We’re proud to be awarded winner in this year’s carbon reduction category at the EAUC’s Green Gown Awards, recognising our significant achievements in delivering a 35%* reduction in our emissions across the University.

Established in 2004, the Green Gown Awards recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges across the UK and Ireland. With sustainability moving up the agenda, the Awards have become established as the most prestigious recognition of best practice within the further and higher education sector. The ethos of the awards is to celebrate, share and promote the outstanding sustainability leadership, management and best practice initiatives from tertiary education in the UK.

The judges described Reading’s entry as “A very comprehensive carbon reduction project producing significant savings. Students have been integral to achieving a 35% reduction in carbon emissions in an imaginative way.”

How did we achieve it? The approach we have taken doesn’t focus on one technology or action but rather a large number of complementary actions across multiple areas…

Maximising reductions
Much of our work has focused on ensuring our existing buildings and systems run efficiently, and a lot of this work, such as insulation, building control improvements or motor replacements is ‘behind the scenes’. Whilst renewable energy systems such as solar PV panels are a great sign of a commitment to sustainability, we have consciously decided to focus the majority of our efforts on solutions which have the greatest overall impact in reducing carbon emissions, and often it is those behind the scenes solutions which meet this aim. Our investments in improving existing buildings are substantial, with over £4.5m now invested since 2011, delivering savings in excess of £20 million. We will continue to prioritise the biggest carbon reduction opportunities, and as technology moves on, we are finding new opportunities to further reduce energy consumption.

Reducing intensity
We will also be increasing our focus on reducing the carbon intensity of our supplies, for both electricity and heat. For Whiteknights, unfortunately we are not eligible to claim the Government Feed-in-Tariff (FiT), because any additional systems are viewed as an extension to our existing systems, and system extensions are ineligible for FiTs. This has hampered our hopes of installing more onsite renewable generation, however we are hopeful that PV panel prices are getting to a point that they will prove to be a good investment without any subsidy, and have plans to install 2 large new systems during summer 2018.
We see decarbonising heat as one of the biggest challenges facing the UK in continuing to reduce its carbon emissions, and are actively pursuing opportunities both to extend our district heating network on Whiteknights, and also to look at heat pump technologies which can provide much lower carbon heating solutions. In summer 2018, we are planning our first district heating extension, to the Hopkins building, and the Research Wing of Chemistry.

Challenges ahead
We believe in openly reporting our carbon emission data, and publish comprehensive annual reports  on our carbon reduction progress. We have always included business travel within our carbon emission target scope, and in 2016, we re-baselined based on Government guidance to include the ‘radiative forcing’ impacts of emissions at altitude from air travel. At a time when the University is actively looking to broaden its international reach, this creates new challenges for us, with 23% of our carbon footprint now accounted for by business travel. We are beginning to explore what opportunities there are to reduce these emissions, or to offset them by accelerating reductions in other areas such as building energy consumption.

The hard work continues
With the University also growing, there are clear challenges ahead. We are proud to have delivered some of the largest carbon reductions in the higher education sector, with over 72,000 tCO2 reduced from cumulative emissions since 2011; equivalent to all of the road traffic in the Borough of Reading for 7 months. Now is the time to demonstrate we can build on this success, to continue to reduce our emissions in absolute terms, and meet our next, 45% reduction target, for July 2021. We are confident but not complacent that our programme, our team and our management systems can deliver on our commitments.

*We’re now at 36.3% reduction

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