Education for Sustainable Development

Our commitment to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

As we head towards our centenary, we are not only reflecting on our past but looking towards the future. Ours is a global, shared future in which we equip our students with the skills and knowledge they need to help build a sustainable future for all. Our Partnering for the Planet website provides climate science facts and actions, to help educate and raise awareness for all.

Sustainability has become a cornerstone of our strategy and is one of the four principles informing our work.  Our Executive Board has agreed that, as one of our priorities, we will embed environmental sustainability across both our curriculum and staff training programmes.

In 2021 the University agreed a proposal to further embed sustainable development in our curriculum. The Steering Group set up to oversee this work reports to our main Teaching and Learning committee and is sponsored by one of our Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Education and Student Experience), Professor Peter Miskell. The Steering Group is working toward the following goals:

  1. That all graduates of the University will have a fundamental understanding of the concepts related to Sustainable Development
  2. That our students are enabled and empowered to become effective in positively contributing to sustainability problem-solving in their lives, professions, and communities

Currently, all students have the opportunity to develop an understanding of the concepts related to Sustainable Development through access to key University-wide modules and co- or extra-curricular activities such as the RED Award (with many students choosing to take up volunteering opportunities with organisations like ZSL Instant Wild, Reading Climate Action Network and Zooniverse).   Building on this success, the University has launch the RED Sustainable Action Award which is dedicated to encouraging learning, action and advocacy for sustainability, open to all students and with an expanded portfolio of projects in which to participate. In the Spring term of 2023 Reading University Students’ Union held its first Reading University Student Sustainability Summit which saw students, staff and alumni from a range of disciplines present their research on topics associated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Our current Teaching and Learning Strategy focuses on ‘educating for 21st century lives’ and the challenges that entails. Within this Strategy, sustainable development is implicit within our priorities to deliver excellence through the Curriculum Framework and its focus on developing global engagement and multicultural awareness as a graduate attribute, and the underpinning academic principles of diversity, inclusivity and global perspectives.

The Curriculum Framework was revised in the Summer 2021 and includes a statement on ESD as part of the Graduate Attribute “Global and future-facing outlook”. The updated attribute indicates that our graduates should be equipped with the skills to “positively contribute to addressing sustainability issues within the context of their discipline, their personal lives, professions and communities.” This is clearly feeding through to our graduates as the Graduate Outcomes survey from 2017/18 graduates, with the census taken 15 months post-graduation shows 99.8% of graduates had chosen to work in areas with we would deem as ethical employment with only 0.2% electing to work in the fossil fuel, tobacco or arms-related industries. 

Additionally, the revised Curriculum Framework expands Principle 4: Sustainability to include a statement that “programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline, which is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond.”

Providing a framework for ESD

The University Board for Teaching and Learning and Student Experience (UBTLSE) has a sub-committee: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), chaired by a senior academic, Dr Stuart Black. The ambition to embed environmental sustainability across our curriculum and staff training programmes aligns with one of the objectives of our educational strategy “to strive for enhanced global environmental sustainability” and one of our graduate attributes of “global engagement and multicultural awareness.”

In developing our framework for ESD across the University we are working towards;

  • Ensuring that ESD is the business of all subjects at the University but experienced in a way that is authentic to the discipline. This will be done by underpinning approaches to ESD with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the overarching framework, though with special recognition of the University's expertise in Climate Action (SDG13) and environmental sustainability (where appropriate).
  • Ensuring that a bespoke University-Wide Module (UWM) is developed and made available to provide a comprehensive grounding in climate and environmental sustainability for all students. We will review existing relevant modules in the 2023/24 academic year and determine how to implement this additional resource for students.

Examples of best practice in delivering ESD

As part of the FutureLearn Campus initiative, students enjoy free unlimited access to a collection of short online courses developed by experts from the University of Reading and partners from EIT Food and the Royal Meteorological Society. The courses deal with topics as diverse as cutting food waste, teaching climate and sustainability in primary schools and using systems thinking to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis. Completion of one or more of these courses also counts towards the 'acquire' element of the RED Sustainable Action Award.

Supporting staff to deliver the ESD Agenda

Our Academic Development and Enhancement Team offers a wealth of training opportunities, many of which are linked to the principles of the Curriculum Framework, which includes a new principle:

Programmes integrate education for sustainable development appropriate to the discipline. This is achieved by embedding opportunities and empowering students to engage with environmental, social and economic challenges within their programme and beyond.

In 2021 we introduced a range of training sessions to support this recently introduced principle, these included a session called ‘Establishing Education for Sustainable Development’ and another called ‘Mainstreaming Sustainability Teaching’. The University is currently undergoing a Portfolio Review (as party of our Strategy Implementation Project), and our Academic Development and Enhancement Team will be working with Schools to implement new Programme Expectations which will be underpinned by the principles in the revised Curriculum Framework. Schools are being asked to review their programmes and undertake a ‘Programme Visioning’ exercise which will encourage them to consider how ESD is manifested in their programmes.

We also offer spaces for staff to discuss practices and concepts relating to the delivery of teaching and learning. Our Academic Development and Enhancement Team facilitates a number of Teaching and Learning fora for the sharing of ideas and best practice. Our School Directors of Teaching and Learning Lunches, Programme Director Community of Practice, and work with Programme Teams provide spaces for participant-led discussions about key topics of interest.

The Academic Development and Enhancement Team continue to provide support to Schools as they engaged in ESD in the redesign and refresh of their programmes.

At the start of our ESD journey we invited Dr Alison Grief, Director of Education and for Sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University, to lead a guided discussion about education for sustainable development at our National Teaching Fellow/Principal Fellow Community of Practice. This event has been a catalyst for wider discussions as the Fellows disseminated the ideas amongst their colleagues.

Building on this, in September 2022, our Teaching and Learning Festival featured Professor Zoe Robinson from Keele University who gave a keynote address on Response and Responsibility: Creating a sustainable future through higher education. The Festival also provided opportunities to discuss ideas closely linked to sustainable development in a series of breakout sessions and workshops, including presentation from staff detailing the ways in which they had embedded ESD in their programmes or associated activities.

Additional Funding for ESD Projects

The University provides funding to projects designed to enhance our Teaching and Learning provision. The funding criteria for the awards ask applicants to align them with the University’s strategic priorities (including sustainability). The University makes awards on an annual basis and has seen an increase in applications with a sustainability or ESD focus. The University Teaching & Learning Enhancement Projects (TLEP) scheme offers 'start-up' funding of up to £2,500 to encourage and enable staff involved in teaching or supporting teaching and learning to experiment and develop practice. We were delighted that three of the 2022 winners were projects related to sustainable development. Winners of the 2023 awards are due to be announced shortly.

Previously funded projects have included the Bee Meadow Project (to create an evolving living laboratory for the Institute of Education), a project to explore the further use of University campuses as living laboratories for Education for Sustainable development, and a project on Co-constructing and evaluating the climate and sustainability education national framework across programmes at the Institute of Education.

In addition, we recently initiated the scoping for a series of outdoor teaching spaces to be implemented on the University campuses. We imagine these to have a strong sustainable leaning and to embrace the ethos and the aims of our ESD approaches. We aim to establish these teaching spaces such that they can be used by both teaching staff, students and the wider community and will be designed in such a way to enhance and embed our principles and commitment to a sustainable future. 

The findings from these activities will inform and support the wider adoption of ESD across the University’s teaching and learning activities.

ESD for the Real World - Students Applying Their Knowledge

Environmental research is centre-stage at the University of Reading. Two-hundred academics and hundreds of postdoctoral researchers and PhD students come together within our Environment research theme to explore, understand, and address the challenges of environmental changes, both natural and those shaped by humans.

We are working to maximise the opportunities for collaboration between our students, staff and community partners to apply insightful and innovative research across our campuses and in our local area to meet the challenges that our world is facing.

We have embedded sustainability into a number of projects within our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP). The following are examples of recent UROP projects with a sustainable focus. The projects last 6 weeks over the summer break. Students involved in UROP receive a bursary of £1,320. Since 2006, the University of Reading has supported over 800 students with their projects. Some example projects are outlined below, but from 2017 to 2022, 63 such projects were funded totally £83,160 in areas covering sustainability.

2023 UROP Projects


Aerial view of Earley Gate'A Living Laboratory'

By using the University’s facilities and surrounds as a ‘Living Lab’, we provide opportunities for students to gain practical skills and direct experience in applying research, help shape how we improve our environmental performance, use our resources efficiently, and work towards a thriving, sustainable university. For example, BIFE2: Fundamentals of Ecology and BIFEC1: Field Ecology modules provide opportunities to use our campus to learn and develop skills. Our undergraduate students are actively engaged in sustainability across our campuses. You can find out more about their work below:

The potential of integrating battery storage with solar panels at the University of Reading (2023)


The University of Reading has set an ambitious net-zero target to be achieved by the year 2030. One of the crucial strategies to attain this goal is the incorporation of renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic (PV) panels, into the campus infrastructure. However, the intermittency and unpredictability of these clean energy sources pose challenges in meeting the university's energy demands solely through renewable generation. Therefore, this research project was undertaken to investigate the potential of integrating battery storage with renewable energy sources, alongside demand-side response techniques, to assess the feasibility of reducing grid electricity imports and increasing reliance on locally produced clean energy. The Wager building on Whiteknights was used as the experimental case for this study. The outcomes consistently indicated that a 150 kW battery size proved to be the most suitable choice throughout the year. Through the integration of battery storage and demand-side response measures with renewable energy sources, the University of Reading can substantially advance its pursuit of the net-zero target and reduce its dependency on conventional grid electricity. The recommended 150 kW battery size exhibited significant potential in optimizing energy management and sustainability efforts at the Wager building and holds promise as a viable solution for other buildings within the campus as well. The research findings underscore the significance of considering energy storage solutions and demand-side response strategies as essential components of a comprehensive and sustainable energy management plan.  
Investigating the effect of aging and potential degradation on the performance of the SBE solar PV (2023)


As solar energy is becoming increasingly cost-effective in built environment, there exists a growing concern over the performance of solar PV systems as it ages. To better understand the performance of a solar PV system beyond the 25 years of operational lifetime predicted by most manufacturers globally, this research examines the performance degradation of the Sustainable Built Environment (SBE) solar PV system at the University of Reading over its 24 years (from 1999) of continuous operation as well as 4 years (2019 to 2023) of relocation within the Whiteknights campus. The research analyses the energy output data of the solar PV system by considering climatic factors such as solar irradiance and temperature, that might have had a potential impact in the performance drop of the system during its operational lifetime. The results showed that the performance drop in the system had a direct relation to the degradation effect in the system. This performance drop was at an average rate of 2.5% per year over its 24 years operation.
Investigating the amount of food waste generated in offices and academic areas on campus (2023)


Summer 2023 – for an MSc dissertation, a student is investigating the relatively small amounts of food waste generated in the University’s offices/academic areas, compared with campus restaurants, in order to determine what is the most environmentally sustainable method of collection and disposal of food waste from offices/academic areas: co-collection with general waste which is then sent for incineration with energy recovery, segregation of food which is then sent for anaerobic digestion, segregation of food which is then sent for composting, or a different route. This dissertation is co-supervised by Paul Taylor, Sustainability Officer. 
A Victorian Building Retrofit (2023)


Residential buildings are the second largest contributor to carbon emissions in the UK both through their use and construction. Global warming and Net Zero commitments demand a reduction in energy consumption from this sector. This research assesses the impact of retrofit scenarios on energy efficiency and thermal comfort of occupants using a Victorian House on campus. The results show that both thermal comfort and energy consumption are improved across the retrofit scenarios. There is a maximum 22.7% reduction in energy consumption from single retrofit methods in the existing building, which increases to 36.9% where a multi-method, deep retrofit approach that includes ground source heat pump (GSHP) renewable energy technology is used. With or without (Scenario 2) the GSHP, a deep retrofit also results in a maximum 25.7% improvement in occupant thermal comfort. (Credit - Mary Utley)  
The effect and arrangements of indoor plants on IEQ of office (2023)


This study  investigates the impact of biophilic design on indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in commercial office spaces. The investigation explores how planting arrangements can affect IEQ factors such as indoor air quality, sound levels, lighting levels, visual comfort, and occupant perception; with the goal of in establishing interior design layouts which enhance occupant comfort by recommending plant species and layouts which improve IEQ conditions. Experiments were performed at JJ-Thompson Building and Chancellors Building (on campus at the University), with and without plants present to measure indoor air quality (CO2, air temperature, relative humidity), sound quality and lighting levels. The study findings aligned with survey responses on occupant perception that plants can positively impact IEQ. CO2 levels decreased, improving indoor air quality, whilst air temperature and relative humidity increased in the presence of plants. Sound levels were positively affected as plants were found to absorb sound in barrier layouts. Additionally, natural lighting periods were more affected by plant presence over artificial settings. (Credit - Hiral Harsad)  
Investigating the potential of sustainable roof configurations on a localised Urban Heat Island during Autumn/Winter months (2023)


Urban Heat Island (UHI) has become a global phenomenon in cities. It involves warm pockets of air accumulating above urban areas due to anthropogenic emissions.  There is limited research on the mitigation strategies, particularly in cooler months. The aim of this research was to investigate the potential of sustainable roof configurations on a localised UHI during Winter months, using Chancellors Building (on campus at the University). Through the use of sustainable roofing solutions including green and blue roof construction, the effects of UHI can be mitigated considerably.  The research has investigated the heat flux between the surface and air to determine the effectiveness of green and blue roofs. Based on the findings, the conventional green roof configuration demonstrated temperatures 2.0°C cooler than the baseline concrete and the blue roof showed 2.2°C cooler than the concrete. From the three configurations, the blue-green roof was most effective, providing a 2.5°C cooler temperature in comparison to the concrete in both warm and cool external Autumn/Winter temperatures. The findings of this study show that implementing a sustainable roofing design can lessen the effects of UHI by lowering the air and surface temperature.  (Credit - Hannah Lamming).  
Developing a visual waste composition analysis to inform waste management strategies (Summer 2022)


A student undertaking an MSc degree in Environmental Management, under the supervision of Dr Steve Robinson, undertook a dissertation investigating how to develop a visual composition analysis of material segregated for recycling within campus buildings, in order to help better understand how recycling success is measured. The aim of the study was two-fold: to discern how useful data derived from a visual analysis of waste can be to an organisation, and to provide statistics to the University’s Sustainability Services team to support their achievement of current targets and the creation of future strategies.  
IEQ of the UoR library after refurbishment (March 2022)


This research addresses Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) through the use of in-situ measurements, modelling using simulation tools (i.e, Integrated Environmental Simulation – Virtual Environment (IES-VE) and CBE Thermal Comfort Tool). Thermography images were also taken in order to assess the airtightness and heat losses through the fabric of the refurbished building. The findings illustrate that the indoor environment was found to be generally acceptable when aligned to the CIBSE Guide A standards for temperature as well as CO2 concentration by ASHRAE 55 -2020 (2021). This is with exception of the 1st floor group study room and 4th floor study pod which is found to be thermally uncomfortable. Occupancy numbers have a direct impact on energy consumption as well as IEQ parameters.  (Credit - Jaclyn Tieng Yee Ling).  
IEQ of a modular building – Chancellors Building (March 2022)


Modular building is a quick, cost-saving and sustainable alternative to the conventional construction. Indoor environmental quality(IEQ) is receiving increased attention, as it is critical for the performance and health of occupants. However, the majority of current studies focus primarily on the IEQ of conventional buildings. This research investigates IEQ (i.e. thermal, visual, acoustic comfort and indoor air quality) based on the as-built and the numerical models of scenario variations of the Chancellors Building. Four scenarios were developed to improve both thermal comfort and illuminance levels in the building, the most appropriate of which would also help to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. (Credit - Xi Sun)  
Lessons from refurbished buildings – Harry Pitt Building (March 2022)


Existing buildings that had been refurbished on the Whiteknights campus were studied to understand the University’s principles on refurbishments and propose possible ways of upgrading buildings for the modelling in this study. The case study building, Harry Pitt Building, was considered for refurbishment options based on the lessons learned and using simulated scenarios to propose outcomes. The challenge in this study was to find a balance in improving the energy performance in the subject building, while also managing to provide a thermally comfortable environment, and reduce the carbon footprint. (Credit - Tian Wei Tan).  
Potential of PV and the GSHP at Carrington Building & other UoR buildings (February 2022)


This research aimed to investigate the impact of solar panels (PV) and ground source heat pumps (GSHP) in an educational building in relation to energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs. Two subject buildings located at the Whiteknights Campus were selected as the investigative builds. The study was conducted through analysing monitored data and modelling and simulation of the building energy use, based on its technologies design. The results concluded that both technologies offer positive impacts on building efficiency performance, however, the payback period of the ground source heat pump is very long at 22 years. (Credit - Yuen Lok Ching, Sabrina) 
Carbon sequestration research (2021)


State-of-the-art carbon emission monitoring equipment has been installed at University of Reading's Thames Valley Science Park which will monitoring carbon uptake locally.  This will help the University and the Science Park to gain insight into the efficacy improved land management as a key climate change mitigation strategy. We will also monitor how biodiversity changes in response to the potential future addition and growth of native tree species. We are very keen for students to engage with the project and welcome student-led initiatives, especially species monitoring programmes for animals, plants, and fungi.

This initiative ties directly into two of the University’s six sustainability themes: Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure, and Carbon Management. As noted in the University’s Environmental Sustainability goals, we aim to “Reduce our carbon footprint by developing woodlands or other landscapes that sequester carbon...” and “Place sustainability and biodiversity at the heart of our community, including management of campuses and other landholdings.”  

Greywater and Greenlands Campus - Summer 2021


A renewable energy student, under the supervision of Dr Maria Vahdati, is reviewing the effectiveness of the University’s first grey water system, installed in 2018, in its new accommodation blocks at the Henley Business School, Greenlands campus.  
Sustainable takeaway food packaging (Summer 2021)


Summer 2021 – an environmental science student, under the supervision of Dr Steve Robinson, is considering the way that take-away food is sold from shops, cafés, and restaurants on campus, to understand what is the most environmentally sustainable packaging when considering the life cycle impacts and the practicalities of disposal methods for different packaging materials such as oil-based plastics, paper/cardboard, and plant-based plastics.
Evaluation of the Chancellors Building (May 2021)


The study was conducted by a quantity surveying student, overseen by Dr Emmanuel Essah. The findings from the research identified the design concepts an implementation that ensured the conservation of energy usage in this modular type building. Using simulation measures, other concepts were investigated to understand its potential implications. (Credit- James Frost) 
Electricity consumption within our Library (May 2021)


The study was conducted by a quantity surveying student, overseen by Dr Emmanuel Essah. In this research, occupants’ patterns and behaviours were monitored using the footfall data provided. Findings from simulation results showed that there is an inverse relationship between occupancy and energy consumption, however the actual energy savings made were 13% after the refurbishment of the Library. (Credit - Zu Shen Koh)
Energy efficiency in Edith Morley tower (May 2020)


Our students actively engage in sustainability across the campus including a post-occupancy evaluation of energy-efficiency improvements in the Edith Morley tower. The study was conducted by a building surveying student, overseen by Dr Emmanuel Essahand identified that the building achieves good thermal comfort, which needs to be balanced with achieving good indoor air quality in the naturally ventilated building.  (Credit – Charmaine Lok Ching Wong) 
We regularly receive requests for energy data for our buildings on our campuses which are used in student studies and research.

For example, we supplied an MSc student with electricity use and solar generation data for several buildings for a study looking at the potential of battery storage to smooth supply and demand.

Acceptance of research funding

The University has published criteria for the acceptance of research funding, gifts, donations and sponsorship via external partnerships in addition to our Ethical Fundraising Policy.

University of Sanctuary

The University of Reading has recently been recognised as a University of Sanctuary. This award 'recognises ‘universities that have gone above and beyond to provide an understanding, compassionate, and safe experience that would enable people seeking sanctuary to thrive and recognise their potential’.

Supporting Students - Sanctuary Scholarships

The University offers scholarships to eligible sanctuary seekers (people with refugee, humanitarian protected, or asylum seeker status) through our Sanctuary Scholarships scheme. The scheme has been running since 2018 and offers the following awards each year to eligible applicants:

  • 5 fee waivers each year that cover the tuition fees for our 11–week English Language programme (starting in July each year) – £4,600 in 2024
  • 4 bursary payments of £5,000+ each year of study for new applicants to undergraduate courses* with refugee, humanitarian protection status, or be granted settlement in the UK through the ARAP or ACRS schemes for Afghan refugees, or have a right to remain in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Ukraine Sponsorship (Homes for Ukraine) scheme
  • 1 bursary payment of £10,000+ (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for new applicants to postgraduate taught courses with refugee, humanitarian protection status or be granted settlement in the UK through the ARAP or ACRS schemes for Afghan refugees, or who have a right to remain in the UK through the Ukraine Family Scheme or the Ukraine Sponsorship (Homes for Ukraine) scheme
  • 1 Scholarship of a fee waiver and a bursary payment of £14,200+ for each year of study for new applicants to undergraduate courses with asylum seeker status
  • 1 Scholarship of a fee waiver and a bursary payment of £14,200+ (pro rata–ed for part-time students) for new applicants to postgraduate taught courses with asylum seeker status

If you require any further information about Education for Sustainable Development, please contact:

Page last updated 30/06/2023

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