Sustainability Leadership Scorecard (SLS) Annual Report 2020

Tags: SLS | 2020

Universities and colleges picking up the pace on sustainability, but must address curriculum reform

More universities and colleges than ever from across the UK and Ireland have shown their commitment to sustainability over the last year. The 2020 Sustainability Leadership Scorecard Annual Report shows an increase of 69% of institutions actively embedding sustainability across their leadership, governance, learning, teaching, research, estates, operations and partnerships.

However, institutions are urged to act now to address the need for sustainability to be incorporated into the curriculum, and make sure they have a Climate Change Adaptation plan.

This warning comes from the Sustainability Leadership Scorecard, a one stop reporting shop that supports institutions map and track the embedding of sustainability holistically across the entirety of their institution. The tool was developed by Arup, and is run in partnership by AUDE (the Association of University Directors of Estates) and EAUC (the alliance for sustainability leadership in education).

Key findings of the 2020 Sustainability Leadership Scorecard Annual Report:

  • There was a 69% increase in participants to the SLS this year.
  • A third (33%) of institutions received a silver performance rating this year, with just over a fifth (22%) gaining bronze, while 12% gained a gold rating, and 5% gained the prestigious platinum rating. This is impressive, considering last year, no institutions gained the platinum rating.
  • Returning participants performed better than new participants, which is to be expected.
  • Of the four priority areas, institutions continue to rate most highly on embedding sustainability into the priority ‘Leadership and Governance’ overall, followed by ‘Estates and Operations’.
  • Within the priority areas, there are frameworks. When looking at the frameworks that institutions are most engaged with, resource efficiency and waste comes out at the top, followed by leadership, energy, travel and transport, and health and wellbeing. This is fairly similar to last year, with some small movement.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the areas that institutions are engaging with the least are now research and climate change adaptation. This is a big change, with research falling from the middle of the table, right to the bottom, and lack of climate change adaptation planning causing concern.
  • Linking sustainability activities to the curriculum remains the hardest area for the sector to achieve and this area is performing poorly compared to others. This is an area that institutions must seek to prioritise.
  • The reporting also tracks institutions’ contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The sector is reportedly impacting most positively on SDG13 Climate Action, probably as a result of the sector’s support for the Global Climate Letter and Race to Zero campaign.

The SLS tool is increasingly proving its worth as institutions are able to use the individual SLS reports themselves as a one stop shop, submitting it as evidence to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and the SDG Accord. The SLS also helps institutions create their own strategies and action plans, and works well with other important tools like the Climate Action Roadmap for FE Colleges, and the soon to be launched HE Climate Action Toolkit. 

Now in its second year of providing an annual report on progress in the sector, the tool has proven so useful, that it has expanded internationally, and is supporting institutions from the Philippines and Australia to embed sustainability.

Iain Patton, CEO at EAUC – The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, said: “This is the second year of reporting for the SLS, and the findings are incredibly useful as a gauge to show where the education sector is doing well on sustainability, and where it needs more support or to move a little quicker.

“COP26 is looming, and we have the Climate Ambition Summit being held in just a few days. Never has it been more important for institutions to show leadership and ambition on the sustainability agenda. Covid-19 has caused untold misery and hardship, but it also presents an opportunity to build back better. Reaching Net Zero is a necessity and the time to act is now. We owe it to young people; we must embrace student views and be held accountable by them, in the drive for a better future.

“Institutions must be praised for their efforts and strengths, but they must also reflect on areas of weakness and address these as a priority. The curriculum needs to have Education for Sustainable Development embedded to ensure young people are gaining the right education and skills for a rapidly changing and increasingly low carbon future. They must also look at how sustainability can be better incorporated in research, and really get to grips with Climate Change Adaptation plans.”

Stephen Wells, Director of Estates, Facilities and Commercial Services at the University of Surrey and AUDE’s Chair, said: “AUDE’s consistent position since the launch of the SLS in 2018 is that this is the best tool available to the Higher Education sector to focus our collective efforts on the sustainability agenda. It is encouraging to see more universities engage with the SLS, and fantastic to see some achieve the best ‘Platinum’ rating. But there is obviously more still to do. The beauty of the tool comes in many ways. It helps you compare, in a collaborative way, your own actions and plans with those of other institutions. The tool is built around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – that’s a great framework for your own activity while allowing you flexibility in prioritising and building your own institution-specific approach and plan. And it fosters a “whole university approach”, so that different elements of the sustainability work don’t become disconnected from the task as seen in the round. This year’s analysis shows there are clear areas for improvement – from links to the curriculum, to our understanding of risk and our risk adaptations. But those institutions using the SLS in both 2019 and 2020 were able to demonstrate that they’ve used it to deliver clear benefit. If you’ve been dipping your toes in the edge of this pool 2021 is the year to take the plunge in a serious and committed way. This report suggests that those who have are gaining real value from what remains a sector-leading initiative.”