Dr David Prout: the Environmental Sustainability Strategy

15 March was a big day for sustainability at Oxford. The University Council approved the recommendation before it to adopt a new Environmental Sustainability Strategy, which sets two overall goals: to achieve net zero carbon and net biodiversity gain by 2035.

The Vice-Chancellor had proposed a new strategy in her Oration of October 2019. The process began with a round table of academics from across the University, followed by monthly meetings of a smaller academics’ working group. The working group, with the help of Harriet Waters and the University Sustainability Team, devised a draft strategy for initial consultation last year. This received more than 1,000 responses from across the University, and the final version of the strategy was published for consultation just before Christmas. This also received more than 1,000 responses.

As the response to the consultations has shown, there is a great deal of interest in the sustainability strategy. Some of you may have attended the staff forum on 18 March; others may want to attend the formal launch of the strategy and the Oxford's Pathway to Net Zero and Biodiversity Net Gain ONE Annual Lecture on 7 May.

The strategy establishes four key ‘enablers’: new governance in the form of a sub-committee of PRAC; new annual reporting requirements to publish our environmental performance alongside our financial statements; a new environmental sustainability fund to fund the investments necessary to achieve our goals; and an in-principle acceptance of the necessity of offsetting to achieve our goals.

The strategy also defines 10 key policy areas that the new working group will consider over the coming months and years, ranging from research and curriculum issues to food, biodiversity and the impact of the pandemic. In parallel the colleges are putting together their sustainability strategy under the leadership of Professor Kathy Willis, Principal of St Edmund Hall and Professor of Biodiversity.

This has been a huge amount of work for everyone involved, and we should all thank the Sustainability Team led by Harriet Waters, the academics from across the University who served on the working group, the Student Union representatives and everyone who otherwise contributed to the consultation. The first meeting of the new Sustainability Sub-Committee will be in May and its membership will be published in the usual way.

On a personal note, having been involved in international climate change negotiations since as long ago as 1994–5 and on and off for the following decade, I am very pleased that in this year, when COP26 will be held in Glasgow, the University has a strategy it can be proud of.

We welcome suggestions for authors and topics for future blog articles. Contact internal.communications@admin.ox.ac.uk if you have a person or topic in mind. We aim to include perspectives from across the University; while we cannot guarantee blog articles and the schedule is subject to change, we will include as many requested articles as we can.