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Celebrating our latest achievements

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The past two years have been an exciting time for Sustainability at the University of Leeds, and the progress made has been highlighted in the latest Sustainability Report.

In 2020, the University was recognised globally for its holistic approach to sustainability by achieving joint third in the UK and joint 11th globally in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings; a league that assesses 766 universities for their contribution towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2019 the University was also awarded the globally recognised International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) Award for its collaborative approach to embedding sustainability across all aspects of the University curriculum.

These achievements demonstrate how working collaboratively has embedded sustainability as a core value of the University and how we are addressing global grand challenges by taking responsibility for our economic, cultural, social and environmental impacts.

The newly published Sustainability Report details the progress the University has made over the past two years with some facts and figures and a snapshot of activities.

We have progressed our response to the climate crisis through the agreement and publication of the University's Seven Climate Principles, a set of principles guiding our work towards a low carbon future. Significant progress has been made against these principles already, detailed in our Sustainability Report. Later this year the comprehensive Climate Plan will be launched and will articulate how the Seven Climate Principles are being implemented in more detail.

In 2018 the University announced a joint pledge between the University of Leeds and Leeds University Union to become single-use plastic free by 2023. During the first year of the pledge over one million pieces of single-use plastic were removed from use.

glass syringe, petri dishes and paper trays

Although 2020 has brought many challenges with the Coronavirus pandemic, sustainability and equity has continued to remain integral to the University's values. Colleagues have adapted and collaborated with each other and local and national communities, strengthening civic relationships and partnerships. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the University volunteered its campus and facilities for the NHS and Leeds City Council to use, over 200 clinical academic staff directly supported the NHS and our academic community have worked together to help support research in the fight against Coronavirus.

Now more than ever we must be bold and ambitious in our commitments in order that we strive for equity and justice in society. I look forward to collaborating with our University community as well as our wider local, national and global communities, to achieve sustainable solutions to our global grand challenges.

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds

Sustainability success across the University

Over the past two years more people than ever have engaged with sustainability at the University, through various different ways including, the Leeds Living Lab, the new Blueprint programme, Staff and Student Sustainability Architects and a range of volunteering opportunities.

Over 40 new collaborative Living Lab projects have been developed in the past two years alone, bringing the total to 99 projects. This approach to problem-solving brings together staff and students and the wider city community through research, education and operations, using the University, and city as a testbed for sustainable solutions.

Roger Stevens Cooling Pond, an example of the Leeds Living Lab project

Over 30 Blueprint teams representing Schools and Services across the University now exist, with each team delivering on a bespoke sustainability action plan for their areas. Blueprint empowers staff to drive change in their areas and facilitates collaboration. So far teams have reduced their single-use plastics, embedded sustainability into their purchasing, integrated it into their teaching, and developed forums for supporting staff wellbeing.

The number of Student and Staff Sustainability Architects has also grown to a community of 44 individuals who are working collaboratively on initiatives across the University.

Over 4000 students now volunteer each year, with one of the most successful volunteering programmes being the Students into Schools programme. This programme has placed over 6,500 students in 300 local schools and educational organisations to support children and young people since 1998, this equates to 194 years of a full-time classroom assistance time!

Working with the local Leeds community, the University has supported students to contribute positively to their neighbourhoods. The Big Clear Out campaign which took place in collaboration with Leeds Beckett University and Leeds City Council, saw over 16 tonnes of student donations collected at the end of June 2020. This wouldn’t have been possible without the 300+ local and student volunteers helping to collect, sort and distribute these free goods to support inner city communities.

Hyde park mural

In 2019 the Colour Hyde Park Murals competition took place which resulted in six murals being co-created between local artists, students and local communities. These murals now have a permanent home representing the diverse and vibrant culture of the Hyde Park community.

To support students showcasing their research in Sustainability, a number of opportunities have been developed, including the annual student-led sustainability journal, called Discovering Sustainability. The journal, written and edited by students, focuses on some of the most serious environmental and social challenges of the present day. Alongside this, each year students can present at, and attend the Student Sustainability Research Conference, which highlights the critical role that student research plays in finding innovative interdisciplinary solutions.

Students at the poster exhibition at the 2020 Student Sustainability Research Conference

A few more highlights of the past two years include:

  • The Bike Hub celebrated 10 years of supporting staff and students with their active travel. In that time 5,000 bikes have been hired and 10,000 bikes repaired.
  • We have strengthened our sustainable procurement and construction standards to support our commitments towards the climate and single-use plastics
  • The University sensory garden, designed specifically to be accessible and inclusive, opened to the public in 2018/19
  • In 2019/20 we re-used over £195k of items through our reuse@leeds programme and donated over £290k of items to local charities
  • We have joined the International Universities Climate Alliance – this new partnership of 40 leading research institutes aims to accelerate climate action through enhanced global cooperation
  • Over 6,600 students each year now take up opportunities to study sustainability as part of their formal curriculum through our creating sustainable futures modules.

This is just a snapshot of the many achievements over the last two years, all of which are testament to the whole University community working together to drive sustainability across our operations, outreach, teaching and research.

An exciting time ahead

This special two-year report demonstrates how far the University has come with embedding sustainability at Leeds and reflects a period of significant global change. Sustainability has become common language, highlighted through global movements including the Youth Climate Movement, Black Lives Matter and the Coronavirus pandemic, which have each demonstrated just how interconnected we all are.

It is becoming more widely understood that racial and social justice and inclusivity are integral to sustainability and that we cannot discuss sustainability without also addressing these issues. As we continue to adjust to a post-Covid world, we will be bold and ambitious in how we build back better. I’m excited about the next chapter for Leeds.

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability at the University of Leeds

Later this year the University's updated sustainability strategy will be launched; a bold and exciting framework for mobilising the University community towards our vision of a more equitable society on a local, national and global scale. Alongside this our forthcoming Climate Plan will be released to articulate how our Seven Climate Principles will be implemented. We will also remain focussed on our pledge to remove single-use plastic by 2023 and are collaboratively working to overcome the challenges this brings.

I am incredibly proud of the progress that the whole University has made towards sustainability over the last two years and I look forward to working as a collective on the next step of our journey. We can’t include everything in this report – we know there are many staff and students behind these highlights and more, and we would like to thank them all for their hard work and commitment to embedding sustainability into everything we do here at Leeds.

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability at the University of Leeds

To find out more read our full Sustainability Report. Keep up to date with all the latest news including the launch of our new strategy and Climate Plan by signing up to the Sustainability Newsletter.

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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Our annual reporting showcases how our work is linked to all of the SDGs.
Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.