Prospective students looking at Universities most likely don’t have environmental performance as part of their selection criteria. The green ethos of any Uni will certainly make a brief appearance at open day (in the form of a mascot or other visual gimmick) but will probably not feature in the rest of university life to its full effect. Recycling in student halls is one thing, but have any universities actually taken steps to generate their own green energy or cancel out their carbon footprint?
Currently, according to the People and Planet Survey 2015, Plymouth University is the greenest, followed by University of Worcester and Manchester Metropolitan. Clearly stating its three main sustainability goals online, Plymouth earns itself first place for an impressive 100% in the categories of Environmental Policy, Environmental Staff and Auditing & EMS. They also score highly with a 90% engagement rate. With ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2030, Plymouth is obviously taking measures to drive down its environmental impact with promising results.
Personally, I look on with envy. Studying at the University of Birmingham (ranked 100th), where the Ethical Investment and Sustainable Food Rating stand at 0%, it can be frustrating to think that there is little being done to reduce the current greedy, blind way of skimming over the problem. When the University is perfectly willing to spend money on things that will attract new students, but is not willing to consider long term environmental impact, my view of it changes; from a bright and forward thinking, to a depressingly inward-looking, institution.
Despite this success in eco awareness, it is evidently not yet quite important enough when considering the ‘best’ establishments in the UK. With Oxford and Cambridge down in the depths of the People and Planet Survey 2015 at 115th and 113th place respectively, it is telling that these Universities continue to come out on top given the need for more environmentally conscious measures. Part of me wonders if this complacency will come back to haunt this elite duo in time, appalled as I am that leading institutions are so short sighted in their actions to operate sustainably. It seems as though the environmental damage of studying at a top university is somewhat outweighed by other benefits.
Speaking of benefits, it would be interesting to look at how the measures made by green universities could lead to decreased costs for students living in halls and using resources on campus. With an increase in fees over the past years, I can imagine that students looking for low living costs would soon flock to somewhere that takes an active interest in reducing resource consumption. Although the top three universities mentioned don’t top the charts often, it seems as though these actions taken now could certainly shake up the tables in the long run.
Blog post by Hannah Coles