University Sector Net Zero Leadership [with video] - 100% Renewables

University Sector Net Zero Leadership [with video]

At 100% Renewables, we have extensive experience in the university sector, which mainly revolves around our core services, being the development of net zero strategies and helping our clients achieve carbon neutrality under Climate Active. Based on this experience, we have summarised our main thinking on sustainability and specifically net zero leadership in the university sector.

We have also created a video of the content in this article.

 

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

An important part of sustainability is working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals were agreed upon and adopted by the United Nations member states in September 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals
Figure 1: United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs are a globally accepted framework for sustainable development that recognises the co-dependence of society, the economy and the environment. They are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

You can see in Figure 1 that there are 17 Goals, that have inspired new ways of thinking and acting. Each Goal is underpinned by targets, and all up, there are 169 targets.

2022 THE Impact Ranking

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Table 1: Australian institutions in the top 100 global universities for their THE Impact Ranking for 2022

In 2022, 17 Australian universities were ranked in the top 100 universities globally, and WSU, one of our clients, tops the overall rankings. Western Sydney University ranks #1 out of 1,406 universities from 106 countries and regions across the globe in the University Impact Rankings of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022, scoring 99.1 out of 100 for their social, ecological and economic impact.

To find out more about THE Impact Ratings, please go to our blog post:
2022 Net Zero Tracker and THE Impact Rankings of leading Australian universities

University sector net zero leadership

Universities need to lead the push to net zero. There are expectations from current and future students and staff to be sustainable and to work towards net zero. There is pressure to have sustainability at the core of operations, teaching, research and engagement. There’s also pressure from government agencies & industry research partners, and sector networks to work towards net zero. There is a need for SDG alignment, and universities need to get access to grant funding for research and education.

Figure 2: How universities are progressing to net zero leadership

How can universities go from ‘zero’ to ‘net zero hero’?

Campus energy efficiency, installing solar, performing detailed energy audits, looking at your operational carbon footprint, and getting your buildings Green Star certified are what we consider as step1 in the journey to net zero.

We consider you having reached step 2 once you start engaging your operations and academic stakeholders, develop targets in line with science, and work on your net zero/carbon neutral/renewables strategy.

If you extend your carbon accounting and decarbonisation strategy to the entire value chain, switch to 100% renewables, or go for Climate Active certification, we would consider that to be step 3.

In step 4, your operations are fully decarbonised, you have net zero campuses, your fleet vehicles are fully electrified, net zero is integrated into teaching and research, you are divested from fossil fuels, and you are working towards a goal of being climate positive.

In Australia, 24 universities are between step 2 and step 3. Some universities have progressed to step 2, and some are at step 3.

The payoffs that you can achieve when you move towards net zero and step 4 are that you’re working towards climate leadership. You’ll be able to increase your THE ranking, and attract more students and better attract and retain staff. You will reduce your operational costs, you’ll be able to contribute to a sustainable society, and access to funding may be easier.

Figure 3: Carbon neutral, net zero and 100% renewables commitments by Australian universities as at March 2022

We’ve been tracking the commitments of Australian universities for several years. We published our first blog post on ambitious commitments in 2017. In 2022, 24 universities in Australia have now ambitious climate action goals. Out of the 24 universities in the ambitious commitments list, 15 have committed to 100% renewable energy by or before 2030, 17 have committed to carbon neutrality by or before 2030, and 2 have committed to net-zero GHG emissions targets by 2050.

To find out more about THE Impact Ratings, please go to our blog post:
2022 Net Zero Tracker and THE Impact Rankings of leading Australian universities

How can you move to step 4 in your net zero journey?

Science-aligned net zero strategy

In the absence of any measures, your business-as-usual emissions may likely grow with a growing university.

However, because the grid is decarbonising and more renewables, such as solar and wind farms, will feed into the grid, electricity use is getting greener. You will be working on reducing waste on your campuses, you will switch from gas to electric equipment, you will electrify your fleet, and you will work on reducing your value chain emissions.

Over time, you will reduce your carbon footprint to a minimum. In your net zero target year, you will use removal-based carbon offsets (such as tree planting) to eliminate your residuals emissions and reach net zero.

Going carbon neutral right away

While you are working towards reaching net zero in the long term, you can also pursue a carbon neutral goal now. You can get certified under programs such as Climate Active, or get certified to the future ISO Carbon Neutral Standard. This strategy means that you will keep working on your decarbonisation strategy, but at the same time, you purchase carbon offsets yearly to achieve and maintain a carbon neutral status for your university.

Our net zero diagnostic tool

At 100% Renewables, we have developed a net zero diagnostic that assesses organisations against five criteria being brand, people, operations, products and climate risks and that benchmarks organisations against leading practice.

Brand is how you portray your university to your staff, your immediate stakeholders and to the outside world. Stakeholders include domestic and international students, staff, funders, philanthropists, investors, governments, and businesses you are collaborating with. Your brand is what you stand for, your vision, mission and values. It’s about committing to ambitious climate action goals, acting on them and communicating your achievements internally and externally.

An organisation can only be as good as the people that support your goals. You will succeed in a net zero economy if your senior leadership team recognises the climate emergency and drives climate action from the top throughout the university, inspiring staff and students.

To prepare for a net zero economy, both your operations and value chain need to drive towards emissions reduction. To succeed, you will need to develop your carbon footprint, evaluate your opportunities and create a pathway to net zero that is properly resourced.

In a net zero economy, today’s high-carbon products and services will need to transition to carbon neutral and a circular economy. Leading businesses will go further than this and look for opportunities for net zero-enabled growth. As universities, you commercialise products and have patents, so you can directly help with the development of low and no-carbon products. Also, as a university, you should integrate net zero teaching into all courses.

Much will change as society continues to experience the worsening impact of climate change. To thrive in this environment, you will need to thoroughly assess and address your physical and transition risks, so you can adapt and take advantage of the opportunities a net zero world brings.

To find out your score, GO TO OUR WEBPAGE and click on the link next to our image that links to our diagnostic.

100% Renewables are experts in helping universities develop their climate action strategies and plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to create your strategy, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.

Barbara Albert

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