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Environmental sustainability strategic framework

Revised June 2023

Environmental sustainability is one aspect of the University’s response to Environmental, Societal and Governance (ESG) issues and also to the broader agenda of sustainable development, as defined within the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This strategic framework addresses a range of issues which are covered by six goals.

Layer 1
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.

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 and recycling resources wherever possible

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 is within the scope of this strategic framework

This diagram shows how the environmental sustainability strategic framework covers biodiversity, carbon reduction and influencing, and themes we will address in order to meet our Scope 1 and 2 and Scope 3 targets.

Chart explaining how by improving biodiversity, achieving net zero and influencing, we can have a positive impact on our built environment, consumption, life style and work style, our communities and education research, innovation and enterprise.

The strategic 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.  The University is also a signatory to the Race to Net Zero for Colleges and Universities.

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.  The target for net zero emissions for Scope 3 is 2050.

Strategic goals

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

  • 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
  • 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
  • To carry out research and innovation activities to address the grand challenges around sustainability as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • To enable and staff students to undertake enterprise activities in a sustainable way, and to create enterprises which address society’s grand challenges
  • To develop the University’s own campuses in a sustainable manner and to improve the efficiency of campus operations
  • 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
  • To work with our wider communities to help them to develop their own activities in a sustainable way

To achieve these goals, and as set out above, the 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.

Education, research, innovation and enterprise


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.


Carbon literacy

Providing basic carbon literacy education for all staff and students – with opportunity to become certified carbon literate.  This will cover carbon and the origins of climate change, the ecological and geographical consequences, carbon footprints, the international dimensions of climate justice, the behavioural and collaborative responses needed to ensure environmental sustainability and the potential impact of technology in addressing these issues.


Academic Strategy: Teaching and Learning

UN Sustainable Development Goals are embedded in all courses (including environmental sustainability) through the People, Place and Society (PPS) strand.  Facilitates the creation of specific degree programmes to cover climate change and sustainability.  Student have 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.


Academic Strategy: Research

Significant research outputs and impact case studies in the areas of environmental sustainability and climate change.  All research bids, projects and outputs are framed in the context of the grand challenges arising from the UN Sustainable Development Goals including those relating to environmental sustainability and climate change.  Research centres address the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the grand challenges.

Innovation and Enterprise

The University’s enterprise and innovation activities, including student start-ups and community projects , are connected to research and education, in the context of the grand challenges.

Measuring success

  • To achieve the Platinum Award as a Carbon Literate Organisation (CLO) as part of the national Carbon Literacy Project by 2027.  This would require 80% of the University’s staff to be certified ‘carbon literate’.
  • The UN SDGs are embedded in all degree programmes.
  • To achieve a high ranking within the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings by 2030.
  • All enterprise projects, including student start-ups, monitor their carbon and contribute to the transition to a low carbon economy by 2030.

Consumption, lifestyle and workstyle



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.


Sustainable transport and travel

All University on-campus service vehicles are electric. 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 powered by clean energy, 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.  Emissions associated with our global academic programmes are minimized.

Sustainable procurement and consumption (including food and drink)

All procurement processes consider the sustainability of the supply chain and favour more sustainable solutions, and working with local businesses, specifically SMEs.  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. All consumables come from sustainable sources  Food is sourced appropriately, including:

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

Waste is minimized and recycling is maximised by providing properly segregated recycling in all buildings and outdoor spaces.  Furniture and fixtures and fittings are reused and recycled wherever possible, proudly displaying a tag saying ‘Recycled’.

Measuring success

  • Reducing travel per staff and student FTE
  • Increasing value of impactable spend (as %) with SMEs
  • Increasing value of impactable spend (as %) with organisations with ST postcodes
  • Reducing the emissions associated with influenceable activity (including estates and facilities, information technology’ laboratories and professional services)
  • The University is aiming to become ‘Fairtrade’ accredited by 2024
  • Reducing the volume of waste per staff/student FTE
  • Diverting 100% of waste from landfillIncreasing the % of waste being recycled

Built Environment


The campuses are carbon net zero. Energy is 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.


Energy management

The energy performance of existing buildings is improved by:

  • Using all refurbishments to increase the energy efficiency levels of buildings
  • Reducing energy wastage by working with building users to understand their needs, as well as carrying out audits and using sensors to gain better understanding of space utilisation
  • Remote monitoring and control of heating, ventilation, and lighting through the existing Building Energy Management System, with a programme of development to increase automation of control of mechanical and electrical systems.
  • Replacing mechanical and electrical systems/appliances with more efficient alternatives
  • Reducing water consumption and wastage by improved monitoring and specific reduction targeting measures and technologyThe associated greenhouse gas emissions of energy consumption is reduced by;
  • Adding photovoltaic (solar) systems to roofs wherever feasible
  • Procuring renewable-energy-backed-electricity which ensures ‘additionality’ of renewable energy generation, as defined by the UK Green Building Council 
  • Decommissioning of gas-fired heating systems by connection to Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Geothermal-sourced District Heat Network.
Water management

Water consumption is reduced by working with staff, students and visitors.  It is also reduced by working with the supplier to introduce technical solutions to reduce usage and waste.

Sustainable construction

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.


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

  • Increasing the % of energy taken from renewable sources
  • Reducing annual building energy consumption per square metre of gross internal area (GIA)
  • Reducing energy consumption and emissions per student/staff FTE
  • Achieving carbon net zero for scopes 1 and 2 by 2030
  • Reducing water consumption in both residential and non-residential buildings
  • Creating, implementing and maintaining standards for all new builds – based on external benchmarking
  • Measuring and ensuring Net Biodiversity Gain (NBG) with each new development




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


Staff and student engagement

All staff and students have the opportunity to engage with a wide range of issues relating to environmental sustainability.  The University works with the Students’ Union on joint initiatives.

Collaborative academic partnerships

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

Community engagement

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 communities adjacent to the campuses to work on joint sustainability initiatives.  The University participates in local, regional and national initiatives. 

Responsible investment

The University invests its cash deposits in funds targeting sustainable development.  The University works with its bank and pension funds to understand and influence their approach to investment in sustainable development and divestment from carbon intense activities.  The University borrows (for its own development) from funds which have a focus on sustainability.

Measuring sucess

  • The University will run at least one major sustainability campaign each semester, for example, Sustainability week.
  • To be known in the communities with which we work for being leaders in sustainability and carbon reduction and to create real impact.
  •  Reduce the carbon intensity of funds in which University money is invested, either directly or indirectly.
in the UK for Quality Education

Sustainable Development Goal 4, Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2024

for Career Prospects

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Facilities

Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021

of Research is “Internationally Excellent” or “World Leading”

Research Excellence Framework 2021

Four Star Rating

QS Star Ratings 2021