Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Sustainable estates

The University continues to deliver programmes to support its commitment to make its estate sustainable, while encouraging students and staff to embed social responsibility and sustainability in the behaviour of the University community.

Sustainable estates top banner 2017-18 SRS reporting

Estates development

The University’s ambitious Estates Capital Plan continues to make progress, with the successful completion of several major building projects aimed at enhancing the experience for our students, researchers and wider community, as well as implementing sustainable measures and achieving utility efficiencies.  

The restoration of the spectacular McEwan Hall, completed in 2018, has recaptured the building’s former glory and recently hosted this years’ summer graduations. McEwan Hall received Royal Incorporated Architects in Scotland Awards (RIAS) in 2018. This highly prestigious awards are a recognition of the recent renovation and refurbishment of this historic building.

In May 2018, a new centre hub building at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, based at the University’s Easter Bush campus, was opened by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. The 7000 m2 sustainable building was completed at the end of 2017 and provides shared state of-the-art facilities for students, staff and research scientists. The western side of the building is clad in local stone and incorporates the University’s first ‘living wall’. The health and wellbeing of building users is very much considered within the design. 

Projects are underway to reimagine the University’s approaches to carbon performance in building design, having the potential to deliver significant savings and emissions reductions. Sustainable design guidelines have been developed and are currently being trailed. These standards will apply to new buildings and refurbishments from design stage to use, with the aim of achieving low carbon energy efficiency and climate resilience in buildings.

Drinking water

The University has worked with the Edinburgh University Students’ Association to review drinking water provision across campus sites and identified opportunities to install new drinking water points. Over thirty drinking water fountains have been installed in the last year, with a total of 200 drinking water points being installed or upgraded over the next year. The conveniently located drinking points will provide students and staff with easy access to drinking water to keep them healthy and hydrated, encouraging the use of reusable drinking water bottles.

University Drinking Water Points 

Business travel 

The University’s business travel emissions grew by 17 per cent in 2017/18, with the majority of emissions coming from flights. It is important to address business travel emissions, while being mindful of the importance of international collaborations to the University’s global ambitions. Over the last year we have been collecting the views of staff from across the University to establish what actions to recommend and implement in the coming year.

In 2017, Chiara Aquino, a PhD student, supported the University to improve its reporting process for recording and monitoring business travel emissions through an environmental placement programme. The impact and importance of her work was recognised nationally, as she won the over award at the Bright Green Business Environmental Placement Programme Awards Ceremony in 2018.

Business Travel data

This chart shows the University's business travel emissions over time.

Following the development of a more sophisticated system to analyse the University's business travel, we have updated data from previous years to use the newest available figures.

Select the 'waste' tab to view the graph of University waste from 2007 to 2018.

Supporting positive behaviours

In 2017/18, the University communicated with over 15,000 people through online or face-to-face engagement on climate and sustainability related issues. This includes 5,000 individuals attending events and Be Sustainable Training.

Direct engagement with staff and students is delivered through the Sustainability Awards, Sustainable Labs Programme, Energy Coordinator Network, Waste Coordinator Network, Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) Academic Network, volunteering roles and through the online Waste Action Reuse Portal (Warp it), which has attracted over seven hundred staff as members. These networks cover over sixty departments in the University.

To support staff and students travel by the mode of transport best suited to their needs the University launched a new Integrated Transport Plan in 2017. The Plan recognises the impact transport has on carbon emissions and local air quality, and has set long term targets to increase active and sustainable travel; and increase the proportion of electric vehicles in the University fleet.

Integrated Transport Plan

Sustainability awards

The graphic below highlights the level of direct engagement and outreach of staff and students through the Sustainability Awards. A total of 41 teams from offices and laboratories have participated in the Awards over the last year, outreaching to over 30 per cent of University staff. A total of 184 students actively participated through Residences in the Awards, promoting sustainability and outreaching to over 6,000 student residents in halls. In the year ahead, we will be encouraging more staff and students to directly participate in the Awards.

Sustainability Awards infographic: 1% of University staff participating in the Awards (target 15%), 30% of staff reached

Sustainability Awards

Promoting Reuse

The University’s PC Reuse Project has significantly increased its impact over the last year. The project has managed to reuse over 1,400 machines, as well as over 2,000 other items of IT equipment such as monitors, keyboards and mice. Starting with a small office clear out of 40 computers in 2015, the project has now led to financial savings close to £300,000, carbon savings of 228 tonnes and over 16 tonnes of waste being diverted from landfill. In 2017/18 the cash savings alone have amounted to £114,210. The University has extended the benefits of the PC Reuse Project to the community, donating over 600 PCs and 1,300 peripheral items to social enterprises in Edinburgh.

In summer 2018, the University coordinated its annual collections from student accommodation sites, uplifting unwanted items. A total of 16.9 tonnes of items were collected, 3 tonnes more than what was collected in 2017. The collection was supported by over 60 volunteers. Instead of going to landfill, the items will be reused and redistributed to new students and disadvantaged people in the local communities through charities.

To support the increase in reuse the University approved a new Waste Strategy which sets outs the vision to become a zero waste University by embedding Circular Economy thinking, and putting waste prevention, reuse and recycling at the forefront of our relationship with resources.

Waste Strategy

View the 2007 to 2018 waste graph above, alongside the 'business travel emissions' graph, in the second tab.

Related links

Sustainable Development Goals Index