EAUC calls for mandatory carbon reduction targets 

12th December 2017

Last week the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) submitted a response to the Government consultation 'Leading by example: cutting energy bills and carbon emissions in the public and higher education sectors'. 

The response was informed by polling of our members, who represent predominantly the sustainability sector in post-16 education institutions in the UK and Ireland. To summarise the result – while there was much variation, as is to be expected in the tertiary education sector, the majority of our members wanted not just a voluntary carbon reduction target, but to go further and enforce a mandatory target.  

The top three barriers that prevent action on energy efficiency sheds some light on why members felt a mandatory target would be more beneficial. These were identified as: Conflicting priorities, lack of time/resource and lack of capital investment. Leaders know energy efficiency is important, this is reflected in sustainability's move up the agenda – featuring prominently in many strategic plans in education, the public sector and even the private sector. But there is a real disconnect in the education sector between talking about sustainability as a priority, and ensuring this priority will actually be met by providing appropriate resources and support. If the target was mandatory – many of these barriers would be overcome. 

We asked members about their financial barriers to improving energy efficiency and they stated the biggest issues were: Upfront investment costs, borrowing regulation or limitations and complex decision chains. Similarly, when asked about capacity resource, they stated the biggest barriers were: Limited internal capacity to manage and deliver projects, lack of time/resource and complex decision chains. 

Despite the barriers, members were optimistic about carbon reduction, with over half believing they could (or already have) reach their 30% reduction target by 2021. When asked what they thought the voluntary target should be, most said above 50%. 

We are keen to stress again though that these answers were not unanimous and there is much variation in the post-16 education sector. A new target and process of this nature would need a significant amount of external resource dedicated to the embedding of these practices in institutions that do not have the financial or resource capacity to support new measures. There would need to be a clear framework, robust guidelines with regard reporting to ensure data is being measured in the same way and continued engagement with the sector to monitor progress. If the target were to become mandatory, there would need to be fair and enforceable penalties. 

Provision of tools to enable the calculation of savings would also help to strengthen the business case for carbon reduction. Additionally – skills training for executive level staff about the benefits and necessity of sustainability measures would be useful. 

We asked strategic partners on their thoughts on this topic as well. The Association of University Directors (AUDE) have said they would be supportive of a voluntary target. Salix also supports the uptake of a voluntary target but have made a number of recommendations around the finance needed to make energy efficiency an actuality in education. 

You can read the EAUC's full submission to the consultation here, with accompanying documentation here.  

We will also update you when the Government publishes responses it has received to the consultation to get a broader picture. 
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