Reducing our carbon footprint has become the norm, but what are universities and colleges doing to help? In this guide, SOS-UK show us how they're holding our educational institutions to account in the race to reach carbon zero.
What is the carbon targets campaign?
The carbon targets campaign calls for universities and colleges to set ambitious goals to tackle climate change. Several student and teacher organisations have challenged them to announce clear plans to reduce their harmful emissions to zero by 2030 at the latest.
To drive this, Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK) have created a website which brings together all UK university and college carbon targets and gives them a score out of 100. It also rates each target in terms of things like how soon it will be achieved and how much students are involved with decisions.
The campaign is run by SOS-UK and is supported by the National Union of Students (NUS), the University and College Union (UCU) and People & Planet (P&P).
Why is the campaign important?
The climate crisis is one of the biggest issues of our time, and the effects are being felt around the globe, with some of the poorest countries in the world being hit hardest. The latest reports by the International Panel on Climate Change show that urgent, ambitious action is needed. People are making everyday behaviour changes in order to limit their impact on the planet, but this will not be effective without large organisations also taking action.
SOS-UK’s campaign aims to support students to choose universities and colleges that align with their values and are serious about tackling the climate emergency.
How does it work?
Each university or college is given a score based on how ambitious their targets are. The score is out of 100 and focuses on the following areas:
- Target – those committing to zero emissions receive the most points here as they are the most ambitious.
- Scope – points are awarded for how wide an impact their plans will have, e.g. whether a university is planning to reduce emissions just from its own vehicles, or whether it’s planning to cut down on emissions and waste created by all vehicles (e.g. trains and planes) and energy used by the university.
- Commitment year – more points are given if they are planning to achieve the target sooner rather than later.
- Science-based approach – universities and colleges get a higher score for targets that are based on scientific evidence and action plans that are achievable and effective.
- Action plan – targets are useless without a clear plan of how to achieve them, so this is an important part of the overall rating.
- Student and staff representation – the best targets are those that are created through discussions with students and staff, as they are the people at the heart of each university or college.
As universities and colleges make progress towards their targets, the campaign will also give scores for how they are getting on.
Which universities and colleges are doing the best so far?
Currently there are 48 universities and colleges with 70 points or more and therefore in our top group of institutions that are ‘leading the way’. The top scorers – with 90 points or higher – are as follows:
- Chichester College Group
- University College London
- The University of Hull
- The University of Exeter
- The University of Reading
- The University of Worcester
- King’s College London
- The University of Plymouth
- The University of the West of England, Bristol
- The University of Gloucestershire
How are universities and colleges being held to account?
The carbon targets campaign is about giving students information on whether their universities and colleges – or the universities and colleges they might be applying to – have set good, ambitious targets to reduce their emissions. This allows current students to push for better targets and more action, encouraging our educational institutions to take the lead in tackling climate change. And it allows future students to make decisions about their places of study because of their commitment to climate action. A 2021 survey by SOS-UK found that 54% of students partly base their choice of university or college on how seriously they take environmental issues. So it is in everyone’s interest for educational institutions to make real commitments and meaningful progress towards a greener future.
Once you’ve taken a look, you can start exploring courses at UK universities using the UK university shortlisting tool.
Good stuff from elsewhere
Carbon targets campaign
The campaign's main page. Find out how your university or college is doing, or compare all institutions in the UK.
SOS-UK's sustainability skills survey
This site gives access to several reports from student surveys of the last few years. The surveys investigated student opinions on what their universities were doing and teaching about sustainability and environmental issues.