Q & A: Carbon Emission Targets for higher education institutions

In response to the Climate Change Act of 2008, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) developed a sector reduction strategy to help meet the UK Government’s carbon reduction targets – as set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act.

In just three years’ time the higher education sector (which leads the world in environmental and climate change research) will publicly report the progress it has made towards these targets.

Q: What did universities say they’d do?

The HEFCE is committed to reducing 2005 carbon emission levels by 43% by 2020 but individual institutions each have different targets.

Q: Who does it apply to?

The HEFCE requires all the higher education institutions (HEIs) it funds to have a carbon management plan that contains carbon reduction targets for scope 1 and scope 2 emissions against a 2005 baseline.

Q: What does it apply to?

The land and premises owned or managed by the institution, including student accommodation, that it is responsible (pays the energy bill) for.

Q: How are they getting on?

While universities have been at the forefront of understanding the challenge of climate change, higher education remains one of the UK’s largest non-commercial consumers of energy* and they are also struggling to achieve their collective 2020 carbon reduction pledges.

One recent report suggests that if progress continues at existing rates, UK universities will only manage an overall reduction of 15% by 2020.**

Q: Stick or carrot?

There are no financial penalties for failing to meet the 2020 targets. However, the HEFCE takes into account an institution’s progress towards reducing carbon emissions under the Capital Investment Framework 2 – the inference being that a proactive approach has a positive impact on capital funding.

Higher education institutions are also required to publicly report their progress towards carbon reduction targets – which is hoped to be a motivating factor.  It’s also predicted that a university’s record on sustainability will become increasingly important for students deciding where to study.

Q: What should universities be doing?

Ultimately it’s up to the individual institution to decide as every aspect of running a university can be made more sustainable; from divesting funds from carbon–intensive sectors (University of Bristol) to fitting solar panels to campus buildings (University of Sussex). What’s clear is that sustainability needs to be deeply ingrained in an institution’s policies and practices to be successful.

Q: How can TEL help?

Many universities still use Constant Air Volume (CAV) fume cupboards in their laboratories. This system ensures the safety of staff and students by continuously sucking air out of the laboratory and replacing it with clean air. So even when fume cupboards aren’t being used, they’re fully operational; consuming electricity, wasting money and generating carbon emissions.

TEL is helping universities meet their carbon reduction targets by converting to a Variable Air Volume (VAV) system which can be easily retrofitted to existing labs or incorporated into the design of new build projects.

A recent project with the University of Glasgow resulted in a saving of 270 MWh of energy and over £34,000 in energy costs.

To find out how we could help you save money and reduce carbon emissions, call us on 01457 865 635 or email



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