Net zero in universities
Dr Claudia Zingerli, Head of Sustainability at ETH Zürich, outlined the institution’s ambitious plans to reach net zero by 2030. Significant progress has already been made on scope 1 (direct emissions caused by an organisation and its operations) and scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions related to the energy purchased by an organisation). ETH are now turning their attention to the more complicated area of scope 3 emissions, focusing efforts on business travel, catering and commuting, real estate and infrastructure.
Similar schemes are already underway at other IARU universities, although it is notable that each institution is operating in very different regional situations. For example, ANU’s electricity comes from 100% renewable sources, but due to geographical location, business travel is a huge factor in reaching its sustainability goals. For Oxford and Cambridge, one of the biggest challenges is improving the sustainability of the historic buildings that are part of their estates.
The Presidents discussed the balance between striving to make universities more sustainable and engaging in world-leading research to improve sustainability for society in general. It was suggested that the impact that research universities make should be recognised as part of their contribution to achieving net zero and this could be discussed with governments.
Expectations and changes in attitude to academic business travel were also considered. Many IARU members reported that younger faculty members were questioning the need to travel more, although they were also concerned about the potential disadvantages of not participating in person at conferences, networking events and exchanges. This discussion highlighted the complexity of the situation and it is an area that the Presidents will return to at future meetings.