Students rank green universities – Oxford fails

A British student-run organisation last year ranked Manchester Metropolitan University as the United Kingdom’s greenest university, having jumped nine places to take the top spot in 2013, with the highest score ever achieved of 59.5 out of 70. But that was after failing the first Green League assessment in 2007.

Ranked by the People & Planet Green League, Manchester Metropolitan’s achievement was described as “a story of steady progress and improvement in environmental and ethical performance”.

The People and Planet Green League is published by the Guardian newspaper which calls it “the only comprehensive and independent ranking of universities by ethical and environmental criteria”.

Plymouth University took second place for the second year running, with Bangor named the most sustainable Welsh institution and Edinburgh Napier topping the Scotland ranking for the third year. Gloucestershire, Worcester and Brighton universities all made it into the UK top five.

Professor John Brooks, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, or MMU, said sustainability had been the main driver for the £350 million (US$591 million) rationalisation of the university’s campuses.

“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.”

Good results, says League

The organisers said the results were excellent, “demonstrating clearly the combined impact of student-led campaigns, sector-wide carbon reduction targets and a growing number of vice-chancellors committed to tackling climate change”.

“The results also show UK universities are doing more to improve graduate prospects by preparing them for the future low-carbon economy and increasing their focus on sustainability in the curriculum,” a league release stated.

It noted that nearly half of the country’s universities had gained full points for integrating sustainability into the curriculum compared with just over a quarter two years before.

“However, it’s not all good news. Universities are still failing to make the connection between their own academics’ research on climate change and the partnerships and investments they have with the fossil fuel companies causing climate change.”

Louise Hazan, who compiled the 2013 People & Planet Green League, said: “After a decade of student-led Go Green campaigning, the higher education sector has made excellent progress in areas ranging from carbon reduction to ethical procurement.

“For the first time, 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 Manchester Metropolitan’s book.”

Oxford disappoints

The league noted that Oxford University, which had failed the Green League assessment, had announced in May 2013 a £5.9 million partnership between the earth sciences department and Shell to support research into new techniques for extracting even more fossil fuels – “despite climate scientists’ warnings that more than 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground”.

In response, students launched a Fossil Free Oxford campaign as part of a wider movement to sever links with the fossil fuel industry.

Chris Garrard, a postgraduate student from Oxford University, commented: “Oxford is a hub for student campaigning alongside research that is having a powerful influence on international development and the environment.

“The trouble is, this positive activity becomes rather tainted when the vice-chancellor and others at the top set a tone of profit before people, and deals before ethics. It sets a poor example to students and those in the outside world that respect and acknowledge Oxford’s reputation.

“Deals such as the one 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.”

The ranking

The Green League ranks 143 UK universities each year, awarding them a First, 2:1, 2:2, Third, or Fail – according to 13 criteria.

These include 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.

The ranking combines data obtained directly from universities through the Freedom of Information Act with raw estates data obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Greening Universities Toolkit

The 2014 edition of the Greening Universities Toolkit is under development by the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability, or GUPES, and the Eye on Environmental Education Special Initiative, United Nations Environment Programme's Environmental Education and Training Unit and CRC for Low Carbon Living, or CRCLCL.

The 2014 Toolkit will update the content of the existing Toolkit, including sections on work done to measure sustainability across universities, new practices in the greening of campuses, and a cost-benefit analysis in the construction of green buildings. The Toolkit will also incorporate new case studies from different universities worldwide.

The CRCLCL, under a memorandum of understanding with UNEP, will contribute to an extended revision of the Toolkit. The first version of the Toolkit was launched at the 7th World Environmental Education Congress in June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

It was designed to provide universities with the basic strategies and tactics necessary to transform themselves into green, low carbon institutions with the capacity to address climate change, increase resource efficiency, enhance ecosystem management and minimise waste and pollution.

Click here for the current version of the Toolkit.