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Sustainable futures

The climate crisis is deepening but here’s how we can still make a real difference

As a university, we’re committed to reducing our carbon emissions and showing leadership, says Andy Nolan

A year ago, before COP26, I wrote “From the record-breaking “heat dome” and ensuing wildfires in the Pacific north-west to catastrophic flooding in Europe and China and rainfall-induced landslides in India, extreme weather has hit the headlines in 2021”.

Sadly, but predictably, it was the same in 2022. We’ve seen record temperatures here in the UK and devastating heatwaves and wildfires across Europe, powerful storms across the USA and Asia. It’s clear – all the changes predicted by climatologists are coming true.

And as delegates from 200 nations gather for COP27 in Egypt, the UN warned that collective failure to act on greenhouse gas emissions is rapidly dashing any hope of limiting the rise in global temperatures below the critical threshold of 1.5 ⁰C.

"Only an urgent, system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster."
United Nations Emissions Gap Report 2022

Yet I remain optimistic. I am confident we have the knowledge and the innovation to solve this problem – but we’re running out of time and we need to show leadership.

The University can make a big contribution to emissions reduction locally, nationally and internationally. This is in terms of what we’re here for – teaching and research – as well as how we operate. After all, it’s our graduates who will leave Nottingham, Ningbo and Semenyih and become the leaders of tomorrow and it’s our research that will inform future policy and practice.

We’re in very turbulent times. Global energy markets have been massively distorted by the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s decision to restrict natural gas supplies. As a result, the cost of living is increasing and is forcing governments around the world to consider how they deliver the trilemma they face: resilience, affordability and carbon reduction. Short term interventions to control the costs of energy are understandable but unsustainable. Short term decisions to unearth (literally) hydrocarbons like gas and coal may help tackle resilience, but keeping them in the ground is, without doubt, the only way we’re going to meet the commitments to the Paris Agreement.

The solution, at least in the medium term, is renewable energy. Accelerating investment in wind, solar, ground and air source heat pumps, geothermal, tidal and hydro, need market sustainability for investors. Without that stability it will be a challenge to make that step change.

As a university, we’ve shown leadership and committed to reducing our carbon emissions with science-based targets. That’s going to require policy changes, behaviour change and investment in our infrastructure. We’re actively working on solutions which will tackle the trilemma and it includes reducing demand for energy (particularly in our building stock) and generating more of our own. My team are working on options for solar and wind projects and we’re setting higher standards in our refurbishment programme.

Did you know:

  • For 2023, we are placed 118 in the world and 25 in the UK in the first ever QS World University Rankings for Sustainability
  • We are the world’s second most sustainable university, according to the UI Green Metric World University Ranking’s latest survey for 2021
  • We improved on our carbon reduction target for 2021/2022 of 37,324 tonnes of CO2, with our overall emissions from gas and electricity consumption being 37,166 tonnes. Since setting our baseline in 2018/2019 we are slightly ahead of our overall target to be carbon neutral by 2050
  • Around 80% of our total annual carbon emissions are indirect emissions associated with goods and services that we buy – things like food, paper products, business travel and construction material. We’ve added IT and lab equipment to the priority list to focus on. This comes to around 160,000 tonnes per year
  • Nottinghamshire councils have followed the lead of the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University to offer a Green Rewards platform for all Nottingham residents. This is the first collaborative sustainability engagement programme of its kind in the UK. Collectively there are 10,579 people taking part and so far we have saved more than 945,500 kg of CO2e through our combined actions
  • We now have 53 water refill points across our campuses to reduce the need for our community to buy bottles of water. Between May and August 2022, over 26,000 plastic bottles were saved through the use of two water fountains at David Ross Sports Village alone
  • Since January 2022, The University has partnered with Too Good to Go, an app that helps businesses sell surplus food at a cheaper price, therefore reducing food waste. As of September 2022, we have sold 557 bags of food, saving 1.39 tonnes of CO2e
  • We are introducing carbon labelling on some of our menus to educate staff and students on the CO2e impact of their food choices
  • We actively promote biodiversity on our campuses, with more spaces being left to grow wild year on year. We are also recognised as a Hedgehog Friendly Campus. The Green Flags we’ve consistently received for Jubilee and University Park campuses reflect the work we are doing. Find out how you can get involved in biodiversity projects

What this means for me, the university and for you

I stand by what I said in 2021. Change is possible when we all work together. We need everyone to play their part in reducing our carbon emissions, from turning off the lights, PC screens, closing windows and only boiling the water you need for your morning coffee, to the choices that have a bigger impact, such as the food you eat and the amount of travelling you do (especially air travel). You really can make a difference and reducing the energy you consume is crucial for our success.

To help you, we’ve put increased emphasis on communication, engagement and action across our staff and students – with the go! campaign and Green Rewards App already live – and we’re planning a high profile campaign around COP27. If you’d like to be a staff sustainability champion or a student sustainability ambassador, drop us a line to and we’ll get you involved.

The University of Nottingham Students' Union is hosting a series of weekly Climate Crisis talks, in the style of ‘TED Talks’, with climate activist and ex MP Alan Simpson. They begin in parallel with COP27 on Tuesday 8 November and run until 13 December 2022. These are open to everyone and are sure to be thought provoking and engaging. Book your place

See what other activities we have planned during COP27.

We’re also showcasing the excellent research the university is undertaking to tackle climate change. Over the last year we’ve developed policies to lessen our environmental impact – around business travel and having a ‘no new gas’ policy in new construction projects (and a much greater emphasis on refurbishment of existing buildings). Our new catering strategy places a much greater emphasis on sustainable choices and sources of our food offering on campus too.

Earlier this year, our Executive Board approved a new carbon management plan that sets out the investment and changes we will need to make to achieve our carbon reduction targets. This will include investment in our buildings – making them more energy efficient – as well as investment in on-campus energy generation and our heating networks on University Park and Sutton Bonington campuses.

Our campuses are a significant factor in attracting and retaining the very best students and staff. Throughout 2021 we’ve been creating plans for each of our campuses and we know they will need to evolve to account for further climate change. Our future will have, generally, warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers, and we need to ensure our buildings and the wider campus can cope. For that reason, we’ll be creating more green spaces to alleviate flood risk and reduce heat absorption. We’re undertaking a study of Jubilee Campus to identify climate risks and interventions needed to increase our resilience. This will give us the opportunity to introduce new habitats and greater biodiversity. Not only will the campuses benefit from greater resilience, they’ll look and feel better too.

Tackling this in a joined up way, through what we teach, what we research and how we operate, gives us the best opportunity to make a real difference. We’d love you to be involved – visit our website at for more information.


Andy Nolan

Andy Nolan is Director of Development and Sustainability at the University of Nottingham

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