New universities 'greener', student ranking finds

New universities are greener than their longer established counterparts, according to the UK's only comprehensive and independent ranking of universities by ethical and environmental criteria, People & Planet Green League, published on 11 June.

Manchester Metropolitan University tops the league table of almost 150 UK universities, with Plymouth University in second place for the second year running. All of the top 10 institutions are newer universities, with the sole exception of Bradford University in ninth equal place.

Manchester Metropolitan jumped nine places to take the top spot in 2013, with the highest score ever achieved: 59.5 out of 70. The university failed the first Green League assessment in 2007.

Since then its story has been one of “steady progress and improvement in environmental and ethical performance”, according to the ranking's organisers, the student network People & Planet, which campaigns to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment.

Professor John Brooks, vice-chancellor at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), said: "The whole university community will be thrilled with this recognition from People & Planet. Sustainability has been the main driver for the £350 million rationalisation of our campuses as we can and must meet the imperatives of the present without compromising the needs of the future.

“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."

Louise Hazan, who compiled the People & Planet Green League, said that after 10 years of campaigning by the organisation, the higher education sector had made excellent progress in areas ranging from carbon reduction to ethical procurement.

“For the first time ever, 100% of universities assessed now have an environmental policy. However, we're seeing excruciatingly slow progress from too many universities in some criteria such as ethical investment given the urgency of the climate challenge. We'd encourage those who have failed this year's Green League 'exam' to take a leaf out of MMU's book.”

People & Planet says the results also show UK universities are doing more to improve graduate prospects by preparing them for the future low-carbon economy and increasing the focus on sustainability in the curriculum: 47% of universities gained full points for integrating sustainability into the curriculum, compared to 27% just two years ago.

People & Planet ranks 143 UK universities – awarding them a first, 2:1, 2:2, third, or fail – according to 13 criteria including: environmental policy, carbon management, and their performance in areas such as carbon reduction, waste recycling, student engagement, green curriculum, energy efficiency, transport emissions, sustainable food, ethical procurement and water consumption.

Read more on the methodology here.

Oxford is one of the 12 universities awarded a fail. Oxford student Chris Garrard agreed. He pointed to the university’s £5.9 million partnership, announced last month, between the Earth sciences department and Shell to support research into new techniques for extracting fossil fuels.

Garrard said: “Deals such as the one agreed with Shell, represent a conscious choice to invest in a more unjust and potentially unstable world that the current students will inherit. That’s enough to justify a fail.”