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How to accelerate the education sector towards net zero?

15 February 2023

Conversations with younger people will often quickly reveal an enthusiastic commitment to addressing climate change and achieving carbon net zero. Students equally have an expectation that their learning environment will live out their sustainability values. Education institutions also increasingly understand that demonstrating a clear commitment to net zero can be a factor in attractiveness to students. But how does the education sector best map out the pathway to net zero?

A new report

An ambitious roadmap for carbon reduction in the tertiary education sector is outlined in a new report. The report “Accelerating the UK Tertiary Education Sector towards Net Zero,” was commissioned by the Royal Anniversary Trust but with close collaboration from over 20 institutions from across the sector. It offers a robust profile of the tertiary education sector’s carbon footprint; using detailed modelling which highlights target areas for emissions reporting and reduction. It also proposes a new standardised carbon reporting framework designed exclusively for the sector which could enable all HE and FE institutions to measure, report and manage carbon emissions.

The report highlights three principal areas requiring action:

  • The Built Environment
  • Travel & Transport
  • Sustainable Supply Chain

Focus on the built environment and energy

The report has calculated that the built environment accounts for 19% of the sector’s total carbon footprint and that decarbonisation will require a specific focus on the Scope 1 and 2 emissions associated with the energy used for heating and cooling buildings and powering estates. This will require institutions to grapple with legacy heating systems, changing uses of campuses, increasing costs and emerging technologies.

There will also be a need to prioritise the adaptation of estates in response to climate change – tackling energy efficiency and taking a fabric-first approach to refurbishments to achieve climate resilience against rising temperatures and extreme weather events leading to droughts or floods.

A significant challenge

There is also inevitable tension between the cost of decarbonising operations and funding the primary functions of education, training, and research. The scale of the challenge is great:

  • The education sector (including schools) is the largest commissioner of construction in the country and its buildings consume approximately 22.62 MWh of energy per year.
  • 56% of this is used to heat buildings and HE and FE institutions in the aggregate manage over 40 million m2 of building space.
  • Scope 1 and 2 emissions from heat and power across the sector account for an estimated 2.1 MtCO2e or 12% of total sector emissions.
  • Upstream emissions associated with extracting and transporting the fuels and the transmission and distribution of electricity add 0.5 MtCO2e, equivalent to 2.8%.
  • Scope 3 emissions associated with embodied carbon in construction are estimated to be 0.8 MtCO2e or 4.7% of total sector emissions.

Focus and coordination

Addressing this challenge will require maximising opportunities for energy efficiency and shifting sources of heat and power to renewable energy. Access to the right data and robust measurement, behaviour change, deploying the right technologies and accountability for the delivery of a clear decarbonisation plan are all key levers to achieve success. All buildings will also need to become climate resilient. This will require investment in the adaptation that protects estates, staff, and students from the impacts of climate change.

The response requires coordinated leadership and decision-making across strategic, financial, technical, and academic functions, with the decarbonisation strategy fully integrated into policies and governance processes.

To find out more about Inenco’s track record in helping organisations to map out and deliver their roadmap to net zero please contact us at 08451 46 36 26.