Carbon Net Zero FAQs

Have you got questions about our Carbon Net Zero Strategy 2021-2030? Unsure if it’s greenwash? Or perhaps there’s just too much jargon? All your questions on this very important topic are answered below.

How can I help?

We need everyone to understand where their activities have the highest impact. 

Staff and students can be role models and help drive change by: 

  • Travelling smartly – choosing the lowest carbon mode for commuting, academic activities and field trips. 
  • Spending wisely – choosing low carbon options wherever possible, and avoiding excess products, waste and car use. 
  • Learning – growing your knowledge through curriculum projects, research and public events. 

As citizens, we can all support the global decarbonisation journey through minimising excess consumption and waste, and by choosing more plant-based options in our diets. 

As a University, we will continue to be active in local and regional forums like CheltenhamZero that connect all our efforts, e.g. on moves for lower carbon transport and innovative carbon projects. 

What are you actually going to do?

To achieve net zero by 2030, here are some of the actions we plan to take: 

  • Replace 80% of gas boilers with electric heating 
  • Install electric heating at our new City Campus 
  • Improve building controls to minimise gas use 
  • Improve building controls to cut electricity use 
  • Convert the final 25% of our estate to LED lights 
  • Install new solar PV capacity at existing campuses 
  • Deliver energy efficiency projects in our IT services 
  • Support lower carbon travel for staff and students 
  • Support less travel through blended work and study 
  • Make more carbon-efficient project spend decisions 
  • Choose lower carbon products and services with suppliers 

As a University, we cannot achieve net zero alone. 

As citizens, we can all support the global decarbonisation journey through minimising excess consumption and waste, and by choosing more plant-based options in our diets.

Read our full Carbon Net Zero Strategy 2021-2030.

Will this plan make a difference?

It will! This plan is taking us beyond the good results we’ve achieved so far in carbon reduction. It is aiming for more cuts in the energy-related emissions from the use of our estate and buildings but also goes into the harder-to-influence indirect emissions from our travel patterns and supply chain.  

We have funding allocated each year in central budgets that is dedicated for carbon reduction works. In year 1 of the strategy we also have Salix grant-funded projects to kickstart changes to our heating systems, at our Francis Close Hall and Oxstalls campuses. 

Net Zero plans take a bigger picture view of an organisation and involve more people and teams in the agenda and the actions. That wider involvement will help us to make a difference on the new changes we need to our overall systems and practices where we can individually make changes.

How do I know this plan isn’t greenwash?

Net Zero is a new term – not always used clearly or consistently yet. Greenwash refers to when companies and organisations put a spin on marketing, to give the perception that they’re doing more to protect the environment than they in fact are. Claims are often unsubstantiated and misleading – or the data to back it up isn’t made clear. 

You can spot potential greenwash in a few ways: 

  • Plans that say they will be net zero soon but don’t have targets for real cuts in emissions – instead paying for carbon ‘offset’ schemes which may not actually help on climate change. 
  • Plans that only tackle Scope 1 and 2 emissions. This is key, as Scope 3 is hardest to change – good net zero plans target staff and student commuting as well as inter-campus travel. 

Our plan aims for net zero by 2030 and tackles Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. We report our carbon data in our Annual Sustainability Report.

Universities whose net zero plans don’t stack up can expect to be held to account by students who want to know their fees are used for a fantastic learning experience – not at the cost of the planet and our futures! See how we compare to other universities in the SOS-UK Carbon Targets ranking.

When does this plan start?

Now – in fact we’ve already started! 

We are mobilising our next phase in heating decarbonisation projects in academic year 2021/22. We will measure from the level of emissions cuts we have made since 2005. Our plan tracks performance against a 2018/19 baseline, using data recorded in our externally audited Environmental Management System.

Why are you only now taking action?

We’re not – we’ve been on our emissions reduction journey since 2010 when we started our first ten year Carbon Strategy 2010-2020, as required by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. See what we’ve achieved so far in our Annual Sustainability Report.

Why is the travel target only 3%?

This 3% target for travel seems low compared to the other emissions scopes but it is another challenging stretch target. It factors in our growth plan over the next 10 years which is the lifespan of our Net Zero strategy and will increase our student and staff numbers. 

Scope 3 emissions account for approximately 85% of our overall emissions. So, in setting the 3% target, we are driving down travel emissions compared to where we were in 2018/19 and absorbing all the additional travel emissions that will come from our planned growth.

Why don’t the targets add up to 100%?

If the reductions added up to 100%, we would be a zero emissions organisation. Technology and available financing for our sector are not sufficient to take us there yet. So, our targets will allow us to achieve an overall reduction in carbon emissions of approximately 25%.

Why not just purchase energy from a green tariff?

We do already purchase electricity on a green tariff and have done so since 1993! Electricity use accounts for only about 8% of our overall carbon emissions. Green energy purchasing is the right thing to do, however in itself it is not the solution.

Have you divested from fossil fuels?

Yes – we fully divested from fossil fuels in May 2018. And this was not just a policy statement to be delivered later down the line – it took place with immediate effect.

Can we do more? Why not aim for absolute zero emissions?

Absolute zero emissions are still technically and financially out of reach for most organisations, so Net Zero is the next best thing and we prefer to be realistic in our plans for the next 10 years. 

When it comes to doing more, UoG is highly ambitious on sustainability and our Carbon Net Zero Strategy will evolve alongside changes in technology and in the decarbonisation journey of the UK. 

And we will always go further in our big picture response to climate change: from educating change agents as sustainability leaders of the future, to research that informs and influences climate change action and policy, we’re focused on not just the footprint but our brainprint, in how we tackle the triple bottom line of society, environment and economy. That’s the only way to drive real change.

Find out more about the full scope of our work.

What are scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions?

Scope 1 – direct emissions 

These come from activities on campus including use of oil and natural gas (for heat and hot water), fuel in fleet vehicles and air conditioning 

Scope 2 – indirect emissions 

These come mainly from electricity used on campus. It refers to the carbon emitted at power stations where energy is sourced from. 

Scope 3 – all other indirect emissions 

This includes a vast array of things, including water supply and wastewater treatment, waste collection and management, business travel, staff commuting, student academic travel (excluding student commute), procurement, endowment investments and agricultural landholdings.

Our Carbon Net Zero Strategy 2021-2030

Still got questions?

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about our Carbon Net Zero Strategy, or have any further questions not answered here.

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