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Environmental sustainability strategy

Environmental sustainability matters.  We have a responsibility, as individuals, to become more sustainable members of society and our University, as a civic anchor institution, has a responsibility as a guardian of its own and the wider physical environment.

Environmental sustainability is one aspect of the broader agenda of sustainable development, as defined within the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  This strategy addresses a range of issues which are covered by the following goals:

  • Goal 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
  • Goal 12 - Responsible production and consumption
  • Goal 13 - Climate action
  • Goal 15 - Life on land

Headline actions proposed by the UN to address these goals include ‘Bike, walk or use public transport’ (Goal 11), ‘Recycle paper, glass, plastic and aluminium’ (Goal 12), ‘Act now to stop global warming’ (Goal 13) and ‘Plant a tree and help protect the environment’ (Goal 15).

What is environmental sustainability?

For the purposes of this strategy, environmental sustainability is defined as:

  • Ensuring that current actions do not damage the environment, whether now, or in the longer term
  • Not using up resources faster than they can be replenished

The environmental consequences of acting in an unsustainable way include deforestation, environmental pollution and climate change.

For everyone, whether as members of the University community, or of wider society, understanding the consequences of our actions is key, as are our responses to those issues. We can act to stop the current situation from getting worse, for example by reducing our consumption of resources, as well as reusing and recycling more sustainable resources. We can also work to mitigate and reverse the damage which has already been done to the planet, for example through restoring and nurturing the physical environment. Some of us can also contribute to the development of solutions which will allow economic development to continue without creating further damage to the planet, through the use of technology.

What are the specific environmental issues for the University and the region?

Climate change is already having an impact on the physical environment of the main Stoke-on-Trent Campus. For example, the proximity to the River Trent of certain buildings, specifically student accommodation blocks, and the changes in weather patterns in the last few years, have created a greater risk of flooding. Whilst this is not on a scale to pose a threat to life, it can still have a negative impact on the individuals caught in the midst of an emergency, and ultimately on the wellbeing of students. The Directorate of Estates and Facilities is looking at measures to reduce the risk of flooding.

More widely, climate change will have an impact on our activities at all of our sites, as the UK climate changes continue. Broadly the UK climate changes result in increases in the average annual temperatures, decreasing summer rainfall, increasing winter rainfall and decreasing snowfall. Buildings and facilities built prior to 2010 may not be designed for the conditions now being experienced, making them less suitable for the activities taking place within them. This could have an impact on the health and wellbeing of students and staff using those buildings, and may also result in an increase in the cost of operating and maintaining those buildings.

Within the region, the biggest issue within urban areas is air pollution, mostly from road vehicles. A higher proportion of older vehicles (a consequence of the socio-economic profile of those areas) burning fossil fuels within built up areas creates poor air quality. This effect is exaggerated within Stoke-on-Trent by the layout of the road system and the natural topography which tends to trap emissions.

The strategy and framework

Overall strategy

Recognising the University’s wider responsibility for guardianship of the environment, and its role in society, the University has committed to achieving major change in environmental sustainability through research, innovation and enterprise and student and civic engagement

The University has signed up to the One Planet Pledge, and has committed to achieving a Carbon Net Zero position by 2030.

There is one overarching metric within the University’s suite of high level strategic KPIs:

  • Reducing the University’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 (scope 1 and 2, which are those emissions arising directly from its operations and which are therefore within its control)

The University has also committed to reducing its scope 3 emissions (which includes the emissions of its partners and suppliers, as well as staff traveling to work) by working with the wider community to understand how these can be reduced.

Definitions

Scope 1 – All Direct Emissions from the activities of an organisation or under their control. Including fuel combustion on site such as gas boilers, fleet vehicles and air-conditioning leaks.

Scope 2 – Indirect Emissions from electricity purchased and used by the organisation. Emissions are created during the production of the energy and eventually used by the organisation.

Scope 3 – All Other Indirect Emissions from activities of the organisation, occuring from sources that they do not own or control. These are usually the greatest share of the carbon footprint, covering emissions associated with business travel, procurement, waste and water.  Scope 3 are not currently measured, but the reduction of scope 3 emissions is still a strategic objective for the University.

Strategic goals

The University’s environmental sustainability strategy has the following main goals:

  1. To enable all students and staff to become more sustainable members of society and to understand the consequences of the choices they make within their lifestyle and workstyle
  2. To equip all students and staff to be able to challenge and change behaviours within the organisations within which they study and work, in order to help those organisations to become more sustainable
  3. To carry out research and innovation activities to address the grand challenges around sustainability as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  4. To enable and staff students to undertake enterprise activities in a sustainable way, and to create enterprises which address society’s grand challenges
  5. To develop the University’s own campuses in a sustainable manner and to improve the efficiency of campus operations
  6. To create joint initiatives between the academic community, the students and the professional services staff to ensure that the University’s academic expertise in sustainability can have an impact on the development of the campuses
  7. To work with our wider communities to help them to develop their own activities in a sustainable way

To achieve these goals, a strategic framework has been developed around four main themes.  For each of these themes, there is a vision for the future and a set of enabling activities in order to achieve that vision, as well as a description of how achievement of this vision can be measured.  The themes are:

Education, research, innovation and enterprise

Vision

All students and staff understand the role they can play in improving the environmental sustainability and decarbonisation of the economy, both on campus and more widely in society.  All staff and students understand how they can become more sustainable members of society and how they can bring about major change to the organisations within which they work through their own actions.

All students approach and reflect upon their learning through the lens of sustainability – seeing it as fundamental rather than additional.

The University makes a significant contribution to thought leadership and action in environmental sustainability as part of its response to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, through research, innovation, knowledge transfer and enterprise.

Enablers

Providing basic carbon literacy education for all staff and students.

  • This will cover carbon and the origins of climate change, the ecological and geographical consequences, the behavioural responses needed to ensure environmental sustainability and the potential impact of technology in addressing these issues

Developing an academic strategy which:

  • Embeds the UN Sustainable Development Goals in all aspects of the curriculum (including environmental sustainability) through the People, Place and Society (PPS) strand
  • Facilitates the creation of specific degree programmes to cover climate change and sustainability
  • Gives all students access to cross-disciplinary projects, events and competitions which address the grand challenges arising from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those relating to environmental sustainability

Developing a research strategy which:

  • Enables and promotes the creation of research outputs and impacts in the areas of environmental sustainability and climate change
  • Requires all research bids and projects to be framed in the context of the grand challenges arising from the UN Sustainable Development Goals including those relating to environmental sustainability and climate change
  • Facilitates the creation of research centres around the grand challenges

Developing an enterprise ecosystem and innovation strategy which:

  • Connects the University’s enterprise and innovation activities, including student start-ups, to research and education, in the context of the grand challenges

Measuring success

% of staff and students completing the carbon literacy training

Number of students completing credit-bearing modules in climate change and environmental sustainability

Research, innovation and enterprise impacts and outputs reported in REF and KEF (reported as case studies)

Citations in Google Scholar from academics working in these fields (reported in context)

Value of research and innovation grants and contracts captured related to climate change and sustainability

Number of student start-ups which address the grand challenges

Consumption, lifestyle and workstyle

Vision

All members of our University communities will be able to influence the development of the campuses and are able to live and work on the campuses in a sustainable manner

Enablers

Staff and students can travel to and for work in more sustainable ways, for example using electric vehicles which can be charged on campus, or by public transport, or by cycling or walking safely

Sustainable digital solutions and collaborations support all of our work on campus in order to reduce the need to print out documents and to travel to other locations

All procurement processes consider the sustainability of the supply chain and favour more sustainable solutions, reducing purchasing miles and working with local businesses, specifically SMEs

All consumables used on the campuses come from sustainable sources

Food is sourced appropriately

  • All food served in outlets comes from accredited sources (eg, Fairtrade, Soil Association and the Marine Conservation Society)
  • ‘Food miles’ are minimised
  • Food waste is managed and excess food is shared with charities within the community
  • Plant-based packaging is used for all food and drinks
  • Plant-based food options are always available

Properly segregated recycling stations are available in all buildings and outdoor spaces

Built environment

Vision

The campuses are carbon net zero.  Energy is generated on site from renewable sources, including solar and wind, with excess energy being exported to the grid.  Flexible, energy efficient buildings are set within attractive, biodiverse green spaces which promote wellbeing.

Enablers

The energy performance of existing buildings is improved by:

  • Using all refurbishments to increase the energy efficiency levels of all buildings
  • Working with building users to understand their needs
  • Monitoring and controlling heating and lighting through digital ‘smart controls’
  • Replacing traditional lighting and heating with more efficient alternatives
  • Adding photovoltaic (solar) cells to roofs wherever possible

Water consumption and wastage is monitored and improved through specific measures

Buildings whose energy performance cannot be improved are demolished and recycled

New builds are designed using the principles of low carbon, high energy efficiency and flexibility of use as a starting point.  Building materials which are used for new builds and refurbishments are sustainable and selected for their contribution to the Carbon Net Zero target

Alternative energy sources are explored including building a wind farm on site, and joining up with Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s District Heat Network (once it is proven and ‘green’)

Furniture and fixtures and fittings are reused and recycled wherever possible, proudly displaying a tag/patch saying ‘Recycled’

The biodiversity of the campuses by is improved by increasing the proportion of mixed planting including wildflower meadows and hedgerows, and by planting trees

Measuring success

Creating, implementing and maintaining standards for all new build

  • New builds to be net carbon neutral over the first 20 years of their economic life

Creating and implementing a utilities management plan including:

  • Improving the energy ratings of buildings over time (or demolishing)
  • Reducing energy consumption per student/staff FTE
  • Reducing water consumption per student/staff FTE
  • Increasing the % of energy taken from renewable sources
  • Increasing the % of energy generated on site from renewable sources

Creating and implementing a campus-wide biodiversity plan

  • Increasing biodiversity year on year
  • Increasing the number of trees planted each year

Communities

Vision

The University is seen by individuals and organisations in the community as a leader in improving the environmental sustainability of the region.  The University is a major collaborator on regional sustainability projects

The University actively seeks out suppliers and partners who are committed to improving their own environmental sustainability and have set a target date to achieve a Carbon Net Zero position

Enablers

The University works with its partner colleges to help them to understand their own carbon and sustainability issues and to set and achieve their own Carbon Net Zero positions

The University works with the local authority on a range of initiatives to improve the environment, including green energy projects, improving public transport options and increasing biodiversity

The University engages with local suppliers to reduce ‘purchasing miles’, especially for food

The University engages with existing suppliers to understand their supply chains and to encourage development and setting Carbon Net Zero targets.  Procurement processes for new contracts favour suppliers who are committed to sustainable development and have set a Carbon Net Zero target

The University invests its cash deposits in funds targeting sustainable development (The University already has a policy of not investing in organisations involved in fossil fuel extraction)

 The University borrows (for its own development) from funds which have a focus on sustainability