Exploring the applications of carbon footprinting towards sustainability at a UK university: reporting and decision making

Campus greening is often the first step universities take towards sustainability. In order to infer the current level of environmental performance and the progress being made it is imperative that universities measure and report their campus greening efforts. This paper shows that sustainability reporting can be a simple task and is of significant value for directing sustainable campus operations. To do this, Environmentally Extended Input Output Analysis was used to derive the carbon footprint for the University of Leeds. Being driven by financial data which is readily available to universities the assessment is easy to conduct and maintain through time. Environmentally Extended Input Output Analysis provides complete coverage of the campus system and thus accounts for the majority of emissions sources. Accordingly, it enables comparisons of environmental performance to be made between institutions. The reliability of comparisons falters when organisational boundaries vary between carbon footprints, and thus, in the interest of methodological consistency, a framework should be established that defines universal organisational boundaries which universities must adhere to. Interviews with university procurement staff showed that carbon footprints can provide a screening assessment which identifies emissions hotspots in supply chains. Such as assessment is currently lacking and provides evidence of win win situations where emissions and costs can be reduced simultaneously. Although carbon footprinting considers only the environmental dimension of the triple bottom line, it is recommended that universities intensify its application. For the institutions themselves the results will be of significant practical value for directing initiatives such as sustainable procurement and for enhancing stakeholder engagement with the sustainability agenda, whilst an increased application will help build much needed momentum for sustainability reporting overall.

Townsend J; Barrett J (2013), Journal of Cleaner Production.