Share this story   

Sustainability Statement sets ambitious targets

Durham inspires      
to read

In May, University Council approved a new Sustainability Ambition Statement that sets out our vision: to ensure that Durham University delivers its mission of excellence in the most sustainable way possible as well as setting targets for sustainability across the University’s activities. Dialogue caught up with Simon Parks, Senior Energy and Sustainability Manager and Tom Bray, Senior Energy Manager to find out more.

Tom said:

The three main things the statement does is: provide us with very clear targets to work towards; embeds sustainability as a golden thread running through all the University’s activities; and aims to involve every person and department in achieving the targets.

“Every member of our community and each college or department needs to be conscious of their activities and the impact we all have on our environment. And the ambition statement helps set out our pathway to help reduce our impact and improve our performance.”

Net zero and biodiversity net gain

The Sustainability Ambition Statement hinges on two main targets – achieving net zero carbon by 2035 and biodiversity net gain by 2032.

Simon said: “The idea was to produce one overall statement that covered the breadth of sustainability at the University. Something that would guide our activity and give us clear targets to help the whole University community improve our environmental sustainability.”

The ambition statement also sets out our aim to achieve a 67% reduction in CO2 emissions by reducing the amount of gas and diesel we burn for our activities on campus.

Tom said: “Our 2035 net zero target is focused on reducing the reliance on fossil gas we use to heat our estate. 

“We worked with the Carbon Trust to create a science-based target which is aligned with the worldwide target of keeping warming below 1.5°C.

“We’ve already reduced our CO2 footprint by 43% since 2005 and we’re expecting that by 2035, 100% of the electricity we use will come from renewable sources.”

On the biodiversity issue, Simon said: “We’ve done a lot of work over the past few years to improve biodiversity on our estate. The ambition statement gives us targets to further protect existing high value habitats, create new biodiverse-rich habitats, and find ways for our development projects to replace any losses of biodiversity on our estate.

“We’re using the government’s biodiversity metric 4.0 to measure the type and quality of habitat that the University manages. This includes assessing our rich woodland and grassland areas. Achieving biodiversity net gain will mean increasing the quality, volume and diversity of plant and animal life on our land.

“All our activities will be focused on having an overall gain in the quality and quantity of biodiversity by 2032 – from a baseline of 2018/19.”

Recent improvement projects

Simon pointed to a number of projects that have helped to improve biodiversity on-campus over the past few years. One of the most obvious of these can be seen in the increase of wildflowers across the campus.

He said: “Part of biodiversity net gain is about identifying high value nature areas and improving the habitats that we already have. We’re very lucky to have the estate that we do at Durham, and recent activities like No Mow May have helped by providing insects with more wildflower areas which gives them extra sources of food.

“Another recent project has seen us increase water quality at the Van Mildert College lake by stripping out vegetation and introducing more rare plant species.

“We also want more people to appreciate our improving campus, so we’ve recently developed biodiversity walks around the estate to help people understand that the work we’re doing benefits our local, as well as global environment.”

What’s ahead

The upcoming refurbishment of Boldon House is an example of the ambition statement in action, increasing biodiversity of the site alongside significantly reducing emissions of the building.

Tom said: “Boldon House is a good example of how we’ll be approaching developments at the University in future. As well as the work on the grounds, we’ve gained £1.2m in government funding to replace the old gas heating with air source heat pumps, improve insulation and install solar PV panels on the building.

“Across the campus, we’ll also be installing around 3,000 solar panels, with a capacity of approximately 1,000kW, over the next 18 months. They’ll generate approximately 800,000 kWh per year - enough to power about 275 domestic homes, or about 2% of the University’s annual electricity demand. The panels will be installed on 15 sites including Maiden Castle, a number of colleges, and as part of the James Barber House refurbishment which will make it the lowest emissions residential building in the University estate.”

Durham has already done a lot to improve its environmental sustainability and our efforts are being recognised nationally and internationally. We’ve been shortlisted for a national Green Gown award for our achievements, and the recent QS University rankings put us in the top-30 universities for sustainability in the world.

Simon concluded: “Managing the University estate in a different way, reducing CO2 emissions and creating more biodiverse habitats on our land is a vital, ongoing process. And everyone has a part to play!

“One thing I’d ask all staff and students to do is to ask themselves - in their work and homelife, is this the most sustainable possible way of doing things? If not, why not, and what can I do to change. Small changes can really make a big difference, so whatever activity you’re involved in, try to think more sustainably.”

How can you help?  

You can join 1,300 other people registered on Greenspace and log your sustainable activities.

You can also find out more about the Sustainability Ambition Statement.



   Share this story   

Start the discussion



Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you! Get in touch via