Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Carbon sequestration

The University plans to take responsibility for unavoidable carbon emissions by direct sequestration rather than participating in carbon offsetting schemes.

The University generates carbon emissions during many of its activities, such as when heating our buildings, using non-electric vehicles and flying for business travel.

In order to become net zero carbon by 2040, the University will:

  • reduce its emissions where there is a technical possibility to do so; such as by electrifying our vehicle fleet where possible; improving the way we power and heat our buildings; and by replacing non-essential travel with alternatives where available
  • sequester carbon from unavoidable emissions, such as essential flights.

When emissions are unavoidable, such as from flying, it is important that the University calculates the amount of emissions produced and then takes action to ensure an equivalent or greater amount of carbon emissions are removed from the atmosphere.

While the University finalises its process for direct carbon sequestration, we ask University schools, colleges, departments and staff not to offset their own emissions through carbon offsetting schemes.

Carbon offsetting vs carbon sequestration 

It is increasingly common for organisations to rectify their emissions using carbon offsetting schemes. This is where an organisation purchases a certain amount of carbon offsetting activity, such as planting trees or investing in renewable energy projects. 

While popular, this means that an organisation has little control over how emissions are offset, nor if the scheme is following best-practice in terms of social impact and biodiversity. It also means focus might be taken away from reducing emissions, the most credible form of climate action. 

For this reason, the University has a detailed plan to reduce its emissions and then directly sequester any remaining unavoidable emissions. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide – such as growing trees or capturing carbon and storing it. 

After much detailed assessment, the University has decided that the only defensible position is to sequester carbon ourselves either ‘directly controlled’ or ‘in active partnership.’ We have summarised this in a paper explaining the University’s position on carbon sequestration and carbon offsets. 

Guidance for staff

While the University finalises its process for direct carbon sequestration, we ask University schools, colleges, departments and staff not to offset their own emissions through carbon offsetting schemes. It is anticipated that once our process for carbon sequestration is finalised, this will be done at the University-wide level rather than at a local level. 

Where offsetting is required for research funding applications, please email srs.department@ed.ac.uk to help you calculate the carbon emissions associated with the proposed research and to request guidance tailored to the funding body. 

We currently have guidance for Wellcome Trust research funding applications and will create guidance for other funding bodies as they publish more information on their requirements for offsetting business travel. 

Find out more 

For more information on carbon sequestration or to seek guidance, please contact the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability. 

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Contact details

Address

Street

Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability
The Boilerhouse
High School Yards

City
Edinburgh
Post Code
EH1 1LT