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Our strategic framework for delivering against our carbon reduction commitments is set out in our Carbon Reduction Strategy. On this page, we highlight some of the key initiatives that we are currently taking forward to reduce emissions from the University’s operational estate.

Scope 1 & 2: Improving efficiency

For a number of years, we have been investing in efficiency improvements and other carbon reduction measures in our buildings through our Carbon Fund Reduction (formerly known as the Energy and Carbon Reduction Project, or ECRP). In addition to efficiency improvements, the Fund can also support projects and initiatives that facilitate delivery of the Carbon Reduction Strategy, including:

The Fund has also supported a small number of renewable energy projects. 

Some case studies on projects funded through the Carbon Reduction Fund are available here.   

The Carbon Reduction Fund and Strategy are governed by the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee.           

Apply for funding

If your department has an idea for reducing your energy use and carbon emissions, you may be eligible to apply to the Carbon Reduction Fund. Initiatives that are eligible for funding include standard measures such as lighting upgrades and controls; improvements to heating and cooling systems and the controls of these systems; staff engagement and behavioural change programmes; and more innovative or bespoke solutions for specific pieces of research-related equipment.

Requests for funding are assessed against a number of criteria; which, depending on the exact nature of the proposed project, might include a measure of the project’s cost effectiveness.

If you have a project idea in mind, please email Environment & Energy with an enquiry here. The most appropriate team member for your request will be in touch to discuss further.

Scope 1 & 2: Eliminating gas

Emissions from gas make up around 36% of our total scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions. Whilst the carbon intensity of the UK electricity grid is rapidly reducing, there is no expectation at this time that the gas supply will decarbonise significantly over the next 20 years or so. Therefore, to ensure our total scope 1 and 2 emissions continue to reduce on line with our Science Based Target, we need to take action to significantly reduce the use of gas over our estate.

We recently commissioned a high-level feasibility study looking at the opportunities, barriers and costs for removing gas from the estate. The summary report from this study is available here.

The study identified a number of preferred scenarios for reducing the University’s use of gas, which utilise a variety of building and site based alternative heat technologies, principally air-source and ground-source heat pumps. These scenarios are estimated to cost between £120-165 million (CapEx and OpEx) more than business as usual in undiscounted terms between 2020 and 2050 (between £60-86 million more in discounted terms). The preferred scenarios each take the University a significant way towards remaining on track with and meeting its SBT, particularly if the act early approach is adopted.

We are taking the findings of this study forward to implementation through a four-pronged approach:

  1. Prioritisation: Prioritising specific sites and buildings for investment (over the next 10-20 years) to remove/ reduce gas.
  2. Planning: Developing low/zero carbon heating strategies for priority sites. Work is already underway for the New Museums site and we are arranging for feasibility work on the Sidgwick site.
  3. Pathfinder projects: Funding a series of degasification pilot projects, which will support our broader decarbonisation strategy and provide opportunities for learning.
  4. Exemplar refurbishments: Developing proposals and seeking funding for a series of exemplar low/zero carbon site-wide refurbishment projects that would help to decarbonise the collegiate University on an accelerated timeline.

We have also undertaken a study to look in more detail at options for eliminating gas from the New Museums site. More details on this study can be found here.

Scope 1 & 2: Renewable energy

We currently generate less than 1% of our total energy use from on-site renewables. We are undertaking work to identify opportunities to significantly increase the amount of renewable energy we generate on-site. For example, we are undertaking feasibility and planning work to develop a solar farm of up to 22MW on University owned land. This would provide around 19% of the University’s electricity demand (based on 2019 consumption levels).

We are also exploring options to procure more renewable energy.  In 2019, we joined 19 other UK universities to enter into a landmark Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), under which we will source 20% of our electricity directly from UK wind farms, for ten years. We are intending to enter into further PPAs in future, to increase the proportion of our electricity that is sourced from certified zero carbon and sustainable sources.

Scope 1, 2 & 3: Assessing impact of capital projects on CO2 emissions

We have created a CO2 Impact Template that allows the operational (scope 1 and 2) and embodied (scope 3) carbon impacts of capital projects to be considered from the outset. This standardises the way carbon emissions are reported when the business case for a capital project is submitted for committee approval.

You can find out more by downloading the ‘CO2 Impact Template’ and accompanying 'Guide’.

Scope 1 & 2: Electricity Devolution Programme

We have been working with departments from across the University to pilot our Electricity Devolution Programme (EDP), under which responsibility and budgets for electricity use are devolved to departments. We have been piloting our proposed approach for three years and have over that time made several changes to the scheme taking into account feedback and what we have learned from engaging with departments.

We were intending to launch the EDP as a live scheme in time for the 2021/22 academic year. However the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on how many departments use their buildings. We are therefore conducting a full review of the EDP. 

The sustainability team continue to issue quarterly reports to all departments on their electricity use.    

Scope 1 & 2: Engagement and collaborative working

We actively engage with our staff and students on carbon reduction through our Green Labs initiative, Green Impact, our network of Environment and Energy Coordinators and the Carbon Challenge.

There is close collaboration between the Sustainability Team and Cambridge Zero and the Living Lab initiative, to identify opportunities to advance our approach to decarbonisation by learning from our own research and academic expertise, and vice versa.

We also work closely with the Cambridge Colleges on carbon reduction and wider sustainability issues, and represent the University on the Colleges’ Environment Sub-Committee.

The University is an active member of the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges, the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) Sustainable Campus Initiative, and the COP 26 Universities Network.

Scope 3: Prioritising and delivering on Scope 3 emission reduction

Scope 3 emissions are notoriously difficult to quantify in an accurate way.  The Greenhouse Gas Protocol identifies 15 different categories of scope 3 emissions and, at present, we only report emissions from four – supply chain, waste, staff commuting and business travel. Even within these categories, we are aware of limitations to our methodologies and data.

Scope 3: Guidelines on Sustainable Business Travel

The University has adopted the Guidelines for Sustainable Business Travel for its staff and students on what steps they should take to reduce the environmental impact of University business travel. The guidelines were developed through stakeholder consultation across the University. 

The purpose is to support a reduction in non-essential University business travel (particularly air travel) and its associated carbon impacts, while supporting staff to utilise the ‘travel hierarchy’ when considering or undertaking travel. It is not the purpose of the guidelines to limit essential business travel. Rather, the aim is to strongly encourage staff and students to adopt climate-conscious travel behaviours and choices and possibly, have a more enjoyable work-life balance as a result. 

The guidelines allow staff to recognise their responsibilities and methods to reach our target:

  • 25% reduction in flight emissions per capita (per person (staff and research students)) against 2014/15 levels by 2024/25.

The Sustainability Team is developing processes to support reporting on business travel emissions as the school or departmental level. These reports will help to monitor the effectiveness of the new guidelines over time, and identify where staff and students may need further help in adopting sustainable business travel behaviours.

Scope 3: Implementing our Transport Strategy

Based on the categories of scope 3 emissions that we are currently able to measure, staff commuting represents one of our most significant emission sources (please see our Annual Report for details).

You can find out what we are doing to promote more sustainable and low carbon modes of travel to and at work, through implementation of our Transport Strategy 2019-2024, here.

Scope 3: Carbon offsetting

The University recognises the role of offsetting in a comprehensive approach to carbon reduction and has committed to only using it as a last resort to offset unavoidable carbon emissions. That’s why our Science Based Target for scope 1 and 2 emissions (energy-related) is for absolute zero by 2048 with an aspiration to achieve this by 2038.

A Carbon Offsetting Working Group (COWG) is working to develop an internal offsetting scheme that is likely to include a portfolio of measures including local nature-based solutions and the use of external offsetting schemes. It is likely that the initial focus of an internal scheme will be emissions from University’s business flights, but the scheme could be extended to cover other emission sources. It is expected that the University scheme will be implemented during the 2020/21 academic year.

The COWG recognises that several departments and institutions are already or are keen to begin offsetting and that research funders are starting to allow the costs of carbon offsetting from travel to be included in research grant applications. For example, The Wellcome Trust has a policy on carbon offsetting. Therefore, the COWG has provided guidance to support this. A template for recording estimated carbon emissions associated with travel is also available.

When compiling research grant proposals, you should consider what steps can be taken to reduce the number trips that are required. Some funders will help towards the costs of putting alternative arrangements in place.

Scope 3: Screening and prioritisation

We have completed a scope 3 screening assessment of all 15 categories of scope 3 emissions across the University. We have identified the most significant emission sources as our supply chain and our investments, with travel (considering here all types together) significantly less impactful, but together, the next highest magnitude collection of categories of scope 3. The screening also looked to identify priority areas besides carbon magnitude, through, for example additionality and interconnectivity and influenceability considerations. This also highlighted the significance of waste, water and our downstream leased assets for focussed action.

Scope 3: Supply chain

We are committed to implementing the international standard on sustainable procurement ISO20400, which amongst other areas of sustainability (such as biodiversity, ethics etc) will guide us toward identifying priorities, drivers, strategies, governance and processes to gain a better understanding of the carbon impact of our supply chain and address the highest impact areas.

Data Improvement

The University has signed up to the Net Zero Carbon Supplier Tool Action research project (link to follow). This will involve collaboration with 32 other universities (led by Nottingham Trent University) to further test and develop a supplier engagement too, to build one point of data collection, where all suppliers to universities can submit their emissions and turnover data, for Universities to identify individual and direct proportions as our own scope 3 emissions. Our testing of the tool will begin with priority (high carbon) categories, where contracts have a University Manager. Through the research, there may be an opportunity to also include engagement with our downstream leased assets, through this tool. 

Scope 3: Targets

The University has set certain scope 3 related targets:

  • Reduce per capita emissions from air travel by 25% against 2014/15 levels by 2024/25
  • University of Cambridge Investment Management Limited are committed to working with the University and their community of investment partners to deliver the goal of achieving ‘Net Zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2038 through the delivery of the sustainable investment strategy (see annual report Cambridge University Endowment Fund Annual Review 2022

The University is also looking to set additional scope 3 targets. There are not yet any supply chain related targets and identifying the appropriate, measurable data in order to set realistic, meaningful targets is a current priority.

The Environmental Sustainability Team are updating operational estate-wide waste targets and are setting water targets, these relate to scope 3, but will not aim to be scope 3 carbon targets specifically at this stage.