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One of the hottest topics of discussion over the past few years, particularly within the Education sector, has been sustainability. The discussion, much like global temperatures, seems to get hotter every year. Many Universities and Education institutions have already started on their journey to improve campus sustainability. However, according to the Times Higher Education’s latest Impact Rankings, nearly half of universities do not have a net zero target.  

The issue is at the forefront of student’s considerations too, as according to recent surveys 59% of students would like their institution to be environmentally sustainable and over a quarter would pay higher fees to attend a University with a better reputation for sustainability.  

59% of students would like their institution to be environmentally sustainable.

Why Does The Sustainability Conversation Often Revolve Around The Education Industry?

Education institutions are seen as great places for bringing about positive change in the world. They can often be hubs for digital innovation and growth. As commented in a recent report on achieving net zero in tertiary education, they have “the ability to affect widespread change through education, research and leadership.”

As a result, they are seen as vital to tackling the current climate emergency. Their responsibility lies not only in driving their own improvements in campus sustainability and institutional efficiency, but to inspire a sustainable mindset among the students and future leaders in their charge.  

Happy students on a sustainable, net zero campus

Another reason the sustainability discussion often focuses on the education sector, is that the operation of these institutions can be very climate-taxing. In the UK for example, education institutions account for 36% of all total public sector building emissions.   

According to research, 19% of the sector’s total carbon emissions are related solely to heating, powering and constructing estates. This is before considering the impact of indirect emissions such as the travel of international students to these institutions.  These figure highlight a need for institutions to surface wasted emissions and improve resource utilisation.

What Do Education Institutions Need, To Achieve Campus Sustainability?  

Transformative Leadership  

The first crucial element, according to the experts, is transformative leadership. Institutions need to be operating with a structure that supports digital innovation, a sustainability strategy and a net zero goal. This leadership structure needs to be spread institution-wide to have a real impact and enable change. Many initiatives recommend assigning a designated sustainability officer and board to oversee the institution’s sustainability needs, strategy and goals.  

Infrastructure Transformation  

Another critical requirement for achieving a net zero pledge is infrastructure transformation. This needs to happen on a few levels. Firstly, buildings and physical infrastructure need to be built or adapted to protect against climate change.  

Many institutions have already begun transformations to make their environments resistant to increasingly common climate disasters.

Secondly, existing and new infrastructure should be adapted to reduce emissions. Many education institutions face a massive challenge in managing emissions from decades-old systems used to heat, cool and power buildings. Institutions need to use “measurement, data and accountability” to source wasted emissions and improve energy efficiency. This can also help to reduce the impact of rising energy costs.

This leads to the final element in infrastructure transformation, which is digital infrastructure transformation. Upgrading digital infrastructure to effectively utilize data analytics, measure energy and carbon expenditure, and manage institutional resources, will play a huge role in achieving campus sustainability goals.   


One of the most important requirements and biggest barriers for institutions in making their net zero pledge is investment. Investment in energy efficiency projects, space utilisation technologies, and advanced operational management systems, is not always easy. This is especially true for large institutions who often have simultaneous pledges to achieve equitable access and institutional excellence, and produce groundbreaking research.  

While a challenging barrier, it will be nearly impossible for any institution to achieve net zero without it. As many institutions start or continue on their campus sustainability journey, significant investment in digital innovation and institutional efficiency will be unavoidable. However, this kind of transformative commitment to sustainability will not only establish institutions as leaders in the future of education but will ultimately allow them to reap benefits and cost-savings for decades to come.   

In terms of securing your place in the future of the education industry, sustainability is not a question of if, but when.  

Interested in learning more about improving campus sustainability and institutional efficiency? Check out our SmartCampus solution page here.