Professor graham Miller, Professor Judith Petts CBE, Charlotte Bonner and Chris Skidmore MP at the APPUG reception
University of Plymouth Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Judith Petts DBE has spoken about the role of universities in the net zero agenda at a Parliamentary reception, this week.
She described climate and sustainability education as 'fundamental to social, environmental, and economic challenges and to the future working and private lives of university graduates'.
In her role as Chair of Universities UK’s Climate and Sustainability Steering Group, Professor Petts recognised universities’ contribution to sustainable development and climate action over the last three decades, but highlighted calls for bolder initiatives in the last five years.
And she cited the University of Plymouth’s work to achieve carbon neutral status and an example of what can be achieved by committing to sustainability, saying:

The University of Plymouth has driven sustainability through its activities over at least 20 years, supported particularly by strong subject knowledge in environmental and marine sciences. Sustainability and climate action is embedded in the institutional strategy and each of our supporting strategic plans. The University has reported on progress using the Global Reporting Initiative standards tool since 2014 and year-on-year investment to reduce carbon emissions has resulted in net zero scope 1 and 2 being declared in 2022; only the second UK institution to do so.

Judith Petts DBEJudith Petts DBE

UUK is providing support to a university sector that is highly diverse in terms of the sizes of institutions, their financial scale and robustness, subject orientation (comprehensive or specialist), the age and type of their estates, and the roles they play in their local areas.
Nonetheless, in 2022 – just one year after setting out agreed commitments for universities – a survey of UUK members found good progress with 96% of institutions reporting a clear, publicly available strategy to reduce carbon emissions, 97% having sustainability information openly available on their website, and 82% reporting their carbon reduction figures.
The proportion of universities committed to net zero targets had increased from 61% (in 2021) to 76%, with 89% of these universities committed to net zero emissions under scope 1 and 2.  
UUK believes that comprehensive integration of sustainability into institutional practice is dependent on:
  • Leadership and vision
  • Incorporation of sustainability into teaching and research across all disciplines
  • The fostering of interdisciplinary teaching and research
  • Recognition of and action around the ecological footprint of the institution
  • Engagement in community outreach that enhances environmental sustainability. 
The sustainable funding of universities is an issue, too; data published this week by Energise suggests a price tag of £37 billion to higher education alone, to achieve net zero across the sector.
Professor Petts added:

Sustainability decision-making can be complex and challenging. Actions must be prioritised, and comprehensive data and information are important to inform robust decisions. Leadership from the top embedding institutional vision and strategic priorities to drive change is essential. Commitment across UK universities is evident, practice is strong and often globally leading, however, there is of course more to do to achieve longer-term, sustainable transformation.

The reception, sponsored by Rt Hon Baroness Garden of Frognal, was in the House of Lords’ Attlee and Reid Room on Wednesday 12 July.

Second carbon-neutral university in the UK verified to PAS 2060 standard

We aim to have a sustainable campus and enable learning to research solutions to the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges
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