In an era when students and the public
are more likely than ever to challenge universities on where their capital is
invested, the concept of sustainability has outgrown its roots. Far more than
simple operational concerns when constructing a new building or tendering for
new suppliers, today ‘sustainability’ ranges from combatting carbon emissions
and eliminating single-use plastics, to investing in the local community and targeting
procurement at small- and medium-sized enterprises.
These are just some of the commitments made by the
University of Edinburgh as part of our approach to social responsibility and
sustainability. Our mission is to deliver impact for society through our research,
our teaching and our operations, to make a significant, sustainable and
socially responsible contribution to the world.
We take a whole-institution approach and look at the
global picture. What’s the point of teaching students about the benefits of
renewable technology if we aren’t using it ourselves? Why fund research into
biodegradable alternatives to plastics if we only serve coffee in disposable
cups? Why celebrate successful community projects in the developing world if we
aren’t able to say we’ve done the same in our own city?
It’s for these reasons that we have committed to becoming
a zero-waste university by prioritising the circular economy. We aim to
eliminate single-use plastics where possible by 2030, and are committed to
becoming carbon neutral by 2040. We will also transition out of fossil fuel
investment by 2021.
We also believe that our research should inform our
teaching and operations. Students should get opportunities to learn about – and
suggest improvements to – our operations as part of their education, and we
must ask the local community how we can best support them through our research
and student outreach, rather than through philanthropy alone.
Results so far show that our approach is working. Over
99% of waste from our academic estate is now diverted from landfill, and we
were the first university to adopt a formal conflict
minerals policy. We’ve also invested strongly in the local community
– our £1.5 million social investments include local social enterprises and
£150,000 to community-led projects proposed by local residents.
It is these achievements and our whole-institution
ambition that led to Edinburgh being named Sustainability
Institution of the Year at the EAUC Green Gown Awards, which
recognise exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by
Universities and Colleges in the UK and Ireland, and we were honoured to work
subsequently with EAUC
to produce a guide
to persuade other institutions to follow suit.
make further progress, universities must provide opportunities for individuals
to learn more about sustainability. At their core, universities are networks of
people. By improving the links between students, staff and the local community,
together we can build a strong foundation from which to tackle the challenges
A great read, and let's not forget that learning to be enterprising sits at the core of such work. All too often the links between the sustainability agenda and the the enterprising mind agenda are overlooked, as noted here: https://www.eauc.org.uk/sustainability_and_enterprise_distant_cousins_o
Nice succinct piece Dave - well done. Edinburgh have shown great leadership in this space and the broader interpretation and scope of sustainability is absolutely right. This is playing out with the SDGs in particular.
A great example of integrated leadership. Edinburgh also do integrated reporting and this natural progression puts them front and centre of responding to a step change in terms of articulating the value that they create and better telling that story. Advance HE looks at SDGs and in its report Lets Talk Value.
Too often, institutions such as Universities and Businesses hire people into administrative sustainability positions with very biased and limited views of sustainability. There are two diverging lines of thinking about sustainability. One promotes a notion that humans have no right to impact the otherwise perfect, natural earth. The other is concerned with sustaining human well-being. Those trained in "sustainability" more often come from the "no impact" view, which is contrary to human flourishing. Universities would do well to use their institutions as living laboraties, open to all ideas. Unfortunately, ideas are too often stifled by the biased unilateral actions of the one charged with implimenting sustainability policy for the institution.
Great pitch for a system-led approach to sustainability. Universities, of course (and Edinburgh is no exception, sitting at the heart of a City Region Deal) are economic powerhouses in their own right and they can make positive choices about the impact that spend has. This year we are seeing the university sector as a whole starting to get to grips with these issues and move on to Sustainability V2.0 in the way Dave describes.