Sustainability Matters: Dr David Prout discusses our new Sustainability Strategy plans

At its December meeting Council endorsed the development of a new Sustainability Strategy. The new strategy will help us to deliver our strategic aim of ensuring that we provide an environment which promotes world-class research and education – whilst minimising our environmental impact.

david prout

Dr David Prout, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources) and Chair of the Sustainability Steering Group, discusses this new strategy and the University’s reaction to Connecting Oxford – a joint initiative from Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council. Connecting Oxford aims to improve air quality, journey times for commuters and reduce the number of cars travelling across the city.

The University has had a Sustainability Steering Group since 1997 and a policy since 2007 – what initiatives have they worked on?

The University has had radical policies in place for a number of years relating to reducing carbon emissions. Transport issues have always been high on our list. Our workplace parking levy (staff pay a fee of 1.75% of their salary for a space) feeds directly into a green travel fund.

This money goes towards many great sustainable travel initiatives – ranging from our growing fleet of electric vehicles and the Science Transit Shuttle, to the six-hour cycle safety training available to all staff and students and the labour costs of the Mobile Mechanic scheme (which visits sites across the University to repair and service staff and student bikes).

The pot also goes towards public highway investments. We helped to fund the raised junction at Broad Street and Parks Road and we’re currently looking at how we can help to improve the area where Parks Road and South Parks Road meet.

But it’s not just about transport. We invest greatly in energy-saving technology for our buildings and employ high sustainability standards for all of our new builds – and we’ve been performing better than many other universities.

Why are we introducing a new strategy?

There’s been a recent sea change in attitudes towards sustainability, with many more people willing to accept that they need to do more to help the environment. In this year’s Oration, the Vice-Chancellor acknowledged all the good work that the University is doing – but asked if we are doing enough.

Professor Richardson suggested that we expand the Sustainability Steering Group to bring in more of the vast expertise from our academic community and review the current policy. A round table event has already taken place to start discussions on shaping the new strategy – which will go to Council in autumn 2020.

What are we hoping to achieve?

Firstly, we want to be more ambitious, aiming to make a greater difference. Very importantly, we want to hear from people across the University about their thoughts on sustainability, and we’re planning a wide-scale consultation to help feed into the new strategy.

Of course, we want to ensure that the University is performing at its very best and we will be looking at how to deliver this. However, we are aware that we have potential for even greater impact if we also ensure that we educate our students about the causes, effects and mitigation of climate change.

Our students go into the world to be influential leaders – so we’re looking at our duty to ensure they leave us well-equipped with a real understanding of sustainability issues.

In addition, possibly our best opportunity to make a very real difference is through our research. An increasing number of our academics carry out extensive projects relating to the environment. We want to explore how to best use all of our fantastic expertise to deliver maximum global impact.      

What’s the University’s reaction to Connecting Oxford?

We’re really pleased that both the City and County Councils are looking into transport issues and want to support them to go further with their plans. We want to see an extension to their proposed workplace parking levy and increased traffic restrictions. We also feel that more investment is needed in schemes to improve the pedestrian and cyclist experience in the city, and that the Park & Ride facilities should be free to use.

Our response to ‘Connecting Oxford’ is available in issue 5258 of Gazette on page 129. Please visit to view.

How might we improve the University’s sustainability behaviours?

A lot of great work does already take place across the colleges and departments, with many examples celebrated at our annual Sustainability Showcase. This event highlights the work of our staff and student Green Impact teams – there have now been more than 140 of these teams across the University.

It is likely we’ll be looking at local offsetting schemes – such as tree planting and seeing how we can make changes to academic travel. As mentioned we’ll also be looking at educating our students and being more ambitious about the scale of our research – looking for opportunities to come together to address wider-reaching climate related issues.

Have you made any personal behaviour changes to help address the threat of climate change?

Yes, I use my bike as much as possible. I grew up in Oxford and have used my bike to commute to work for 30 years now. My 2020 holiday to Europe will be made by train. This approach is also being adopted by my family – neither of my daughters drive a car.

I also stopped eating ruminant meat at the beginning of the year and we’re making home improvements to reduce energy use.

How can I help make a difference?

Please look out for the consultation opportunities in 2020 so that you can have your say in helping to shape the University’s new strategy. And resolve to get involved with a Green Impact team in your work area – if there isn’t one already talk to your colleagues about setting one up.

Find out more:

  • Green Impact – help to make a difference in your work area
  • True Planet – the University’s current climate change campaign
  • Green Travel Fund – small grants or part-funding for projects promoting sustainable transport across the University  
  • Free cycle safety training – safety training for staff and students, all levels of experience
  • Science Transit Shuttle – bus services connecting Oxford to Harwell, plus JR Hospital, Old Road Campus, Oxford Rail Station and Wytham
  • Mobile Mechanic – bicycle service and repairs with no labour costs
  • Go Electric – purchasing electric fleet vehicles