul Lickiss, said in a statement: “Being sustainable should be an easy choice but it often feels hard and I don’t believe we are sharing best practice yet across the College.”
Prof Neil Alford, Imperial College’s associate provost academic planning, said: “If you look at the work people in the college are doing on sustainability it’s really excellent – and yet our own track record is not great.
“If we really want to be leaders in this area, then we need to get our own house in order. We’ve made some progress, but Imperial still lags behind many other institutions.”
In April, Imperial launched the Greening Imperial initiative that “aims to transform Imperial into a university that is a pioneer and exemplar in sustainability”.
Iain Patton, CEO of the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC), said: “League tables can be useful in making senior management aware of the issues; however, they are limited in helping the sector improve and share good practice.
“The sector needs to work together, not in isolation through league tables – now more than ever we need to collaborate and share good practices to come up with the very challenging issues facing us.”
Hefce was replaced by the Office for Students (OfS), but the new watchdog does not monitor universities’ environmental policies. In a statement to the Guardian, an OfS spokesperson said: “We are committed to being a low-burden regulator and will therefore only mandate data collection where it is necessary to support our regulatory functions.”
Patton described the decision as “disappointing” and says EAUC is pressing the OfS to change tack. “The lack of leadership from England, through OfS, is even more evident when Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland continue to make estates management record (EMR) data compulsory.”
People & Planet says the OfS will make “it impossible to see whether universities have met a crucial carbon reduction target”.
People & Planet’s research suggests only one third of universities that have planned to divest from fossil fuels have the commitment enshrined in policy.
Chris Saltmarsh, co-director of People & Planet, said: “Universities’ failure to embed divestment commitments in policy is a crisis of accountability. Student bodies are always changing and without clear policy landmark pledges are easily brushed under the rug. We won’t allow universities to let themselves off the hook by waiting for students to leave before abandoning divestment.”
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