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What’s the University of Reading doing?

This article highlights the University of Reading's potential pathway to net zero carbon by 2030.
Egyption Goose raising its wings
© University of Reading

As a leading institute in climate change, sustainable construction and renewable energy, the University of Reading takes its environmental responsibilities seriously.

“The opportunity to rethink and redesign every aspect of our lives in the race to zero emissions is not just exciting but critical to humanity. Young people are determined to be a part of this but are held back by the education system.”
Iain Patton, CEO of EAUC – The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education.
Environmental sustainability is at the heart of the University of Reading’s organisational identity, positioning it as one of its four key principles in its 2020-2026 Strategic Plan with an ambition of becoming ‘the greenest University in the UK’.

Carbon reduction

In 2020 we released our Net Zero Carbon Plan showing a potential pathway to net zero carbon by 2030 (see figure below). This Graph shows the anticipated year-on-year emissions, taking all known major estate changes and all currently planned carbon reduction projects into account.
Projected carbon path to net zero carbon by 2030. ©University of Reading Click to expand.
By January 2020, the University had achieved a 44% reduction in its carbon footprint compared to its 2008/09 baseline which is the largest percentage C02 reduction of any research-intensive university in the UK1. This reduction has resulted in a £34 million cumulative financial saving since 2008/09 from the carbon and water programmes, and carbon savings of 130,000t CO2, which is equivalent to more than all the road traffic emissions in the borough of Reading for a year.
In December 2020, we secured a £3.4m grant from Salix Finance for a major acceleration of our carbon reduction work. Part of the funding is being used to add 2,100 solar panels to our existing 1,700 which will treble our renewable generation capacity. Multiple other projects are being delivered from this grant, such as the replacement of 24 lab drying ovens which have measured energy savings annually of 76,958 kWh, equivalent to removing 26.5 houses from the national grid*. This is an overall saving of 67% compared to the old ovens’ consumption. Using electricity prices charged today, we expect to save £11,698 per annum.
*1. Comparison of Scope 1 and 2 emissions 2018/19 to 2005 baseline in the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s Estates Management Record.
*Typical Domestic Consumption Values (TDCVs) are industry standard values for the annual gas and electricity usage of a typical domestic consumer and the 2020 figure released by Ofgem is 2,900 kWh.

Waste management

Total waste generated per full-time employee. ©University of Reading
This graph shows the continued reduction in total waste produced per capita year-on-year. Since 2015/16, the University has significantly decreased the amount of day-to-day ‘operational’ waste generated per person as a result of key initiatives to reduce single-use items such as plastic straws and paper cups, to improve the redistribution of unwanted furniture and equipment, and to reduce packaging waste. In January 2020 waste production stood at 17.6% less per person when compared to our 2015/16 baseline, well ahead of the targeted 5% per person reduction set for 2021.

Responsible procurement

Sustainable procurement objectives have been reviewed in 2019 with the formation of a Responsible Procurement Working Group, to ensure there are continued efforts to embed sustainability into the University’s procurement processes. The University has completely divested from fossil fuels within its investment portfolio and has signed up to Electronic Watch to ensure electronics are sourced ethically and sustainably.

Sustainable travel

Bikes on UoR Campus ©University of Reading
Sustainable travel continues to be a priority for the University, and new ways of working implemented during the COVID-19 outbreak offer some valuable learning for the benefits and limitations of different approaches to work and study arrangements in the future. The University’s most recent travel survey shows that 82.2% of staff and student commuter journeys were made by sustainable modes (in January 2020). The University now has 4,339 cycling parking space across its Whiteknights, London Road and Greenlands campuses.
“Climate education has been identified as crucial to helping everyone in society believe in and make necessary changes and face the future with confidence.”

Professor Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Reading


The University runs regular campaigns and events to raise the profile of sustainability and climate issues, such as its #PlanetPartners campaign. In 2020, our annual Green Festival integrated with the local community-run Reading Climate Festival to deliver a host of events. Our staff engagement platform, JUMP, also encourages staff to think about their actions and consider more sustainable alternatives all year round, with a points-based rewards system.

Environmental management system

Underpinning all of this work is the University’s combined environmental and energy management system, which is certified to the international ISO14001:2015 and ISO50001:2018 standards. This ensures we comply with our environmental obligations and commitments, and continuously improve.

Author: Luke Cantellow, Energy Officer, Sustainability Team

© University of Reading
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