Banning bottles, serving less meat and embracing veganism - how Yorkshire universities are tackling climate change

UK universities are stepping up efforts to be environmentally friendly, with measures ranging from beef and plastic bans to coaxing students into beekeeping on site.

Yorkshire universities play part in plans to combat climate change. Photo credit: Danny Lawson / PA Wire.
Yorkshire universities play part in plans to combat climate change. Photo credit: Danny Lawson / PA Wire.

Many institutions have committed to tackling their carbon footprint by reducing meat consumption, switching to reusable straws, crockery and cutlery, and turning lights and screens off.

Other schemes included recycling used coffee grounds into sustainable biofuels, removing products containing palm oil, and planting native bulbs to attract birds and insects to university grounds.

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Yorkshire institutions including the University of Leeds, Sheffield Hallam University and the University of York were part of the investigation that drew responses from 144 UK universities and colleges.

The University of Leeds' Director of Sustainability, Dr Louise Ellis, said the university's commitment to sustainability and climate action was "resolute," and "strong".

"Though as a society we may not have all the answers yet, with the combined knowledge and enthusiasm of our staff, students and community, we can utilise our world-leading research and education to play our part in finding local and global solutions for climate change," she said.

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The university also has a levy on single use coffee cups in place across campus. While the University of York no longer offer single-use takeaway cups in four outlets on campus since January.

“Whilst universities have large estates with a wide range of activities taking place, all with varying environmental implications to manage, they are also responsible for teaching the next generation of leaders," said Mark Swales, the Sheffield Hallam University Director of Estates and Facilities.

He added: "They can lead by example when managing their own environmental impacts, whilst also applying sustainability and environmental principles into their research and teaching.

“Sheffield Hallam takes these responsibilities very seriously, and has implemented a range of systems to ensure the University’s environmental impact is carefully monitored."

While most universities across the country have not opted to ban single-use plastic bottles, nearly one in three (42 institutions) are considering some sort of restriction. Levies on these items - or subsidies for those who bring reusable cups - are becoming popular, with 58% saying they have introduced such as measure.

Nationally a handful have introduced bans on meat products - particularly beef, the production of which concerns environmentalists due to animal methane output, water consumption and effluent waste.

Dedicated vegetarian and vegan events are also becoming popular with around half of universities and colleges saying they are running such schemes or have done so previously.

The University of Leeds is one of a fifth (21%) of universities to have concrete plans to become carbon neutral or achieve net zero. The university has a climate plan in place set out to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 while many more are looking at the issue or want to put plans in place.

"We are taking action now and making changes which ensure that a transition begins at the pace required,” said Dr Ellis.

A greater number of universities said they had increased the number of water fountains on campus in recent years than not - with 59 having introduced new hydration points compared with 51 who had not.

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said: "Universities take climate change very seriously and recognise the importance of this issue to students and staff alike.

"Through their research, UK universities are leading the way in tackling global environmental challenges.

"As well as moving away from the use of fossil fuels, universities are working hard to tackle their own carbon footprints: investing in energy-saving technologies, finding sustainable supply chains and focusing on greater energy efficiency, including greener and more sustainable buildings."