Student Friday's For Future climate strike at Penryn Campus

Exeter’s pioneering approach to sustainability secures prestigious Guardian award

Pivotal work conducted by staff and students to transform the University of Exeter’s approach to sustainability has won a prestigious Guardian University Award.

The transformative work carried out by the University’s Climate Emergency Working Group today (November 25th) won the Sustainability category at the annual awards.

The University also secured runner-up position in the Business Collaboration category, for its work as part at the SETsquared Partnership’s Scale-Up Programme.

Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter said: “It is a wonderful achievement to have secured the Guardian Sustainability Award; this is richly-deserved recognition for the hard work and dedication shown by our students and staff on tackling this important issue.

The University is committed to being a leading light in driving forward changes in our approach to sustainability, reflecting our world-leading research we conduct into the climate and environment and our work in providing solutions to these problems.  We still have much to do, but to be recognised for the work carried out so far is a fantastic boost for everyone involved.

“I am also overjoyed that the pivotal support and work carried out by the SETsquared Partnership has been recognised again. The Scale-Up Programme offers brilliant support and expertise to help turn ideas into successful businesses, which is crucial for the continued success of our regional economy, especially as we work together to recover from the effects of the Covid pandemic .”

Exeter’s commitment to sustainability centred around Exeter declaring an environment and climate emergency in 2019, in response to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others about the impacts of global warming, as well as calls from staff and students to take action.

The first step was to set up a working group of more than 30 staff and students, including environment and climate experts, and people working in estates and communication, with a view to drawing up a white paper to determine what declaring an emergency should mean for university strategy.  An event attended by more than 400 students, staff and members of the public launched the programme and gathered ideas.

Small teams drawn from the working group then worked on sections of the white paper, reviewing current strategies, plans and data, discussing themes and making recommendations. Areas covered included: governance, education, research, student recruitment, financial investments, energy, resources, laboratories, buildings, technology, travel, procurement, waste and recycling, hospitality and biodiversity.

As a result of this work, the University committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2040 in terms of direct emissions and 2050 in terms of indirect emissions, helped by investment in video-conferencing, solar panels and LED lighting. It has also halted investment in fossil fuel companies. It also committed reducing long-haul travel by 50%, increase recycling to 70% and halve plastic and paper use within the next five years.

Professor Juliet Osborne, who chairs the Climate Emergency Working Group said: “We are delighted to receive this award,  it is a testament to the passion and enthusiasm of all our staff and students who came together to really scrutinise how we, as a University community, can make a difference. 

“I am also really pleased that in the year since publishing the report, even whilst dealing with a pandemic, the University has still forged ahead with plans to meet the ambitious targets.”

Meanwhile, the SETsquared partnership, between five research-led universities in the south of England (Exeter, Bath, Bristol, Southampton, Surrey) that supports entrepreneurs to turn ideas into successful businesses also secured runner-up position in the Business Collaboration category.

Its Scale-Up Programme, which also includes Cardiff University, started in 2018 with £10.9 million in funding from the university partners and Research England, which committed £5 million over three years to the project. It aims to support businesses at the next stage of development: capable of scaling globally but that need university-grade innovation to realise their ambitions.

Scale-Up links companies and research expertise from the partner universities allowing businesses to identify the most suitable researcher or research team to help with the kind of innovation they need. Business development experts then help them put together R&D funding proposals and raise private investment.

The scheme targets businesses in sectors that offer the greatest potential economic impact in the south of England – digital innovation, sustainable technologies, advanced engineering and manufacturing and health and wellbeing. Managers lead on each priority sector and an innovation adviser is based at each partner university to provide a link to researchers.

So far, the programme has attracted 246 Scale-Up companies as ‘signed-up’ members and these companies have engaged in 140 collaborative R&D projects with the partner universities - bringing £5.08m funding into these universities.

Sean Fielding, Director of Innovation, Impact and Business at the University of Exeter said: “The SETsquared Scale-up programme has made a real difference to fast-growing businesses who needed an extra boost of R&D, innovation or investment to strengthen their market position.  It is great that its success has been recognised by this award.”

 Simon Bond, Innovation Director, SETsquared added: “We’re really proud that our Scale-Up Programme has been awarded runner-up in the Business Collaboration category in The Guardian awards. The programme is helping innovative companies secure public funding for collaborative R&D with our partner universities which is incredibly important to their growth.

"Not only does it enable them to develop their technology based products and services, it can de-risk their proposition for future private investment, help drive up their overall company valuation and create high value jobs. All of this in areas that are addressing major societal challenges such as the transition to electric vehicles, decarbonising the built environment, and the ageing demographic with the healthy ageing challenge."

Date: 25 November 2020