Sustainability update - December 2019

Sustainability in Action

Professor Gill Valentine

Professor Gill Valentine provides an update on our University's sustainability strategy

In October 2018, the University published its first sustainability strategy. This document set out our Year 1 Strategy, including principles for sustainability at Sheffield, and a commitment to publish a five year strategy.

Over the past year we have been talking to our colleagues and students to develop a five-year plan. Expert advisory groups have been engaging with a wide range of staff with expertise in sustainability to help us develop this.

You will also be aware that we’ve recently published a University Vision Green Paper and have been holding a University-wide conversation to collectively agree the direction we want to take as a university. From these conversations we will develop a new vision and strategy for the whole University.

Sustainability has been a strong and recurring theme from the consultation sessions and it is clear that it is a priority for both our staff and students. It is fantastic to see this enthusiasm and engagement across campus.

The University Executive Board has therefore agreed that our approach to sustainability should be aligned and embedded in the University’s vision and strategy. This will cause a delay in publishing the sustainability strategy, however, it will mean sustainability will be a fundamental consideration in the University’s decision making and also give our approach approval from the University Council.

I know this delay may be disappointing, particularly to the many members of staff and students that have played a part in developing the sustainability strategy. But please let me assure you that this revised timeline will not stop us continuing to take action on campus.

As set out in our Year 1 strategy, in the past year we have undertaken a number of actions to continue the work of making our University more sustainable. There are also a number of ongoing projects and work due to begin in the new year which will go ahead as planned. We have provided details of these projects below.

This will ensure that the drive, commitment and responsibility to enact sustainable change is embedded across the University and endorsed by our governance body.

Thank you for your continued support and interest in our sustainability work.

Professor Gill Valentine
Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Headline ongoing activity

Carbon Neutrality Task and Finish Groups

Carbon neutrality means achieving a state in which our activities result in no net impact on the climate from greenhouse gas emissions.

The University is on course to meet its targeted 43% reduction in scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 2020. The climate emergency, however, demands a far-reaching and strategic approach to carbon reduction.

The UK government has set a deadline of 2050 for the UK to achieve carbon neutrality. A number of universities and other organisations around the country have also declared targets for becoming carbon neutral, many of which are earlier than the 2050 target, reflecting the urgency of the challenge we face.

We recognise that to tackle the climate emergency reducing our absolute emissions must be central to our approach. At Sheffield, we are committed to being led by our academic experts whilst listening carefully to the concerns of our students. That’s why we’ve already started work on investigating a route to carbon neutrality through four ‘Task and Finish groups’.

These Task and Finish groups are designed to identify the pathway for different areas of the University to reduce their emissions. These groups will identify intermediary targets for carbon reduction and calculate what resources are needed in order to achieve these targets and ultimately reach carbon neutrality.

Each group is led by a senior academic and is comprised of key academic, professional services and student representation. These groups will report to the Sustainability Steering Group in summer 2020.

There are four Carbon Neutrality Task and Finish groups:

  • Buildings (chaired by Professor Fionn Stevenson)
  • Energy (chaired by Dr Rachael Rothman)
  • Transport (chaired by Dr Matt Watson)
  • Food, packaging and procurement (chaired by Professor Duncan Cameron)
Education for Sustainable Development

Earlier this year, our Vice-Chancellor announced that the University would be embedding Education for Sustainable Development across all our courses. This was in response to both student interest here at Sheffield and a broader desire from prospective students for universities to provide more opportunities for engagement with sustainability issues; a 2018 NUS international survey found that 70 per cent of students would like to see sustainable development incorporated into and promoted through all courses.

Our aspiration is to equip our students with the knowledge, skills, values and attributes needed to work and live in a way that will bring about solutions to the urgent environmental, economic and social challenges that we face. We're working to embed ESD into the formal curriculum and the wider student experience.

ESD aims to make sustainability relevant to all students, no matter what subject you study, leading to more conscious and informed global graduates. While it can include measures to combat the climate emergency, depending on degree subject, it might also include: climate justice, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, sustainable consumption, human rights, social equality and responsible citizenship.

Work on ESD at Sheffield forms part of our Programme Level Approach. Through this approach, departments have been asked to discuss with students how their taught programmes currently support ESD and where there are opportunities for further curriculum development. We would like to encourage all students to engage in these discussions within their departments.

We are at the beginning of our exploration of ESD. This initial work through the Programme Level Approach will directly inform our work on ESD over the coming years and we will be working closely with staff and departments to help them find ways in which ESD can be woven into all courses over the next five years.


We're committed to providing our students with information about a wide range of organisations offering placements and graduate jobs. Following concerns at this year’s careers fair, we have begun a project working with the Students’ Union Development Officer to expand the number of organisations that offer sustainability-related job opportunities at our careers fairs and ensure that our students have good awareness of environmentally- and socially-focused career paths.

This means ensuring that companies in sustainable industries are well represented on campus. But it also means asking more questions of the organisations who come to campus about their commitments to sustainability so that our students are able to make informed decisions about their future careers.

We firmly believe that our students deserve to be presented with a broad range of options for their future careers and will continue to enable them to positively impact on wider society as graduates.

Energy switch campaign

Over the past year, a campaign group called UoS Clean Energy Switch have lobbied for a switch to the University’s electricity supply, to select a fully renewable electricity supplier.

The University's largest electricity supply contract is due for renewal in September 2020. Following close dialogue with our student campaigners, our electricity procurement consultants will tender for a range of supply options, including fully renewable contracts.

Any decision regarding our energy supply will have to be balanced with security of supply and price stability, however, we are committed to moving to a fully renewable contract as soon as practicable. By investing in renewable energy sources we can tackle a large proportion of the University’s emissions, further demonstrating our commitment to becoming carbon neutral.

We have been in close dialogue with our campaign groups and it shows that students organising and engaging well with the University can make a difference. At Sheffield, we pride ourselves in listening to the priorities of our students alongside our academic expertise. This working relationship is an approach that we believe is unique to Sheffield and one that drives forward ambitious but pragmatic change.

Behaviour change campaign

In October, we launched an exciting proposal to support behaviour change across University staff and students. We introduced Sustainability Step Up, an app based around supporting active travel and public transport solutions for staff and students at Sheffield. The app aims to support staff and students in making sustainable choices in regards to travel. By walking, cycling and using public transport solutions, users earn points which add up to earn vouchers for outlets in the University, Students’ Union and across the city.

So far over 1000 staff and students have signed up and used the app. The app has tracked 38,500 miles walked, 15,400 miles bussed and 9,200 miles cycled around the University of Sheffield. Many of these journeys have replaced alternative, unsustainable means of travel.

We are currently in the early stages of using the Step Up app. Over the coming months we are looking at ways in which the University can continue to use the app to encourage sustainable behaviours. We will be discussing with the app developers if there are other behaviours that can be incentivised such as recycling and sustainable dietary choices. We’ll also be working with our academic behaviour change experts to measure the success of the app and ensure it is having an impact.

Find out more about Sustainability Step Up

Electric van

Other ongoing work

Fleet and travel

The University is in the process of replacing its conventional vehicles with electric and low carbon alternatives. Currently, 34 per cent of the fleet is electric. During 2020, new electric vehicle charging points will be installed on campus for staff, student and visitor use.

We recognise that Sheffield’s topography is one of the barriers to cycling to campus. We will be introducing a new e-bike loan scheme for staff in the new year, helping to encourage alternative forms of commuting. The cycle to work loan limit has also been increased, bringing more expensive e-bikes into the price limit.


We are maintaining our 2:1 tree replacement policy and will be publishing a new Tree Management Strategy in the new year. Our current Biodiversity Action Plan runs until 2022. We are making good progress in our Hedgehog Friendly Campus campaign, having just submitted for Bronze accreditation this year and will continue to look for other wildlife schemes to participate in.

Reducing plastic waste

We have embedded low waste decision-making in our development activities. New developments such as our Heartspace cafe development will reduce single use plastic usage by installing the necessary infrastructure for reuse. We are also planning on introducing new water fountains across campus to support staff and students in making sustainable choices.

New waste contractors

The University is currently tendering for a new contractor to manage its waste and recycling. Improving our recycling rates will be a primary driver for this contract.

New recycling and donation initiatives with accommodation providers

We are working with local charities to introduce new recycling and donation points for students moving out of accommodation.

Staff sustainability

We are currently working with a videographer to produce sustainability training videos. These will be compiled into a sustainability training module for all staff to complete. The module will include information about what the University is doing to combat sustainability challenges as well as what individuals can do to live more sustainably. We have recently integrated sustainability into all new job descriptions.

Challenge-led enterprise for sustainability

In the new year we will be piloting a new enterprise challenge based around sustainability. This will provide resources and support for students with ideas for overcoming sustainability challenges. This will be a small-scale pilot in 2020, which we hope to expand in subsequent years.

What we’ve achieved this year

Our Year 1 Strategy set out a number of actions that we would achieve. The actions and work we have undertaken are detailed below.

Year 1 strategy statement

How we've achieved this

We will consult on and produce an institutional working definition and vision of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), embedding this into the next round of Graduate Attributes

In September, President and Vice-Chancellor Koen Lamberts announced that the University would embed ESD into all courses over the next five years.

Through our ongoing Programme Level Approach (PLA), we have defined what ESD at Sheffield means and asked academic departments to consider how it could be included in their courses.

ESD is about connecting the skills and knowledge from every course at Sheffield to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and creating global graduates who can make a difference in their careers beyond Sheffield.

We will establish clear links between our education and sustainability governance.

Deputy Vice-President for Education, Brendan Stone has chaired an advisory group responsible for driving forward the University’s work on Quality Education. Professor Stone also sits on the Sustainability Delivery Group, the group responsible for day-to-day decision making regarding sustainability at Sheffield. From January 2020, Wyn Morgan, Vice President for Education, will chair the Sustainability Steering Group, and a new ESD working group will be established ensuring our commitment to sustainability education is embedded in the University’s strategic direction.

We will produce an action plan on how to use our research expertise to improve our corporate practices and provide evidence to other organisations in the city and beyond to help them become more sustainable.

We have worked to set up Living Lab projects in the University over the past year. Some examples include:

  • A new project between the University’s Institute for Sustainable Food and Sheffield Students’ Union around the sustainability of the food on offer at the SU
  • Exploring how life cycle analysis tools can support our efforts to tackle our embodied scope 3 emissions
  • Exploring how the University's Improved Wellbeing through Urban Nature (IWUN) project can support wellbeing among staff and students by increasing the accessibility of green space on campus and in the city.
  • We have developed close links between our Energy and Sustainable Food institutes and the Sustainability Delivery Group to investigate on-campus research projects.

We will introduce a staff sustainability training module

A staff sustainability training module is currently being developed. This training module will be launched in the new year.

We will invest in regular talks and videos to help our staff understand sustainability issues.

As part of our Green Impact programme we invested in a series of SusSEd (Sustainability Skills & Education) talks open to staff and students. The latest SusSEd series showcased the brilliant research coming from PhD students in the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, as well as other leading academics. We are committed to continuing SusSEd as an annual event, and 2020’s programme will be published soon.

We will continue to invest in and expand our Green Impact network - looking to replicate “best practice projects” across the University

Since the publication of our Year 1 document, we have completed another successful year of Green Impact, our staff and student sustainability engagement scheme. Green Impact has evolved to empower teams and individuals to take ownership over the projects that they run. In the current academic year, we have further developed Green Impact to link more directly with the UN SDGs and have introduced collaborative projects to help connect teams across the University.

In 2018-19 there were 22 Green Impact teams across the University, together engaging over 2,700 members of staff through 54 projects. Ten new teams have joined Green Impact for 2019-20, bringing the total to 32 teams.

We will introduce a set of guidelines to sustainable procurement.

We will continue to explore other accreditations which will improve the ethics of our supply chains.

A new procurement strategy is currently being developed for the University. This will fully embed circular economy thinking into our procurement decision making. The University’s head of procurement is a member of the Sustainability Delivery Group. Over coming months, we will produce guidelines available to departments for the procurement decisions that individual departments make.

We have been working with NetPositive Futures and have a rolling programme of helping our third party suppliers develop sustainable action plans.

All staff whose primary job function is procurement have received advanced training on how to build sustainability throughout the supply chain

We will redouble our efforts to ensure we are recycling as much of our waste as possible and engage the whole University in this collective responsibility.

Over the past year we have made new recycling communications materials available to all departments across the University. We understand that more still needs to be done to continue to raise user recycling rates and we will continue to look into how behaviour change and infrastructure can influence this.

Across the University and all of its activities, we diverted 94.5 per cent of our waste from landfill in 2017-18.

We will set up a cross-University scheme to reuse furniture to ensure we are not wasting usable items.

We are currently reviewing our furniture policy and looking at ways in which we can improve our repair and reuse of furniture, including exploring how we might be able to work with other organisations in the city. This review will inform a new Sustainable Furniture Policy in 2020.

We will develop management plans for all site waste to ensure this is being disposed of responsibly.

This year, we have implemented a new process to bolster the control of waste from our developments. Site Waste Management Plans (SWMP’s) are the principal tool used to monitor waste and improvements are constantly being applied to ensure all applicable schemes report using the BRE Smartwaste tool to demonstrate responsible management of construction waste.

We will explore opportunities to collect waste food from other locations such as cafes

We are currently collecting data on our food waste, which will be considered as part of our food & packaging carbon neutrality work.

This year, we have implemented a new coffee grounds recycling scheme which will take used coffee grounds from our cafes to be used as fertiliser on our estate.

We will commission research into what the University’s total carbon budget to 2030 should be.

As part of the University’s research into becoming carbon neutral we have set up working groups looking at our buildings, energy, transport and food and packaging. These groups are producing recommendations of how the University could become carbon neutral. Carbon budgets will play a key role in this work.

We will update our Energy Strategy if required to reflect these findings.

In the light of the above University working groups being set up and producing a path to zero, the Energy Strategy will be updated as appropriate once these groups have reported.

We will calculate the total amount of money dedicated to reducing carbon emissions.

Over the last ten years, we’ve invested over £5 million into energy efficiency measures. This has resulted in a cumulative saving of over 20,000t CO2 since 2010; an average annual emissions saving equivalent to 5 million car miles.

But we know there’s lots more to do and will be continuing to look at what resource is needed to make our campus more efficient.

We will explore options for making additional funding available for energy-saving ideas suggested by members of the University community.

We are committed to improving the energy efficiency of our estate, with the ultimate aim of being carbon neutral, and we know our staff and students have some great ideas for this. We will continue to explore funding, such as through the Salix scheme, to invest in our estate.

We will begin to collect data on the scope 3 emissions relating to our business travel, building materials and procurement.

By undertaking some comparative research of similar institutions, we know that Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions not controlled directly by the University) are likely to be a major contributor to our overall emissions. Collecting this data is not straight forward and we’re still working on putting the processes in place that will allow us to properly measure our Scope 3 emissions. Recommendations for reducing these emissions will be part of our carbon neutrality work.

Maintain our divestment of fossil fuels

In April 2019, the University confirmed that it had completed its divestment from fossil fuel companies. The University does not hold any shares in fossil fuel companies.

Along with our annual compliance statement, which confirms compliance with exclusionary investment criteria, we will publish a new statement that provides information on the active investment approach undertaken by the University's Investment Managers.

Successful emission reduction schemes undertaken. Innovative schemes to reduce all scopes of emissions will be measured.

The University is always looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency of its buildings. Every year, we invest in energy saving technology. For example, we are currently investing over £800,000 into new LED lighting for our controlled environment facility, which will save 455 tonnes CO2 annually.

We will continue to carry out and publish life-cycle analyses to assess the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of our development work.

We are currently developing a new sustainable buildings standard and are committed to ensuring sustainability is represented in development decision making. Our carbon neutrality work will also develop further actions relating to our estate.

We will provide regular updates on our engagement with city- and region-wide bodies

The University plays a key role in helping to improve Sheffield City Region as a place to live, work and study, and this includes helping to make the region more sustainable. This year we have been working to ensure sustainability is embedded in our engagement approach with the city region and this will be a key strand of our new strategy.

We will become active members of the “Green City strategy”.

We are continuing to engage with the Council on its sustainability plans for Sheffield and the University has recently taken part in its consultation for a clean air zone.

Through the Sheffield Partnership Board, we will play an active role in developing the new Framework for an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy

We are continuing our engagement with the Partnership Board to help develop Sheffield sustainably.

We will look to introduce more trees, green ground, and green architecture where possible and practical.

We are currently halfway through our second biodiversity action plan (BAP). This plan is increasing planting diversity and greening urban environments. We have just planted a range of new trees around our residences, including some semi-mature specimens, as part of our ongoing 2:1 tree replacement policy. We have planted 242 new trees in 2019.

We will publish a new overview of our listed buildings to ensure our heritage buildings are properly recognised.

We have completed an investigation into the heritage buildings supported by the University across the city. We will be publishing this work as more University webpages are moved over to the new website.

Sustainability will be a key theme at 2020 Festival of the Mind

Sustainability has been added as a key theme to the 2020 Festival of the Mind programme.

How you can get involved

We are proud that sustainability at Sheffield means staff, students and academics working together. We want sustainability to be something that we all do.

If you are a student, please join any of the sustainability societies available at your Students’ Union. Sustainability Committee, which represents all the sustainability societies at Sheffield, work closely with University sustainability leads. This is a way that you can use your voice to influence policy and practice here at Sheffield.

For staff, please find out if your department has a Green Impact team, join with like-minded colleagues and begin to green your work environment. This is a great opportunity to positively impact your department and the local community. We are always keen to hear about successful projects in the university and how they can be scaled up and adopted at an institutional level as appropriate.

In early 2020 we’ll be holding a number of informal sustainability coffee mornings to hear more about our plans and discuss sustainability issues. Look out for more details in the new year.

Contact Us

For general sustainability enquiries:

James Merryclough, Sustainability & Communications Manager, +44 114 222 0565

Johann Beckford, Graduate Intern for Sustainability,, +44 114 222 1012

For Green Impact enquiries:

Alice Potter, Sustainability Projects Assistant (Green Impact),

Please follow the University of Sheffield Sustainability Committee Facebook page.