Sustainability Spotlight – Our new carbon target

Sustainability Spotlight

This blog series is intended to share more information about the various roles and projects that exist within the Sustainability team. Environmental Sustainability has such a broad scope that, although we have a Meet the team page, we want to share some more in-depth information about what sustainability means in practice.

We hope this will help to raise awareness of what is happening, foster engagement and share knowledge about work that has largely been kept under the radar!

Portrait photo image of Harriet Waters

In June, we launched our ambitious new carbon target, to cut emissions by 50% by 2030. In our latest blog we spoke to Harriet Waters, Head of Environmental Sustainability, about why the target was set and how everyone can get involved.

How did the new target come about?

We already had a target of 33% reduction by 2021, which was set in 2011. However, we set this target without much practical experience or evidence, and while we received £14m funding to spend on carbon reduction projects, it took us until 2014 to establish a system to reduce emissions.

We have had some success and have much to be proud of, but we decided we needed to revisit the target now with the benefit of more experience and having an established system in place. Another reason for revising the target was that when we set it originally, no one could foresee quite how much the University estate would grow!

Our current carbon reduction rate is 18% so our original target may still be achievable – but we don’t simply want to reach the target in 2021 with no structured plan in place for continued reduction. The new target is set at 50% reduction by 2030, and is based on years of practical experience, data collection, impact measurement and consultation.

How did you decide upon 50% by 2030?

We looked at the impact of current and past programmes and undertook an extensive consultation process with sector experts from both inside and outside the University – in total there were about 20 people involved in this, including the Sustainability Steering Group and University administrators.

At one point we questioned whether we even needed a target, but the overwhelming response was ‘yes’. Having a defined target and deadline keeps us on track and focused on the end goal in everything we do. We also investigated a zero carbon target but as we don’t have a pathway to that we decided not to set a target we don’t know how to achieve. 

How are we going to get there?

Our focus at the moment is on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions – mainly the energy we use in our buildings and privately owned vehicles. Cutting emissions in University labs is one part of this, and you can read more about our Sustainable Labs programme here.

In the future we’d like to extend this to include Scope 3 emissions such as flights, commuting, waste removal and supply chain, but there are additional challenges that come with this – for example, as 70% of flights on behalf of the University are booked outside of the official travel supplier, it isn’t currently feasible to capture and measure this data.

Another challenge is that the University is continuing to expand and put up new buildings, but we can still reduce emissions by applying the Sustainability Design Guide to build the lowest carbon-emitting buildings possible. You can read more about our sustainable buildings here.

How can staff and students get involved?

It will take more than ten people in the Environmental Sustainability team to reach this target – we need everyone to play their part.

The easiest and most effective way to get involved is to join a Green Impact team in your college or workplace – if there isn’t one already, our team are very happy to support anyone wishing to set up their own group. To find out about Green Impact and the other programmes and initiatives you can play a part in, visit Get involved.

50% is just the start. Imagine what we could achieve if we all put our minds to it!

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