Climate commissioner for UK higher and further education, Steve Frampton, describes the challenges that colleges face, including their use of technology, as they aim for ‘net zero’.
Why is alleviating climate change important for colleges, and what's driving this agenda?
There are three reasons why the green agenda is so important for colleges.
Firstly, it's what our students want us to do. If you look at a survey by Zurich UK in September 2020, more than 2.5 million seven to 17-year-olds want increased teaching on the issue.
We're a sector that prides herself on listening to our students and they're telling us this is what they want.
Secondly, there is a massive opportunity around the green skills agenda. It's clear from what's likely to come out the UN’s climate change conference, COP26, from Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS), and the new Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change unit, that green skills and the government’s 'build back greener’ plan is important.
The Local Government Association said that, in 2018 there were 185,000 full-time workers in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy. It predicts that figure will surge to more than 1.18 million by 2050. The Green Jobs Taskforce reports that ‘every job has the potential to become ‘green’ as the world moves to combat climate change’.
The third reason is moral purpose. We're the first generation for which science can provide clear and overwhelming evidence of what we are doing to our planet. We have a duty to act now - collectively, collaboratively, with urgency and at pace to ensure that future generations can live on this planet.
What are the main challenges that colleges face in terms of tackling this issue?
The sector is very busy with many challenges. Providers are still trying to deal with the pandemic, then there's the challenges around re-shaping the curriculum and updating assessment, and the continued funding issue. On top of that colleges are grappling with how to respond to the climate emergency.
The broad challenge now is how the green thread fits into all those other challenges and crucially how governments at local, regional and nation level work with colleges as strategic partners in meeting rightly ambitious net zero targets.
The curriculum and careers
Emerging research findings show that there are low levels of sustainable development embedded in curricula.
We need a radical review of the entire curriculum, so that learners at every level and on every academic or vocational pathway will learn the essentials of the climate emergency.
We also need good careers advice to signpost learners to green skills and green technology opportunities.
In the meantime, I would suggest that learners complete a carbon literacy course. It takes eight to 10 hours and is available through the Carbon Literacy Project (CLP) at Manchester Metropolitan University.
During lockdown, I worked with the CLP and rewrote the course, which is designed for post-16 students. We piloted it in Brighton, with about 1,000 students during June and July and now it is being rolled out around the country. To date, 34 colleges have taken it up.
Getting started on the roadmap
Given the other challenges, I think colleges are doing a fantastic job towards the roadmap. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for it, too, driven by governors, principals, leaders and students, but there are barriers to overcome: These include:
- engaging with students
- engaging politicians
- securing funding to support the ambition for change
- revising travel policies
- transforming the diet available in colleges - reducing meat consumption and cutting food waste
- everything around reusing and recycling
What role does technology have to play in how colleges meet their climate change aims?
This is the big question. Technology is most certainly part of the problem and, as a sector, we're at a very early stage in tackling that.
We understand the massive amounts of energy that are being used in data storage, of moving materials around, the efficacy of purchasing and the sustainability of equipment.
The college sector wants to do better, and knows what needs to improve, but what we really need is some neutral experts, who can help us with the question of ‘how’ and what we should focus on first.
What should colleges be doing to reduce their impact on the environment?
At an early stage I’d advise bringing students and governors into discussions about the roadmap and how to reduce carbon emissions. With them, senior leaders should be setting targets and publishing these on their websites.
My other suggestions are:
- Read and take on board the AoC’s report, The Green College Commitment
- Investigate using information from Carbon Literacy Project (CLP) within the curriculum for level 3 learners
- Attend the AoC’s national conference (16-17 November), when keynote speakers will cover climate change, and the AoC’s annual climate change, sustainability and green skills conference (23 March, 2022)
- Collaborate with local colleges, schools, universities and local authorities
On a personal note, I’d urge every college to take urgent, holistic action at scale and pace with students in a co-constructive way. Climate change is an emergency!
Find out more
There’s more information from the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education.
Jisc has committed to achieving net zero, including offsetting emissions, by 2040. It is collaborating with external experts to help achieve this and, once that analysis is clear, the aim is to bring forward this target.
To date Jisc has:
- Included both strategic and operational climate risks in our risk framework
- Prepared an environment policy
- Recycled IT equipment
- Maintained gold membership through our Trees for Life partner
- Made the environment a priority for all recently refurbished Jisc offices, including reusing and recycling furniture
- Begun the complex process of analysing carbon emissions of our cloud-based services