Words by Jasmine Crowhurst, News Sub-editor

The University of Sussex is in the first wave of organisations to make clear today their minimum climate expectations of those who manage their investments.

The United Nations Climate Summit, or COP26, officially concluded after two long weeks of gruelling negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland. Policymakers and scientists stressed that action on climate change is urgently needed, as the impacts of global warming have thrown entire countries into disarray. experiencing flooding and heatwaves in Europe, Central China and the US. In a time concluded as a ‘defining decade’, the deal resulted in some significant pledges. Firstly, over one hundred countries have agreed to end deforestation by 2030. Multiple countries would vow to cut 30% of their methane emissions by 2030 and lastly, countries agreed to ditch the use of coal, bringing the end of global coal power in sight. 

Whilst the world tussles with their opinions on whether the results of COP26 will have done enough to counteract the climate problems the world faces, the summit has made clear to the public the need to build back greener from the Covid-19 pandemic on global, national and local scales to respond to the climate emergency. 

The University was among the 24 founder signatories to the declaration for Net Zero asset management principles, launched at COP26. The University was joined by Friends Provident Foundation, WWF UK, Jesus College Cambridge, The Health Foundation, Newcastle University, Jesuits in Britain and Joseph Roundtree Charitable Trust. 

Allan Spencer, Director of Finance at the University of Sussex, said: “By being among the founder signatories of this declaration we are calling on the asset management sector as a whole to grasp this moment of opportunity that COP26 has delivered and bring about powerful, long-lasting and meaningful change in their operations to help bring about a better world.”

The University’s annual sustainability report,  published on the 11th November 2021,  details the steps that Sussex is making to deliver on all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The University has outlined ambitious plans to become one of the world’s most sustainable universities, achieving a net zero carbon footprint of its entire operations within 15 years.

The strategy, coined “Sustainable Sussex”, details the University’s plans to overhaul its heating, transport and supply chains over the next decade to become one of the world’s most sustainable universities. The strategy, published in July 2021, has been co-created by University’s students, staff, partners and stakeholders, and outlines how the University will meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

It aims to 1.) reach net zero by 2035 2.) embed sustainability into all aspects of student learning and experience 3.) recycle 50% of waste by 2025 and reduce the waste produced per student by 10% by 2025 4.) create the UK’s most biodiverse campus and 5.) have more staff and students volunteering in their local community. 

The University looks to build on existing sector-leading performance on key issues of sustainability including becoming the first UK university to introduce an aerobic digester for food waste. Future developments to replace fossil fuel dependent infrastructure by 2026 could include building an additional on-campus solar farm, as Sussex hopes to have the largest on-campus solar farm of any UK university. 

Other aspects of the wide-ranging strategy include ensuring university suppliers meet a high level of social, environmental, and economic sustainability under a Sustainable Procurement Principles Framework. Currently more than 60% of Sussex’s emissions are from indirect goods and services. 

The University says that they want to ensure that at least 80% of the fresh produce comes from local producers and weigh up the opportunity to end or reduce the sale of beef and lamb-based meals by 2023 if supported by students and staff. An expansion of biodiversity programmes could see the creation of therapeutic gardens, orchards, bee hotels and butterfly banks with areas of passive rewilding across campus. A look at creating a sustainable transport hub at Sussex would see upgrading electric vehicle, scooter and bike charging points across campus and the potential for an ultra-low emission vehicle leasing scheme for university staff.

The University of Sussex has increased the proportion of waste it recycles by almost 40% in the 2019/2020 academic year compared to the 12 months before. Sussex has collected almost 60 tonnes of food waste for conversion into compost in 2019/20 using an on-campus aerobic digester, the first to be installed at a UK university. The University’s solar array has helped the University to self-generate more than 13% of its total energy needs in 12 months with a 21% increase in production in 2019/20 compared to 2018/19.

The University of Sussex has also committed to eliminating avoidable single-use plastics from catering, stationery, laboratories, halls of residence, offices and events by 2025. Where the use of plastics is unavoidable, the University has made a new pledge to encourage the use of recycled plastics when practicable, and to support manufacturers that make products from locally sourced waste plastics.

The University’s campus in Falmer is home to approximately 158 species of birds and 32 species of mammal, including three social groups of badgers and several bat colonies in line with Sustainable Development Goal 15 about life on its land within the National Park, meaning sustainable actions are pertinent to the protection of the University’s close environment.

Earlier this year, the University was named among the top ten in the UK, and top fifty in the world, in the Times Higher Education (THE) World Impact Rankings 2021 measuring for effectiveness in delivering on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals ( or SDGs).

Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency in December 2018 alongside an ambition for the city to be carbon neutral by 2030. The council’s plan “ a fairer city- a more sustainable city” sets the direction for action on climate change in Brighton and Hove. It focuses on social justice and future generations alongside rapid decarbonisation.

The council has outlined key issues for future development in Brighton and Hove. These include 1.) Refining estimates of greenhouse gas emissions sources and sinks to help identify additional priority areas for action and track progress towards the carbon neutral target 2.)  Further engagement with major local businesses and organisations to elevate ambition and align climate action across the city 3.) A carbon offsetting framework to enable more local carbon cutting projects 4.)  Investigating alternative finance for climate action 5.) Developing the circular economy especially in the construction industry 6.) Solutions for scaling up energy efficiency retrofits for private housing 7.) Understanding the carbon footprint of consumables such as food and clothing.

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