How Green is Your University? | Top Universities

How Green is Your University?

By Guest Writer

Updated December 3, 2021 Updated December 3, 2021

Guest post: Hannah Smith and Tara Clarke

There are many reasons for choosing a university: its excellent research department, its good location or even its employment rate for graduates. But what about a university's green credentials? Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to prospective students, calling for a demand to hear what the universities are doing about it.

In the UK, the People & Planet Green League measures the environmental and ethical performance of all 143 UK higher education institutions, ranking them in a yearly table published in 2013 by The Guardian. The Green League was launched in response to a national student campaign calling for universities to Go Green. It ranks universities according to 13 criteria including carbon management, sustainable food, ethical investment and green curriculum.

Universities becoming greener

After a decade of student-led Go Green campaigning, the UK universities sector has made excellent progress. For the first time ever in 2013, 100% of institutions assessed now have an environmental policy. However, we're still seeing excruciatingly slow progress from too many universities in some criteria such as ethical investment given the urgency of the climate challenge.

As competition within the higher education sector develops, prospective students are looking for institutions to make a commitment to sustainability, supporting their hunger for the best possible education and opportunities in a future green economy. To achieve this, it is essential for an institute of learning and development to have sustainability embedded in its core values.

Professor John Brooks, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, which tops the 2013 Green League, said: “At MMU, we firmly believe that a strong ethos of sustainability not only strengthens the university's appeal to students but improves the experience in so many different ways. In partnership with our students, we are working to create a sustainable university which goes beyond being carbon neutral and actually has a positive environmental impact."

Checking how green universities are

Students wishing to study at UK universities can find out just how serious they are about sustainability and challenges like climate change by checking the People & Planet Green League scorecard for their institution. 

Outside the UK, prospective students can explore any university website to find out if and how an institution might be approaching ethical and environmental issues. Try asking a few of the following:

  • Does the university demonstrate an ethos of sustainable, ethical values in their mission/vision statement?
  • Does the institution have an environmental or sustainability policy online?
  • Does the university have dedicated sustainability staff?
  • Has the university set targets for energy, carbon, waste, water, transport reduction?
  • Does the student union support student green groups and/or environment and ethics officers?

Students and sustainability

Over the last three years, the UK Higher Education Academy and National Union of Students conducted surveys of 11,000 first-year students that have shown rising student demand for various aspects of sustainability. The latest survey showed that 85% agree that “Sustainable development is something that universities should actively incorporate and promote.”

Spin Pitman, a second year chemistry student, said “I chose York [University] because they seemed to be heading in the right direction by promising to build two wind turbines...”

Students are part of the solution to a global climate crisis in which universities are perfectly positioned to lead a rapid response. Student communities are becoming increasingly involved in actively greening the spaces and places in which they live and learn, engaging the student body in areas where they too can make a difference and putting pressure on university management to take appropriate responsibility.

Student-led green groups like People & Planet empower young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge to make change happen. Student groups and societies with a green, environmental and ethical focus are the best starting point for getting clued up on where your university could be improving. Working together to host events, launch campaigns and drive action for a greener university makes an incredible difference to the sustainability culture of a university. Today's students might just find their institutions leading a Global Green League in years to come (watch this space!).

Hannah Smith is the Green League Manager and Tara Clarke is People and Planet’s Activism & Events Coordinator.

This article was originally published in June 2013 . It was last updated in December 2021

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