Happy green New Year

Harriet Waters

The Environmental Sustainability Strategy was adopted in March 2021 and there has been a lot of action to meet the commitments within the strategy since then. Harriet Waters, Head of Environmental Sustainability, reflects on what has been achieved and highlights how everyone can get involved and find out more.

Since the strategy was adopted in March 2021, we’ve been busy. You’ll remember that we have two key goals of achieving net zero carbon and net gain in biodiversity by 2035. It has been great to see the support, involvement and enthusiasm from all across the University for the strategy and the change it commits us to.

The strategic goals are supported by four enablers: governance, reporting, funding and offsetting, and we have identified ten priority areas to categorise the work we do.

Governance was a crucial first step, setting up the environmental sustainability subcommittee (ESSC), chaired by Dr David Prout, PVC for Planning and Resource Allocation. Professor Baroness Kathy Willis is deputy chair and provides an invaluable insight into all the great work being carried out in the colleges on sustainability. The subcommittee has representation from all divisions, includes subject area specialists both academic and practitioner, and has really accelerated University work on sustainability. We report up to Council annually since environmental sustainably is now a University priority. On reporting, you will now see both carbon and biodiversity data included in the University’s financial statement – something which is pretty unique in our sector and demonstrates the University’s public commitment to sustainability. We have also set up the Oxford Sustainability Fund which will enable the funding for the huge amount of work there is to be done. Offsetting will come later once we have reduced carbon emissions from our buildings and our supply chain as much as possible. We have published our carbon accounting approach and had a paper in Nature about our biodiversity accounting to encourage others to take the same approach. Academic input into this work has been formative, a lynch pin in our approach.

There is progress in each section of the ten priority areas, and the best way to read about this is through our Environmental Sustainability annual report. You will see areas where you are able to significantly contribute – do get in touch, we are always keen to hear how we can involve more people. Some highlights  have been the adoption of new targets – to reduce the impact of our flights, to reduce the amount of waste we produce and to increase our recycling rate – all tangible steps we can take to achieve our two key goals. There is a lot to be said for the contribution of our Green Impact and LEAF teams, and other students and staff members, whose work drives positive change in the departments, buildings and labs. It’s lovely to be part of this vibrant and creative community.

The ‘Be Energy Friendly’ campaign highlighted ways in which personal behaviours could save energy at the University or at home. Although this work has been ongoing for years, the dual timing of our new target and the rise in energy costs means we need to address the issue with greater urgency. Behind the scenes there have been new policies on heating and cooling temperatures and timings of heating being on. We now have case studies which demonstrate how significant savings of both carbon and energy can be made at a building or departmental level. One-third of our buildings were shut down over the Christmas break to save energy – much higher than the level previously achieved. So, although we are working in an emergency situation, we are making a lot of progress.

Getting involved 

As ever, we need as many people as possible to get involved by joining your local Green Impact or LEAF team, speaking to your local ESSC member or pitching an idea via Oxford University Innovation.

Over 20–24 February we will celebrate our first ever Green Action Week. This is a great opportunity to showcase the environmental activity around the University, network and get involved with exciting initiatives. We invite all staff and students to follow the Sustainability website and get in touch by emailing sustainability@admin.ox.ac.uk if you want to be involved.