The Future of the Higher Education Estate has to be Zero Carbon

Newcastle University Urban Sciences Building

Last week, James Dickinson and I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop at the Future of the Higher Education Estate and Campus conference.

The theme of the workshop was The Drive Towards Net Zero and Enhanced Operational Efficiency. We spoke about Buro Happold’s experience developing strategies to reach net zero carbon with clients in the Higher Education sector, including King’s College London, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds.

The University of Leeds’ Climate Plan, published in December, illustrates the complexity of energy masterplanning in the context of net zero carbon. Our approach helped the University to define its preferred pathway, balancing investment in building retrofit and technology interventions, and mapping out a programme of works to enable the University to meet its climate targets.

Workshopping opportunities and constraints

Our interactive workshop aimed to explore the key opportunities and barriers to Higher Education institutions in reaching net zero carbon across their estates. Three of our key findings are discussed below.

Carbon literacy is crucial

The 2019 rush of Universities, corporations and local authorities declaring ‘climate emergency’ was significant. However, too often, targets were set with little attention to detail and thought about the implications.

Key questions for decision-makers are:

  • Do you understand the difference between CO2 and CO2e? Scope 1, 2, 3?
  • What are the boundaries of your commitment to net zero carbon?
  • What definitions of net zero carbon are you using?

Rolling out carbon literacy training across key decision makers is crucial to ensuring the credibility of commitments to net zero carbon is maintained.

The student body is more savvy than ever

Rolling on from this, students are ever more engaged in climate issues and are increasingly concerned with greenwash. Higher Education institutions must step up to maintain the confidence of their student body. Vague statements don’t cut it, and don’t foster the kind of climate action that is required in the face of an increasing emergency.

Gaining buy-in from the student body and staff might include:

  • Workshops on key issues
  • Engaging with awareness campaigns
  • Drawing on the University’s in-house academic expertise to shape its plan

Estates teams cannot deliver net zero carbon by themselves

Estates teams have a wealth of knowledge and expertise, but net zero carbon is too big a challenge to tackle in isolation.

Developing plans to decarbonise estates and campuses requires engagement across the board, from Finance to Accommodation, let alone the buy-in from the student and academic population. Outside of that, being able to draw on central government funding, such as the LCITP in Scotland, can help Universities to access the external expertise that they require to set their plans in motion.

Higher Education estates are complex systems, but in this complexity lies great opportunity for innovative approaches to energy decarbonisation.

Thank you to all who participated in the workshop.

Let us help you

We are passionate about helping our clients untangle their estates and helping them to plan robust strategies to meet net zero carbon.

Contact us to find out more.

Lara Balazs

James Dickinson

This article was first published on LinkedIn here

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chartered engineer, working to develop sustainable energy solutions for buildings and cities

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larajanebalazs

larajanebalazs

chartered engineer, working to develop sustainable energy solutions for buildings and cities

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