Our Sustainability Sub-Strategy and Climate Action Plan 2021-26 (.pdf) covers our aspirations for progress from 2021 to 2026 in reducing our environmental impacts and enhancing our community’s knowledge and input. Developed by the Climate and Ecological Emergency Group with support and commitment from colleagues across the University, this is our most ambitious approach to sustainability yet as we progress on our journey to reaching net zero emissions by 2035.

We have mapped each of our priority areas against the UN Sustainable Development Goals as indicators of how we are contributing to wider social responsibility and sustainability.

Carbon reduction

Cutting carbon emissions is a vital and central aspect of reducing our impact on the environment. Reflecting common practice, we measure scope 1 and 2 emissions separately from scope 3 due to their nature. Scope 1 and 2 emissions are a result of our energy and fuel use (for example gas, electricity and fleet vehicles), while scope 3 are the indirect emissions in our value chain (ie from purchased goods and services, investments, student and staff commuting, and waste disposal).

Priority 1: To reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 76% by 2035.

Our focus is to reach net zero carbon emissions, in line with the 2008 Climate Change Act, by 2035 with a maximum 3,000 tonnes of offsetting. We will make substantial progress on our journey to net zero carbon emissions through our community and partners taking responsibility for their actions, contributing through behavioural change by actively reducing their use of electricity. We will adopt the carbon reduction hierarchy of avoid, reduce, restore and offset.

Performance indicators

  • By 2035, scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions reduced by 76% from 2019 baseline.
  • By 2026, 25% of our electricity is generated through renewable sources.
Rows of solar panels catch the sunlight on the roof of the Albert Sloman Library, Colchester Campus.
Solar panels on the roof of the Albert Sloman Library.
Our Essex Business School is the UK's first zero-carbon business school building.
Our Essex Business School is the UK's first zero-carbon business school building.

Priority 2: To define, track and reduce our core scope 3 emissions.

Tracking and analysing our scope 3 emissions is critical as they represent the greatest proportion of our overall carbon footprint and offer a significant opportunity for our community to contribute to their reduction through their actions. We will embark on an ambitious approach to defining and recording our scope 3 emissions, set a date when we aim to reach net zero, and start delivering measures that will achieve progress.

Performance indicators

  • Scope 3 emissions data defined, collected and reported on an annual basis and, by 2022, have an agreed date to aim to achieve scope 3 net zero carbon emissions (2050 at latest legally required).
  • By 2023, scope 3 emissions reduction actions included in Carbon Management Plan.



Priority 3: To equip our staff and students with the sustainability knowledge, understanding and skills to enable them to play an active role in building a more equitable and sustainable future; and to ensure our education is delivered and supported in a sustainable way.

We will expand our sustainability education offer in ways that enable our staff and students to acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills to respond to climate threats, and to contribute actively to solutions. True to our values, what and how we teach will be transformational, ensuring that all of our students will have the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills needed to look after our planet and inspire others to follow. 

Performance indicators

  • Creation and implementation of a policy setting out the principles of delivering education sustainably by 2022.
  • Sustainability integrated into all course approvals, ARCs and periodic reviews.
  • Sustainability training available to all new starters (students and staff).
  • 50% of current students and staff to have received carbon literacy training by 2024, and 100% by 2026; completion will be recorded on the HEAR and HR records.
  • All prospectuses, module content and assignments to be paperless by 2026.

Sustainable Development Goals



Priority 4: To have increased the proportion of our research that supports the enhancement and protection of the environment, and ensuring our research is conducted in a way that minimises our environmental impact.

Research is a pivotal aspect of our mission. The types of research activities we conduct will take the climate and ecological emergency into account, and, where possible, support new thinking and development. Equally, the ways all research is carried out will be conducted with environmental efficiency wherever possible.

Performance indicators

  • The opportunity to consider sustainability is embedded at all stages of the research planning, costing and delivery process by 2025.
  • A sustainability module is developed for the Researcher Development Framework (RDF), and sustainability is embedded across the RDF more generally by 2022.
  • There is an increased number of funding, knowledge exchange and impact activities in the areas of climate, ecological and sustainability research by 2025.
  • There is an increased number of events showcasing our climate, ecological and sustainability research to internal and external stakeholders by 2023.
  • The strategic plans for the Centre for Environment and Society and Centre for Public and Policy Engagement are delivered by 2023.

Sustainable Development Goals

Biodiversity and grounds

Priority 5: To maintain and enhance our green spaces, encouraging biodiversity while limiting its reduction and encouraging our community to benefit from it. We will continue to make our outdoor spaces inspiring places to study, work and live.

With over 200 acres of Grade II listed parkland at our Colchester Campus, 5 acres at our Loughton Campus, and an urban courtyard at Southend, our grounds, green spaces and their biodiversity are a fundamental part of who we are and how we work and live. Our green spaces contribute to the health and wellbeing of our community, and offer us a unique opportunity to nurture, care for and improve biodiversity and habitats, addressing the global challenge of biodiversity and habitat loss.

Performance indicators

  • Green space policy to be delivered by 2023.
  • By 2024, achieve >5% increase in biodiversity from 2022 baseline.
  • By 2025, surveyed student and staff awareness of green spaces increases by 15% and use of green spaces increases 10%, both from a 2020 baseline.
A low sun lights up the fountain in the lake by the Silberrad Student Centre and illuminates the autumn colours of surrounding trees and grass banks.
Wivenhoe Park has won a Green Flag Award for several years in a row.
Two members of the Grounds team discuss as one sits on a lawnmower in front of a mixture of old trees.
Our Grounds team maintain 18 major habitats across the Colchester Campus.

Water management

Priority 6: To stabilise and, where possible, reduce water consumption across the estate during a period of growth, focusing on waste avoidance and increasing rain/grey water use.

Essex is one of the driest counties in the UK, amplifying our need to ensure that we are using water resources as efficiently as possible. As there is no alternative to water, reducing and making efficient use of it is vital; fresh water is a precious resource, and it takes energy to distribute it. It is incorrectly considered by many to be freely available and, while the carbon content per litre is low, the volume used is high. There are also associated costs of accessing water, from purification to disposal and transportation.

Performance indicators

  • Average annual consumption to be no more than 2019 levels (average allows for seasonal variations) by 2026.

Sustainable Development Goals


  •  Priority 6. Water Management (.pdf)
  • Our water supply and waste treatment contracts ensure that the water we use on campus is clean, fresh and meets high quality standards, and that waste is treated appropriately.

Waste and recycling

Priority 7: To increase the proportion of recyclable material collected on campus, alongside an overall decline in waste production, delivered through improved facilities and behaviour change.

Waste produced on our campuses comes from a wide range of sources due to the diverse nature of our activities. Progress has been made in providing recycling facilities in our main campus and accommodation buildings, working alongside our waste contractor to ensure materials removed from campus are processed correctly. 

Performance indicators

  • By 2026, total waste reduced by 5% (measured in tonnes) year-on-year from a 2019 baseline.
  • General food waste audit across all areas and food waste trial undertaken in accommodation areas by 2023.
  • By 2024, single-use plastics will not be used at events or in marketing materials.
  • Average annual recycling to reach 50% by 2026.


Travel and transport

Priority 8: To minimise the carbon and environmental impact of the University’s travel and transport activities including commuting, business and research travel, and encourage greater use of sustainable forms of transport where travel is necessary.

Our community’s daily commute, business travel and our international students arriving from around the world all contribute to our scope 3 emissions and environmental impact. Alternative methods of travel and technological alternatives will be promoted and facilitated with low emissions a priority. We will champion sustainable travel and transport to and from our campuses, contributing to the reduction of our indirect emissions.

Performance indicators

  • 20% reduction in parking permits issued from 2019 baseline and a 100% increase in proportion of EV/hybrid vehicles being used for commuting by 2026.
  • By 2026, journeys made by sustainable means (bus, train, bike, walk) increase by 5% for students and 11% for staff from a 2019 travel survey baseline.
  • 75% of University of Essex fleet vehicles to be electric by 2026.
  • 30% reduction in business air travel from 2019 baseline (2,188 tCO2e, 3,844 trips) by 2026.
A student locks their bike to a rack outside University accommodation.
Cycle racks and repair stations are available across our campuses.
A gloved hand repairs the pedals of a bike.
The charity Re-Cycle provides its Dr Bike repair service on Colchester Campus.

Food and drink

Priority 9: To reduce the environmental impact of all aspects of food and drink procurement, preparation, provision and promotion, helping customers make more sustainable choices through a coordinated approach from all providers.

Our community have shown they want quality food at various price points and their needs will continue to be the focus in the context of delivering sustainable, ethical, and nutritious food. Initiatives demonstrating best practice are already prevalent across our campuses with reusable cup discounts; biodegradable and compostable packaging; use of local suppliers; recycling of cooking oil as biofuel; and welfare-certified meat, dairy and fish. These practices will be further developed and communicated to our community to emphasise their importance and benefits. 

Performance indicators

  • Sustainable Food and Drink Policy that ensures ethical and sustainable purchasing using local and seasonal produce created and being delivered by 2023.
  • By 2026, vegetarian and vegan food to represent 50% of all food sales.
  • By 2024, single-use plastics will not be used by catering or be available in catering outlets.

Sustainable buildings

Priority 10: To minimise the environmental impact of our physical estate, through enhancement to the sustainability credentials of our built environment and through behavioural change of our campus community.

Our physical infrastructure requires the provision of electricity, heat and water to service our facilities and activities. Buildings represent our greatest energy users and scope 1 and 2 carbon emitters. Minimising our environmental impact will be optimised through physical technological solutions to our infrastructure and buildings across our three campuses, at Colchester, Southend and Loughton.

Performance indicators

  • By 2035, energy consumption for the built environment reduced by 76% from 2019 baseline.


Space use

Priority 11: To maximise efficiency and effectiveness in our use of space in order to deliver excellence in education and research while minimising our space envelope and energy cost base.

The way we use our buildings is as important for sustainability as their fabric: maximising the use of space results in greater efficiency. Future-thinking will allow us to prepare for the ways our buildings will be used in years to come. Our spaces are critical in shaping the way we undertake our activities to maximise our contribution to the University’s mission. Growth to 20,000 students and a community of staff to support this provides an opportunity to further optimise use of our spaces. We will use the economies of scale that we gain to operate more efficiently and effectively, through optimum use of space, to enable greater emphasis on quality and sustainability.

Performance indicators

  • Student and staff number growth incorporated without further growth to the built environment.
  • 100% achievement of the Sustainable Essex programme by all departments/sections by 2023.
  • 100% reuse or recycling of fixtures, fittings and equipment by 2023.

Finance and procurement

Priority 12: To ensure sustainable and environmental impacts are a key component of financial decision making and that we proactively champion initiatives that work towards the University’s declaration of a climate and ecological emergency.

As an institution, we have an annual turnover of £250m and procure over £95m in goods and services. Through our commitment to excellence in research and education, we contribute more than £580m to the local economy. The investment decisions, supplier evaluation and treasury management principles we make, and the services and goods we procure have an important environmental impact.  

Performance indicators

  • Carbon and environmental impact is integrated into procurement process, life of contract and embedded into financial planning processes, and whole life costs of capital purchases are used to minimise financial and environmental impact.
  • Investment and banking processes align with our environmental and ethical principles.

Sustainable Development Goals


As members of the SUPC, we are now directly linked to Electronics Watch, an independent monitoring organisation which ensures social responsibility in global electronics supply chains.

Our community

Priority 13: To support our community as we normalise sustainability by emphasising environmentally-conscious behaviours and providing the mechanisms to empower prospective and existing students, staff, alumni and partners to think sustainably and integrate it into their lives.

Engaging with students, staff, partners, campus unions, alumni and friends in ways that encourage participation, increase understanding, celebrate relevant education and research, and empower all members of our community to support each other, as well as developing positive solutions by working collaboratively, will maximise individual actions. Through aligned working and common aspirations, our Students’ Union will maximise our ability to connect, share, encourage and embrace change with our student body, as representatives of the greatest proportion of our community. 

 Performance indicators

  • Sustainability embedded into pre-arrivals and inductions for new starters by 2023.
  • Continuous multiplatform consultation in place by 2022-2023.
  • All departments participating in and achieving a minimum of Bronze in Sustainable Essex Awards programme by 2023.
  • Students report satisfaction in provision of sustainability education and extra-curricular activities, measured through NSS or equivalent by 2026.
Five students laugh together as they sit with books in the sunshine by the Colchester Campus lakes.
Our community plays a vital role in our sustainability efforts.
Students and staff wander across a sunny, colourful Square 3.
Working as individuals and as an organisation, we will meet our net zero goal.