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Sustainability

 

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 will share the outcomes of this work over time.

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: Embedding carbon into capital projects

The University’s capital projects are new developments and major refurbishments that individually cost over £2 million.

We have introduced changes to our capital projects process that require the operational (scope 1 and 2) and embedded (scope 3) carbon impacts of capital projects to be considered from the outset, and help to identify opportunities to reduce carbon throughout the design process. The ‘carbon proforma’ and guidance can be found here.

Scope 1 & 2: Electricity Devolution Programme

We are 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 two 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 but have had to push this back to 2022/23, due to the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on how departments use their buildings. We need to ensure we have a full picture of departments’ energy use under ‘the new normal’ for the purposes of setting accurate consumption baselines for each department participating in the scheme.

You can find out more about the EDP in this briefing note.

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 Environment and Energy Section 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: Improving our scope 3 data

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.

We are undertaking a series of initiatives that will improve the data we hold on our scope 3 emissions, including the following:

  • We are committed to carrying out a full screening assessment of all 15 categories of scope 3 emissions across the University, by the end of the 2021/21 academic year. This will identify the most significant emission sources and provide us with a priority list for improving our data.
  • The University is undertaking am ambitious Financial Transformation Programme, to further develop and enhance its financial processes and tools. Various elements of the Programme will support improvements in our carbon data – for example, a new expenses system will provide us with better data relating to business travel and our supply chain emissions. Members of the University can find more details on the Programme here.
  • We are committed to implementing the international standard on sustainable procurement ISO20400, which amongst other things will help us to gain a better understanding of the carbon impact of our supply chain and address the highest impact areas.

 

Investments are one of the 15 categories of scope 3 emissions identified by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. In October 2020, the University announced its aim to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030, and to achieve net zero emissions across its entire investment portfolio by 2038. To provide transparency on progress in this area, the University’s Investment Office are developing proposals on how the carbon intensity of the University’s investment fund should be measured.

Scope 3: Developing guidance on flights

In March 2020, the University’s Research Policy Committee considered a proposal from the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee to develop a policy or guidance for staff in relation to air travel. The Research Policy Committee were supportive of this and the Environment and Energy Section are carrying out work to develop a policy/ guidance.

As part of this, we have consulted a selection of our staff and students on what they would like a policy or guidance to include. Cambridge Zero are helping us to further assess attitudes towards flying amongst our academic staff through an internship they are funding. This will, in particular, assess whether attitudes towards flying have changed following the Covid-19 pandemic, and what this might mean for a policy or guidance concerning air travel.

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.