Flagship report accelerates tertiary education sector’s path to net-zero

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tertiary education sectorAs part of The Platinum Jubilee Challenge, EcoAct is proud to have been a part of the first profile of the UK Higher and Further Education Institutions carbon footprint, which includes an innovative framework for sector-wide carbon reporting

LONDON, 23rd January 2023 – The Royal Anniversary Trust today released “Accelerating towards Net Zero,” an ambitious roadmap for carbon reduction in the tertiary education sector. The report offers a robust profile of the tertiary education sector’s carbon footprint – the first of its kind – using detailed modelling which highlights target areas for emissions reporting and reduction. It also proposes a new Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework designed exclusively for the sector which will enable all HE and FE institutions to measure, report and manage carbon emissions.

The report is the result of a year-long research project – The Platinum Jubilee Challenge – led by 21 higher and further education institutes from across the UK, all recent winners of the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize. It concludes with 14 clear recommendations to Government and priorities for the sector that will accelerate progress towards Net Zero; Ministers are expected to respond by 28th March 2023.

EcoAct joined the Challenge team to provide deep technical knowledge of climate issues and carbon accounting. In addition to supporting the overall programme and working groups, EcoAct worked on the development of the Reporting Framework and supporting guidance. EcoAct also developed the overview of the sector’s carbon footprint within this report, based on current emissions data and standards.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “The fight against climate change is one we will only win if we all work together. The UK’s world-leading higher education and further education sectors are creating a pipeline of talent to fill the key skills gaps that will be vital to our national response to climate change. Institutions from across the UK are working together towards our common goal to be net-zero and I am hugely grateful for their work to date.

“I also want to thank the Royal Anniversary Trust for their recommendations to both the sector and Government. These will be carefully considered and we look forward to responding formally later this year.”

Kristina Murrin, CEO of The Royal Anniversary Trust commented: “Our ambition was to bring together the extraordinary winners of the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes to collectively tackle a tough shared challenge. The resulting report sets out a clear action plan for the tertiary education sector to accelerate progress to Net Zero, with recommendations for institutions and government. We are enormously proud of the proposed carbon reporting Framework – if adopted sector-wide, this will allow for consistent, transparent, and data-led decision making.”

Report Highlights:

tertiary education sector -Emissions

The Department for Education, which funded the Challenge, has confirmed that they will work to enable all universities and colleges to report their carbon emissions by 2024 as per their Sustainability & Climate Change Strategy. While many do already report, there is currently no agreed model or framework to allow them to do this consistently. The Challenge group sought to rectify this.

Accelerating the UK Tertiary Education Sector towards Net Zero provides a comprehensive overview of specific challenges and opportunities for decarbonisation of the tertiary education sector and how this can drive change across wider society.

  • The report provides the first estimated total carbon footprint for the tertiary education sector. Emissions across Scope 1, 2 & 3 were estimated to be 18.1 Mt CO2e, with HE institutions contributing approximately 86% of this and FE 12%.*
  • The report includes a sector-specific Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
  • The report identifies three key Action Pathways to Net Zero: The Built Environment, Travel and Transport, and Sustainable Supply Chain. Together these three areas account for 80% of the sector’s total emissions.
    • 19% of the sector’s total emissions are related to the Built Environment, representing an institution’s Scope 1 and 2 fuel and electricity as well as Scope 3 emissions related to construction.
    • 24% of the sector’s total emissions relate to Scope 3 Travel and Transport from business travel, employee and student commuting and international student travel.
    • 36% of the sector’s total emissions relate to Scope 3 Supply Chain emissions, which are highly influenced by specialised purchases such as medical equipment and business services.
  • The report outlines practical measures the government can take through policy, regulation and resources that will unlock system-wide change to facilitate decarbonisation.
  • The report includes five student-led funded projects and over 30 innovative case studies including the largest Passivhaus Premium building in the world; an online staff and student sustainability engagement platform; creative partnerships with local public transport links; green Cloud computing service and climate solutions training.

*The detailed work on the carbon footprint modelling for the report was conducted by SB+CO and EcoAct. Data was used for the academic year 2020/21, except Business Travel that is based on 2018/2019 data to reflect pre-pandemic activity. Financed emissions are excluded.

tertiary education sector - Framework

The Reporting Framework

The Standardised Carbon Emissions Framework for Further and Higher Education (SCEF) was developed by EAUC – The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education in consultation with the Challenge participants and the sector via member bodies, including the Association of Colleges (AoC), Colleges Scotland and Universities UK (UUK). The Framework will bring good practice and guidance and will develop a fuller understanding of how institutions contribute to the climate emergency and enable them to take action.

Fiona Goodwin, CEO (Interim), EAUC commented: “To ensure students and stakeholders can hold their institutions to account, a standardised framework must be used for colleges and universities to ensure transparency and comparability. This Framework ensures institutions are taking their responsibilities seriously and taking action to become net-zero and be part of the solution through their world leading teaching, learning and research.”

For more details, please download the report here

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