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10 of the Greenest Universities in the UK

10 of the Greenest Universities in the UK main image

In February this year, temperatures in the UK reached over 20°C (68 °F) for the first time in winter, and the following month thousands of school and university students from around the country skipped classes to protest about climate change and demand government action, demonstrating the huge concerns had by this generation about their future.

So, with climate change and sustainability increasingly high in our global concerns, UK universities have been making great strides to take action on climate change, cutting down on their waste consumption and using more sustainable energy sources, amongst other efforts.

If studying at an environmentally friendly institution is important to you, read on for a list of 10 of the greenest universities in the UK, showcasing the best for climate action, including some that also boast lush green spaces for students to appreciate.

University of Bristol


First in our look at the greenest universities in the UK is the University of Bristol, which last month became the first university in the country to declare a ‘climate emergency’ based on concerns from students, and has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, having already cut down its carbon emissions by 27 percent. Bristol’s ‘green university’ initiatives include recycling over 95 percent of waste, encouraging sustainable travel through car sharing and free bus passes, and constructing and refurbishing buildings on campus with sustainability in mind, including solar panels, LED lights and natural ventilation systems. The university is also signed up to the UNESCO Global Action Programme commitment, which aims to educate students to give them the skills, knowledge and values needed to create a sustainable future. The city itself was named the European Green Capital in 2015, a title which recognizes and rewards cities which consistently achieve high environmental standards and show a commitment to further improvement.

Manchester Metropolitan University

Manchester Metropolitan University

Amongst other sustainability awards, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) has the distinction of coming first in the People & Planet University League, a ranking of UK universities’ environmental and ethical performance. The university demonstrates its commitment to environmental change and sustainable living through initiatives such as the Big Impact program, which runs a wide range of events and activities in partnership with the local community. It also offers Carbon Literacy training, ‘Pop Swap’, a termly clothing and book exchange event held on campus to reduce waste, and paid opportunities for students to become student sustainability ambassadors. MMU is also committed to reusing or recycling 60 percent of all waste by 2020, and awards cinema tickets and £300 to the most active student flat for recycling.

University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent

University of Nottingham

Both the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University (NTU) deserve mentions in this list, with both earning top five positions in the top five of the latest UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, which ranks the greenest universities in the world.

At the University of Nottingham, students are encouraged to get involved with sustainability through Student SwitchOffs (in which the hall of residence that saves the most energy earns a party and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream), while the WasteNott campaign aims to cut down on single-use plastics across the university’s UK campuses. Its large University Park campus has also been praised as one of the most attractive in the UK, with extensive greenery, lakes, period buildings and sport facilities.

Nottingham Trent University

And Nottingham Trent University, which is ranked third in the People & Planet University League and fifth in the UI Greenmetric ranking, is aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of every student and staff member by 29 percent per person by 2020, and currently recycles over 90 percent of the waste it generates. NTU is made up of 240 hectares of land over four campuses, with the Clifton Campus (located four miles outside the city center) achieving a Green Flag award every year since 2012.

University of Gloucestershire

University of Gloucestershire

Ranked second after Manchester Metropolitan University in the People & Planet University League, the University of Gloucestershire encourages students to get involved with the university culture of sustainability through projects and opportunities linked to university life, courses, and careers, such as the Live Smart project. The university has also given itself a number of targets to manage its waste and water to improve environmental performance, and has already decreased the amount of waste going to landfill by 98 percent since 2009, with 71 percent of waste being recycled. It’s also worked with the British Heart Foundation to encourage students and staff to donate unwanted items rather than throwing them away. And in terms of green spaces, Gloucestershire’s 23-acre Park Campus, located a short walk from Cheltenham town center, offers stunning landscaped gardens and lakes in addition to modern university facilities and student halls.

Swansea University

Swansea University

Heading to Wales for the next in our look at the greenest universities in the UK, Swansea University is ranked ninth in the People & Planet University League, and both of its campuses have been awarded Green Flag status due to the stunning range of green parklands and biodiversity for students to enjoy (such as a beautiful, relaxing botanical garden at the Singleton Park Campus). The university takes sustainability very seriously, with pledges to reduce carbon emissions by 35 percent by 2026 and increase recycling by 63 percent in 2019. In 2018, Swansea University brought Santander Cycles (a cycle hire scheme) to the city – a scheme for the entire city, not just for staff and students, which encourages more sustainable travel to and from campus.

Keele University

Keele University

Boasting a 600-acre rural campus featuring extensive landscaped parkland, lakes and woods, Keele University, located in Staffordshire, was featured in 13th place in the UI GreenMetric University Ranking and also earned an ‘Excellent’ rating in the NUS Green Impact scheme for Students' Unions. Keele has been exploring ways of making its campus more energy efficient, with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by 34 percent by 2020. Keele offers an MSc in Environmental Sustainability and Green Technology run in conjunction with local industry partners and based at the Keele Sustainability Hub, a center of sustainability activity at the university.

Edinburgh Napier University

Edinburgh Napier University

Edinburgh Napier University is the highest-ranked Scottish entrant in the People & Planet University League, at 28th, with the University of Edinburgh not too far behind at 36th. Edinburgh Napier, which has three campuses around the city, is developing an Environmental Management System to systematically assess, plan and measure the current and future environmental impacts of the university. Edinburgh itself recently topped a list of the greenest cities in the UK by commercial waste and recycling service Green Mile, which rated it number one thanks to the city’s abundance of green spaces and low levels of pollution.

University of Plymouth

University of Plymouth

Heading to south-west England, the University of Plymouth shares 14th place in the People & Planet University League alongside the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and is ideal for beach lovers, with an array of golden sandy beaches to enjoy, and green spaces also make up a third of the city, with eight nature reserves to explore. Plymouth University has a strong strategy for sustainability, with goals such as the aim of lowering carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 (having already lowered them by 42 percent since 1990), and recycling 70 percent of waste by 2020. It’s also aiming to increase education about sustainable development by enriching learning across the formal and informal curriculum.  

City, University of London

 Primrose Hill, London

Rounding off our list of the greenest universities in the UK with a London-based institution, City, University of London is the highest-ranked institution in the UK capital in the People & Planet University League, in 10th place. City, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, has an overall target of reducing carbon emissions by 43 percent by 2020 against 2005/6 figures by increasing awareness and using more renewable energy sources and providing energy saving resources such as solar panels in new and refurbished buildings. City is also very active in promoting biodiversity, with a vegetable garden for students and staff to enjoy, relaxing green spaces and gardens on campus, and a beehive on the roof of the library.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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