The results of the first University-wide Climate Action Survey are in, showing widespread support within the University community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across a wide variety of areas, as well as a desire among individuals to make changes to reduce their personal carbon footprints.

The in-depth survey was open to all staff and students across the University during November 2021 and asked our community for its views on topics including energy use, purchasing, food and diet, travel, financial investment, and embedding climate change awareness in education.

It also surveyed respondents to gauge their knowledge and understanding of what behaviours have the greatest carbon impacts, as well as their perception of how the University is responding to the challenge of climate change.

The intention was to create a baseline to evaluate progress and changes year-on-year, establish to what extent our community is engaged with and understands the drivers of climate change and carbon emissions, and to inform decision making as the University works towards its Climate Action Principles.

The University has declared a Climate Emergency and adopted the 11 Climate Action Framework Principles to guide it towards the key objectives of achieving Net Zero Carbon in Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030, a 50% reduction in Scope 3 emissions by 2030 and Net Zero Carbon in Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2040.

The survey had an excellent 33% response rate from staff, with a good 11% response rate from students and representation across all demographics; meaning that the responses are representative of our community as a whole.

Among the key outcomes were:

  • Research and Education: There was majority support for incentives to reward research themes focused on the climate emergency, and overwhelming (98%) support for climate education, with strong support for a mandatory credit-bearing Climate Action unit for all students, embedding climate change within all degree programmes, or both (64% of students, 53% of staff).
  • Buildings: 42% of students and 40% of staff think the University should spend up to 20% more when constructing new buildings to meet low carbon standards, with 29% of students and 41% of staff saying the University should build to exemplar standards or not build at all.
  • Purchasing: 99% of respondents believe we need to change how we procure, with 61% of students and 71% of staff saying that poor sustainability purchases should only be permitted with management sign-off, or that our supply chain should meet minimum sustainability standards.
  • Food on campus: While 94% of respondents believe change is required, less than 6% wanted a meat-free campus. However 74% of students and 71% of staff wanted to see ruminant meat (most commonly beef and lamb in the UK) replaced on campus, with 42% of students and 50% of staff supporting a reduction in the proportion of meat on menus.
  • Travel: For students the most common form of transport to campus was a bus, with walking and driving by car much less frequent. Staff mainly travel to campus by car, followed by bus, walking and cycling. A majority were very open to significant change to reduce travel, including increasing work and study from home, using electric bikes or scooters to travel up the hills to campus, and replacing combustion engine cars with electric vehicles.
  • Investments: 83% of students and 77% of staff feel we should primarily or only make ethical investments – where this includes avoiding investments in arms, tobacco or fossil fuel companies whilst exploring positive investments in low carbon companies and using our influence as a shareholder.

The survey was run by the Climate Action Team, with input from Prof. Lorraine Whitmarsh and her colleagues who helped design the questions and analysed the responses. Prof. Whitmarsh remarked

The survey provides a baseline of current climate action to allow us to evaluate how effective the University’s climate measures are, but also ensures the University community feed their views in to what those measures look like – we know that engaging with people is essential to effective climate action.

Pete Phelps, Climate Action Lead:

We’re incredibly grateful to all those staff and students who took the time to respond. It is really encouraging to see so many of our community are clearly engaged and wanting to see robust action as the University moves towards becoming a Net Zero institution.

It’s also really helpful that we have managed to secure representative and meaningful samples from both staff and students, as we now have a reliable evidence base detailing how our community feels a on range of climate issues. We can use the survey results to help inform policymaking - indeed we have already done this with the revised Business Travel and Expenses Policy, where a number of changes, like limiting flights within the UK, were supported by survey responses.

What the survey also revealed is that while our community is highly concerned with the climate crisis, staff and students were uncertain about the University’s carbon footprint and what material changes they could make to impact on that. That’s one subject we’ll be tackling in a series of blogposts on the Climate Action blog, which will explore different themes from the survey in-depth. Keep an eye out for the first of these weekly blogposts tomorrow Friday 8th April.

The Climate Action Team plans to run the survey annually and hopes to get even more responses next time it runs in November.