Interview: University of London lead the way in sustainability

Britain’s second biggest university, University of London features in our latest report, Business and the Renewables Revolution. Mike Shirley interviews Sustainability Manager, John Bailey, to learn more about their approach to sustainability and how they’ve seen the commercial benefits by switching to 100% renewable power.

Tell us a bit about the university’s approach to sustainability?
The university CSR policy has driven our sustainability approach, from setting carbon reduction targets and waste management, through to changing staff behaviours to practice a sustainable way of working.

Can you share the university’s carbon targets?
These targets were driven by our CSR policy and we’re pleased to have reported a 32% reduction in our Scope 1 and 2 emissions since 2010, exceeding our reduction target of 20%. We are now saving 5,413 tCO2e a year, equivalent to 540 UK households.

What made you chose 100% renewable electricity?
The central university purchases energy in a consortium with five other universities and colleges and has a sustainability target of purchasing 100% renewable electricity. We therefore switched our supplier in October 2015 and we now have an electricity contract that allows us to prove the power is sourced from renewable generators across the UK.

Have you seen the value in paying that little bit extra for renewable power?
The cost of paying the extra for renewables was so small in comparison to our annual bill it was pretty much insignificant. Flexible purchasing has saved the group hundreds of thousands of pounds in comparison with our previous fixed contract. Combined with 100% renewable product it was generating a lot of interest from other universities.

What commercial benefits have you received since switching to 100% renewable energy?
The proof is in our carbon reporting and demonstrating our use of renewable energy alongside our emission reporting has helped drive interest in sustainability at the university, which in turn helps us drive down carbon and hit our targets.

There’s also been a huge reputational benefit and we’ve sent a strong statement to our staff and students that we are committed to sustainability.

We’ve seen a dramatic change in staff behaviour since we introduced our ‘Sustainability Champions’ network. Our staff have taken an active role to drive down energy use and increase recycling - in 2015 our staff champions were responsible for saving 190 tCO2, saving us £52,355 in energy bills.

What are your future energy ambitions?
We have set 2020 targets in our CSR policy and our main future energy ambitions are set to take the university towards the 2050 target of an 80% reduction in carbon. Energy performance contracts and significant investment in the estate will help us on our way.

We’re also aiming to recycle 80% of waste by 2020, last year we achieved 72%. Finally, we hope our approach to sustainability generates an increasing level of engagement from both staff and students and that other universities follow in our footsteps.

The University of London is an energy pioneer in the education sector and they’ve provided a great case study that demonstrates the commercial value in switching to renewable energy.

Download our report, Business and the Renewables Revolution to hear from other business energy pioneers such as industrial giant, Saint Gobain, real estate company Land Securities and multi-national retailer, Arcadia.

To learn more about the University of London’s sustainability targets, download their 2015 Sustainability report.