Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Questions and answers

Answers to common and expected questions, including our scopes, methodology, and targets.

What are the University's climate change targets?

We plan to halve relative emissions by 2025 and become carbon neutral by 2040, but we also consider a whole institution approach that includes research and teaching to be critical.

Our targets are:

  1. We will reduce our emissions of carbon per £ million turnover by 50% from a 2007/8 baseline year by 2025.
  2. We will return our carbon emissions to 2007/08 baseline year levels by 2025.
  3. We will become a net zero carbon university by 2040.

What is the whole institution approach?

Our Climate Strategy takes an approach that will address key drivers of emissions increases, through targeted programmes, while also acknowledging the key role that the University plays as a leading higher education institution, conducting research with impact and teaching students to contend with a future where climate change will continue to be a global challenge.

The University will work to prevent or reduce emissions, influence emissions from its indirect operations and integrate a whole institution approach by linking operations, research, learning and teaching.

Our staff, students and alumni will contribute towards identifying and implementing innovative solutions.

A similar holistic approach has been taken by universities such as Harvard, Stanford and UBC, which have met ambitious emissions targets despite growth.

How successful were previous targets?

As previously identified in our 2013/14 report, and as of 2014/15, the University was 12% above baseline against an interim 2015 target of -20%.

The principal reason for this has been an increase in the estate due to mergers and new buildings, with student numbers and the physical estate growing substantially since 2010.

The University grew much faster than expected. Original targets were not set with sufficient consideration for the likely drivers of carbon in the University such as the scale and context for growth within the period, and did not adequately align with strategic and estates objectives or identify pathways to achieve those targets.

Performance against relative space and turnover indicators has been more positive, demonstrating improvements in the carbon efficiency of the University. Large-scale investment in Combined Heat and Power (CHP) energy centres and district heating networks has contributed to this performance and the University now leads the way in CHP technology in the UK.

How ambitious are the new targets?

Our new targets are ambitious, but have been developed through a rigorous investigation to identify what is feasible for the University.

To do this, we have undertaken detailed forecasting of future carbon emissions to understand a ‘business as usual’ pattern of growth, as well as identifying the drivers of increasing carbon emissions and potential interventions to reduce future carbon emissions.

Detailed forecasting of future carbon emissions with the plotting of “business as usual” and identification of key drivers of increasing carbon emissions gives us confidence in our proposals for a series of interventions to reduce future carbon emissions. We have determined programmes with the most impact, targeting emissions from electricity, gas and business travel.

For a more detailed explanation, see background information and publications.

What will happen to meet the new target?

We will reduce our energy consumption, enhance our use of renewable energy, and explore new ways to cut our direct and indirect emissions, which will fall in line with the efforts required to avoid dangerous climate change. We believe in demonstrating the value of climate solutions through our reporting and we will implement processes to understand the carbon impacts of our business decisions. 

We have already started a number of programmes to make our commitments happen, and we will announce further decisions and developments over the coming years.

A diagram showing Univeristy scopes. See below for table explanation of the diagram.

In the short term, we:

  • have established a new £2.75 million Sustainable Campus Fund to support staff and student projects that will cut emissions,
  • will improve our sustainable infrastructure, building on £30 million already invested in low carbon technology since 2006,
  • will continue to develop our metering to ensure that we have a better understanding of our emissions,
  • will roll out sustainable travel advice to improve awareness of alternative travel options and drive down business travel contributions to our emissions,
  • and we will continue to move our vehicle fleet from fossil fuel to electric power.

For more information about the plans, please read the strategy.

What is included in the emissions target?

Along with emissions from electricity, gas and other fuels, water, waste and company-owned vehicles, the Strategy now includes business travel, which accounted for almost 9% of the University’s carbon emissions in 2014/15. We base our carbon accounting and reporting on the WBCSD/WRI Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate standard, using the Carbon Guru platform to generate assessments. We will continue to use this platform to generate annual reports on emissions and will seek external verification of assessments, in line with standard best practice.

Our current emissions reporting includes:

  Scope 1 Scope 2 Scope 3
Description Direct emissions from activities owned or controlled by the University Indirect emissions from electricity consumed by the University that we do not own or control Other indirect emissions that occur upstream and downstream, associated with the University’s activities
Included in target
  • University controlled energy (gas used for the CHP and gas boilers)
  • University vehicles and the fuel they use
  • Electricity (excluding University owned electricity generation)
  • Waste
  • Water
  • Business travel
Measured but not used in target setting    
  • Staff/student commuting
  • Procurement (particularly capital goods and ICT)

Staff and student commuting appear in our formal carbon assessments and reports, but these figures are not included in the Strategy’s total for target purposes, as these activities are not directly under the University’s control. Measurement of Scope 3 emissions from commuting and procurement, with a specific focus on capital goods and ICT, will be developed and refined for future inclusion in reporting.

How were business as usual trends predicted?

To avoid pitfalls from the 2010 Climate Action Plan, the growth of the University had to be accounted for. Historic datasets of “growth factors” – size of the estate (gross internal area), its users (numbers of staff and students) and intensity of its activities (measured by proxy of turnover) were used to model a University business as usual (BAU) growth scenario, which was then compared with growth forecasts prepared by colleagues in Finance and Estates Departments. This was the base to understand the University’s strategic direction and ambition.

A range of predictions were modelled, including variations in:

  • University growth
  • grid decarbonisation
  • theoretical mergers with a large research institution
  • feasible pathways to our 2025 target

For a more detailed explanation, see background information and publications.

Where does the new Strategy fit in with government targets?

The Scottish Government noted that annual national carbon emissions reduction targets were missed for four consecutive years since 2010, but recent reports show that the annual target has been met for 2014. Scotland’s emissions have fallen by 45.8% from the 1990 baseline so that the 2020 target of 42% has already been reached.

Section 44 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act places duties on public bodies relating to climate change, requiring them to contribute to Scotland’s carbon emissions reduction targets, climate change adaptation, and to act sustainably.

What about investments?

Although this strategy focuses on the means by which the University can reduce its own emissions, we have also examined how we can continue to use the University's investment and procurement leverage to promote the transition to a low carbon economy.

In 2013, we became the first university in Europe to sign the Principles for Responsible Investment. We have committed to encourage companies to cut their carbon emissions and prioritise low carbon investment.

We have divested from coal and tar sands – reducing our direct exposure to fossil fuels by 90% since 2008. We publish our annual Principles for Responsible Investment report online for public viewing. The University has announced that it will complete its transition out of fossil fuel investments by 2021.

The University also provides transparency by publishing the annual Principles of Responsible Investment report online for the public.

A new renewable energy and carbon offsetting review group will be formed to examine opportunities for investment at scale in renewable energy and carbon offsetting.

The review will explore measures such as solar, off-site solar and wind as well as evaluating the future fuel supply of our existing CHP energy centres and rapid developments in demand management and energy storage.

We will continue our work in this area and are exploring development of a course in the Business School that will give students hands on experience of managing responsible investments and recommending stocks to our investment committee.

Read more about responsible investment

What happens next?

Building on more than two decades of progress, this Strategy marks a milestone on our journey to becoming a zero carbon university.

We will announce further decisions and developments over the coming years.