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‘It starts with what we teach’

Some of the UK’s top universities published a joint statement today pledging to do more to lever their influence to impact the sustainability agenda. The 24 institutions – part of the influential Russel Group – signed the Environmental Sustainability document committing to tackle ‘climate change through research, teaching and more sustainable practices’.

“Climate change and environmental sustainability are some of the most pressing global challenges facing the world today,” said Joanna Burton, Policy Manager at the Russell Group. “As some of the largest universities in the UK, we not only have a responsibility to show leadership and play our part in the global response to climate change, but are uniquely placed to help deliver a more sustainable future for all – through world-class teaching and research, as well as more sustainable practices. To support and enhance their efforts, a new Environmental Sustainability Network has been established to take a strategic look at opportunities for Russell Group universities to work together and have an even greater impact.”

Joanna added: “It starts with what we teach. The future will be in the hands of young people, and all universities know there is demand from students to learn more about climate and environmental issues through their studies. Russell Group universities teach a quarter of all undergraduates in the UK. All 24 of our universities have worked with their students to ensure every single one has access to a range of opportunities to learn about sustainability, for example through student-led societies, Green Impact projects and volunteering opportunities.”

Russell Group statement on Environmental Sustainability

Global environmental and ecosystem challenges are urgent and real. Creating a more sustainable future is complex and will require action from all corners of society – but there is no avoiding this problem and there is no time to waste.

Russell Group universities believe that, together, we have a unique role to play in finding the solutions, through our cutting-edge research, as educators, and as institutions and communities in our own right.  Though we do not yet have all the answers, we are striving to empower existing and future generations with the knowledge and confidence to protect our planet, as we each work towards reducing our own impact on the world around us.

We believe that our research capacity can and must be put towards developing the technologies, and understanding the behaviours, needed to deliver a sustainable future –including ‘zero-carbon’. We recognise that our research and international collaborations incur an inevitable carbon cost, but that this work adds significant value already and could be transformative in the longer-term. We are endeavouring to work with business, government, our students and wider society to turn our breakthroughs and discoveries into real-world solutions, without delay.

As educators responsible for teaching a quarter of all UK-based graduates, we aspire to give every student the opportunity to become environmentally literate, whether through their formal education, including through dedicated modules, extra-curricular courses and MOOCs, or through their wider student experiences and campus life. We provide all our undergraduates and postgraduates with the opportunity to build environmental sustainability into their wider student experience.

We take seriously our need to behave sustainably, as institutions and communities in our own right. This is a priority for every Russell Group university. We have all committed to reducing our carbon emissions and are seeking to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. Through the Russell Group Environmental Sustainability Network we are learning from each other and boosting efforts to cut waste, increase recycling, promote vegetarian and vegan options on campus and embed sustainability into procurement so that we use our combined spending power effectively. 

We don’t claim to be perfect: we know there is more that each of us can do and, as individual institutions and in collaboration with a range of partners, we are seeking to overcome the different hurdles we face. But we are committed to this agenda and we will stay the course. Together, we are striving to help deliver a more sustainable future through our research, teaching and our own behaviour, too.

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