University of Exeter responds to climate crisis

The University of Exeter has created a comprehensive plan to cut carbon emissions and improve the environment on its campuses and beyond.

Last year, the University declared an environment and climate emergency, and a group of staff and students created a list of recommendations calling for “urgent action”.

A plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions is now in place, setting out how the University will cut emissions by 30% by 2025 (relative to 2018/19) – then 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2050, or sooner if possible.

The plan relies on evidence and transparency, and includes all emissions related to the University’s activities (such as the carbon footprint of purchases).

Covid-19 has dramatically affected emissions, reducing carbon from travel by 33% compared to 2018/19, waste by 40% and energy use by 13% – but leading to an increased carbon footprint from procurement, up by 25% as the University met Covid-safe guidelines.

The overall impact resulted in a 0.6% net reduction in 2019/20, so a focus on procurement and sustaining the reductions in the other areas will be part of the University’s Green Recovery plans.

“It has not been a typical year to assess our progress on the environment and climate emergency plan, but the pandemic has shown us that we can adapt to different ways of operating,” said Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter.

“In 2021, we see our focus firmly turning to this agenda.

“The savings we have made in terms of energy use and travel, and the data we have gathered about our carbon footprint, will help us as we move forward.

“But this is only the start. We know that reaching net-zero requires fundamental, lasting change across everything we do.

“With that in mind, we have made policy commitments and created an Environment and Climate Emergency Board to embed climate considerations in every decision we make.

“We have set ambitious targets and we also aim for environmental ‘net gain’ – not just cutting carbon but improving the environment in the process.

“As part of our plans, we want to play a leading role, through our research and expertise, to help businesses across the South West make the transition to net zero.”

In 2019/20, the University:

– Installed additional solar panels and electric vehicle charging points

– Reduced meat consumption on campuses by 20%, increasing plant-based alternatives

– Banned single-use plastic cups and provided free reusable mugs to all new students

– Set up a Green Rewards scheme to encourage action by students and staff

– Won a Guardian award for sustainability

– Created more than five acres of grassland and planted more than 400 trees

– The lab at the Environment and Sustainability Institute received silver Lab Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) accreditation, with the scheme due to be rolled-out to all labs in 2021

– Achieved Bronze in the AUDE Sustainable Leadership Scorecard

The University is working with local and regional partners to tackle the environment and climate emergency, and has contributed to the Interim Devon Carbon Plan (which opened for public consultation on Monday).

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, of the University of Exeter and chair of Devon’s Net Zero Task Force, added: “The Carbon Plan is a significant step forward for Devon.

“It has grown beyond the necessity to reduce carbon emissions.

“It is now a rare opportunity to create a fairer, healthier, more resilient and more prosperous society.

“Staff at the University have played a key role in enabling the Carbon Plan to take shape, with the Centre for Energy and Environment providing key data analytics on county emissions, Dr Cornelia Guell and myself working with other experts on the Task Force, and Dr Alice Moseley and Dr Rebecca Sandover conducting research to inform the design of the Citizens’ Assembly.

“Altogether, this provides tangible evidence of the University’s commitment to Devon and to tackling climate change.”