Sustainability is something that we as a firm feel passionately about and Shakespeare Martineau is committed to exploring the concept of a green campus. Research we conducted late last year showed that just 1 in 10 further (FE) and higher education (HE) institutions were ‘very confident’ that they would meet their decarbonisation targets, in line with the government’s goal of a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, with 2 in 5 (42%) stating that they are not confident or unsure. Our research also showed that going green was of great importance to students: 79% of prospective students want institutions to have clear strategies for tackling climate change.
However, out of the UK’s 400+ universities and colleges, there are very few easy-to-find examples of carbon neutral or net zero campuses and, despite being a widely accepted concept across the education sector, there is no standardised definition for what a green campus actually is.
We see that the universities that are doing well in the THE Impact Rankings are those that have reported on the sustainable development goals most relevant to their strategy, their research strengths and their curriculum portfolio, so a broad view of sustainability seems to be emerging.
The solutions to becoming a green campus lie in cross-institutional activities, such as leadership and management, teaching and learning, research and innovation, and services and facilities. These will be challenging to co-ordinate and implement, but also offer a common, cohesive goal for the whole institution to work towards.
So, to make real difference, sustainability needs to run through every aspect of strategy and not just be the delegated responsibility of estates or sustainability managers, which is why conferences, like Advance HE’s Sustainability Conference, are so important to bring leaders from across the sector together to share best practice, expertise and provide opportunity to collaborate.
Funding, leadership and accountability
Of the educational representatives we surveyed 77% stated finance as a barrier to becoming a ‘green campus’; 42% struggle to deliver renewable energy campus-wide and almost a third (31%) blame a resistance to change within the institution.
Leadership was a key theme in the open responses from colleges and universities. One respondent stated there had been a ‘delay in signing off the environmental strategy’, while others raised concerns about a ‘lack of engagement’, ‘limited interest’ and ‘lack of imagination’ from senior leaders when it came to achieving a green campus.
Currently, the majority of FE and HE providers in England are not subject to mandatory carbon emissions reporting, but on the basis that what gets measured gets done, we recommend there should be mandatory performance reporting around a range of sustainability targets, such as the EAUC’s Standardised Carbon Emissions Reporting Framework to drive accountability.
What is a green campus?
As part of the Building a Green Campus – what’s stopping institutions report, we surveyed more than 130 FE and HE representatives to understand what the challenges and barriers were to becoming a green campus, defined across a range of different characteristics. We also asked 1,000 16 to 19-year-olds planning on applying to college or university whether sustainability had any influence on their decision making.
Taking into consideration all the aspects identified as being associated with a green campus by both prospective students and education institutions, we developed the following definition for a green campus:
A green campus collects and reports on its energy consumption, is carbon neutral, limits or eliminates food, water and energy waste and only works with like-minded suppliers and partners. The institution works closely with the community, colleagues and students to educate, innovate and drive sustainable improvements, making a positive contribution to local biodiversity and the environment through research, course curriculum and proactive projects.
Achieving green campus status is a huge undertaking for institutions, with some aspects more challenging than others and credit should be given to those en route to achieving the many aspects required. In light of this we also propose the concept of an ‘emerging green campus’.
Power of collaboration
As a B-Corporation company Shakespeare Martineau is passionate about purpose, protecting the planet and doing right by our people. As part of our commitment to changing business for good, we are supporting our clients with their sustainability practices, through collaboration, research and legal advice.
Becoming a green campus and meeting wide and impactful sustainability targets is not something that can be achieved overnight. We believe that holistic strategic thinking, transparency and collaboration within and between institutions and partners such as lenders, lawyers and consultants could be the key to unlocking potential in campuses across the UK. We’re looking forward to joining the conversation at Advance HE’s Sustainability Conference about People, Purpose and Place on 7 June.
Our green campus report can be found here.
Smita Jamdar is head of education at Shakespeare Martineau.