10 ways the University became more socially responsible and sustainable in 2019-20
From installing a solar farm to investing in 41 community projects, the University did some amazing things in 2019-20 to become more socially responsible and sustainable.
With Covid-19 dominating the headlines and the University playing such an important role in combatting it, you may have missed some of the other great things the University achieved in 2019-20.
Here is our round-up of 10 positive actions taken by the University and its staff and students to improve social and civic responsibility on campus, across the city, and in collaboration with other organisations.
View the University's full Social and Civic Responsibility Report 2019-20 to find out more.
2025 carbon emission targets met 5 years early
By 2025, the University had committed to return carbon emissions to 2007-08 baseline year levels and reduce emissions of carbon per £ million turnover by 50 per cent from baseline year levels. Both of these objectives have been achieved, meaning we've met our 2025 carbon emission targets five years early.
To date, the University has reduced its carbon emissions by 15 per cent since 2007-08. Carbon emissions for 2019-20 were 73,347 tonnes CO₂e, compared to 86,707 tonnes CO₂e in 2007-08. Relative emissions of carbon per £ million turnover were 65.5 for 2019-20, compared to 156 in the baseline year.
Sustainable Campus Fund
44 carbon and energy efficiency projects have been completed, generating £333,000 in cost savings and a reduction of 1,091 tonnes CO₂e. The University has also benefitted from the decarbonisation of the national electricity grid.
Fossil fuel divestment
During the reporting year 2019-20, the University continued to use its influence and leverage to make the global financial system more sustainable by continuing to divest from fossil fuels and making socially and environmentally responsible investments. In February 2021, the University completed its divestment from fossil fuels, marking a significant milestone in our journey to become carbon neutral by 2040.
Almost 5,000 ground-mounted panels have been installed at the Easter Bush campus in Midlothian to increase our use of renewables and save an estimated £200,000 per year in electricity costs.
The five-hectare site – the equivalent of five football pitches – will be connected to the world-renowned Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute and will provide 15 per cent of the Easter Bush site’s electricity consumption.
The Easter Bush development includes a ‘living laboratory’ for solar PV research, enabling researchers to investigate improved methods of generating green power.
As a University, we recognise the need to keep food systems within environmental limits while supporting sustainable livelihoods.
The University’s Good Food Policy was updated and published, setting out commitments to increase our range of vegetarian and plant-based options, as well as ensuring that no edible food is wasted.
The University also joined the 'Peas Please' initiative which aims to bring together farmers, retailers, fast food and restaurant chains, caterers, processors and government departments with a common goal of making it easier for everyone to eat veg.
Student accommodation site Mystudenthalls.com ranked UK universities using a range of measures. The University works with organisations throughout Edinburgh to ensure that cycling is an attractive, safe and secure option for students and staff. The University supports and encourages cycling by offering cycle training, bike maintenance courses, a cycle to work scheme, Doctor Bike sessions and a number of discounts in local bike shops.
More than 1,000 new cycle parking spaces across campus sites were added for the start of 2019-20. The University is a partner in Just Eat Cycles, the City of Edinburgh’s cycle hire scheme.
In 2019 - 20, we supported 41 community projects with small grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to £5000. Since 2017, we have provided more than £300,000 to 79 incredibly worthwhile community projects across the Edinburgh City Region through the Community Grants Scheme.
A range of specific projects were supported in 19/20 targeting those most severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas.
The PC Reuse Project at the University aims to facilitate the reuse of IT equipment, meaning equipment is kept in use for longer rather than being recycled.
A total of 529 items were donated to community partners in 2019-20, providing computers and laptops to those people in need.
The University worked with the City of Edinburgh Council to support pupils across the city whose learning has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The computers were donated to help students who do not have access to a computer at home.
The interest from students and staff to take action on sustainability continues to grow. More than 500 staff and students have signed up to the Sustainability Champions Network.
The University’s Students as Change Agents Project delivered by Careers Service provides opportunities for students to work with community partners. Involving students from multiple disciplines who want to make a social impact during their time at the University it also supports partners tackle real-life challenges and generate fresh thinking.
In 2019/20 40 offices and 19 laboratories were accredited through the Sustainability Awards. This included teams from across all three academic colleges, as well as professional service groups.
Inclusion can and should be the lens to everything we do.
The University met the Commission for Widening Access targets of 10 per cent of our intake to come from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland 3 years ahead of schedule. The University has won £600,000 of scholarship funding to enable 35 students from low-income countries to study for a part-time, online master’s qualification.
We are ambitious in our plans for widening participation and demonstrate that within our Strategy 2030, where we state our future intention to be leading Scotland’s commitment to widening participation.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Principles around equality, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of the University’s values and strategic priorities. The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee was established in 2019, with the aim to mainstream EDI in all that we do across the University and its community.
The recommendations of the Thematic Review of Support for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Students, which reported in 2019, are being taken forward with the new Race Equality & Anti-Racist subcommittee of EDI Committee and associated action plan. Our recent internal review into the experiences of our Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities showed us that there is much more we could and should be doing to tackle structural forms of racism and discrimination.
In 2021, the University will launch a community-led process of restorative and reparative justice, through which we will interrogate the role of the University in slavery and colonialism.
In 2020 we received "straight As" for our work on responsible investment also became a founding member for a new Responsible Investment Network within higher education that will explore how universities can invest ethically.
Socially positive investments
In 19/20 we delivered on our social investment commitments. The University has committed to invest up to £8m in social investments from treasury funds for the benefit of society. The Fund’s thematic priorities address issues related to poverty, homelessness, access to education and youth employment. Current investments to date include The Big Issue Social Enterprise Fund II; The Big Issue Power Up Scotland; Prosper Social Finance; and the Social Investment Scotland Social Growth Fund II.
In our operations, research and teaching, we are committed to engaging critically with and contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The University conducts world-leading research addressing climate change and sustainability issues, responding with multi-disciplinary and high-impact research across a range of disciplines.
In the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was recognised for its significant contributions towards partnership for the Sustainable Development Goals (4th out of 806 institutions globally).
Whether it is local initiatives such as the city-wide coalition on climate action, the UK-based CoP26 Universities Network, international partnerships such as UNA Europa or the China-UK Low Carbon College, partnerships are essential in delivering our strategic aims.
Get involved in sustainability and community projects in 2020-21
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