carbon neutral

Proud to be the UK's first carbon neutral students' union!

what does ‘carbon neutral’ mean?

To be ‘carbon neutral’, an organisation must ensure actions that release greenhouse gas emissions are matched with actions that remove or store an equal proportion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Actions to store or remove greenhouse gas emissions are referred to as carbon offsetting.

why is this important?


Your student feedback has ensured your Students’ Union recognises its responsibility for supporting action against climate change. Amidst our current climate crisis, becoming carbon-neutral is a key step to reducing the effects of climate change and fighting for a sustainable future. We believe that by becoming the first carbon neutral Students’ Union in the UK, this achievement will also set a precedent for Universities, Colleges and other Students’ Unions across the country and demonstrate that carbon neutrality is very achievable for many organisations, today. Currently, the University of Stirling is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 40% by 2021; the University of Sheffield has set the most ambitious target with becoming carbon neutral by 2025. Research demonstrates that in only a decade climate change will no longer be reversible. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; 2018) published a report highlighting the potential risks and impacts of climate change caused by a 1.5 – 2 degree rise in average global temperature. Some of these risks are:

  • If global warming is kept at 1.5 degrees, there will be one sea-ice free Artic summer in a century. If global warming increases to 2 degrees, there will be one per decade (high confidence)
  • If kept to a 1.5 degree increase in global mean temperature, 10 million fewer people will be affected by the risks of sea level rising (flooding, damage to infrastructure) compared to a 2 degree increase (medium confidence)
  • Water borne diseases such as malaria increase with warming from 1.5 – 2 degrees, with potential shifts in geographical locations (high confidence)
  • Coral reefs decline by 70-90% if global warming is kept to 1.5 degrees (high confidence), but decline by over 99% if global warming increases by 2 degrees (very high confidence)
  • Reductions of food availability are larger at 2 degrees than 1.5 degrees, with livestock adversely affected (high confidence), and shortage of crops such as maize, rice, and wheat (medium confidence)


how has your students’ union become carbon neutral?


To become carbon neutral is a 3-part process. You must:

  1. Identify the sources of your carbon emissions and quantify the amount of emissions released – this creates a ‘carbon footprint’;
  2. Identify actions that offset all emissions and quantify these;
  3. Commit to further reducing the carbon footprint identified in point 1.
To help organisations map their carbon footprint, the government recognises three emission areas, referred to as ‘scopes’ (see diagram below). Although there is no legal definition for being carbon neutral, the government advises that offsetting only scope 1 and scope 2 emissions is the minimum required for an organisation to become ‘carbon neutral’.


students’ union 2018/19 carbon footprint = 138.58 tonnes CO2e


As the Students’ Union does not use company vehicles, combust fuel or generate energy onsite (scope 1 emissions), our calculated current carbon footprint relates to all scope 2 emission sources and major scope 3 emission sources. A breakdown of the Student’ Union’s carbon footprint is shown below.


how accurate is all this?


It’s a good question! Robust data is key for organisations and governments to properly understand the negative and positive impacts that we make. To determine the Students’ Union’s carbon footprint, we have used government conversion factors – these are used by all organisations for determining the carbon footprint of a range of emission sources. The conversion factors for 2018 can be found here.

Overall, the Students’ Union is confident that we have accurately mapped the majority of our carbon footprint. We are also confident that, as a minimum, we have offset at least all scope 2 emission sources and our largest scope 3 emission source (Sports Union Travel). This goes beyond the government standard for being ‘carbon neutral’. The confidence of emissions from each source is listed in the following table:


 Emission /   Offsetting Source

 Confidence of data


 Electricity use

 very high

 Students’ Union’s electricity use is metered.

 Sports Union Travel


 Database compiled using booking requests and expenses   claims e.g. for train travel, car use.

 Staff commuting


 So far we have only mapped permanent staff commuting   emissions (30 staff; very high confidence).

 Staff business travel

 very high

 All staff log business travel in to a carbon footprint   database.

 Heating use


 Heating is not metered but we have used the University’s   average heating requirement per square meter of floor   space and applied this to the Students’ Union’s building.

 Waste management

 very high

 Veolia (waste contractor) weighs each bin when uplifting   waste. Database compiled based on uplift data for   Students’ Union bins.

 Water use

 very high

 Students’ Union’s water use is metered.

 Green and Blue Space


 The Students’ Union’s Fairshare project reuses or recycles   over 6 tonnes of donations each year. The largest   contribution of offsetting comes from donated textiles   which, when re-used, have a significant carbon saving vs   buying virgin textiles. We are currently unable to quantify   the percentage of clothing reused vs recycled – the graph   above assumes 100% reuse. However, we have high   confidence that, as a minimum, all Scope 2 emission   sources have been offset and our largest Source 3   emission (Sports Union travel) have been offset, therefore   going beyond the minimum guidelines for being ‘carbon   neutral’.

 Carbon Credits


 The Students’ Union has purchased carbon credits through   ClimateCare’s Climate + Care Portfolio. ClimateCare was   the UK’s highest scoring B-corp in 2018 and the portfolio   only uses Gold Standard carbon credit projects. As a   result, the Students’ Union is confident of the positive   impact the carbon credits will make.


next steps and what you can do to help


Whilst this is a pioneering step from the Students’ Union, we recognise that this is just the first step. We will work to further reduce our carbon footprint through investments in our building and equipment, staff behaviour change and campaign work. We will also work to develop the Fairshare further and create new campus-centred carbon offsetting projects. Examples of work we are currently undertaking:

  • Seeking external funding for a permanent campus bike pool and bike maintenance hub
  • Seeking external funding to run a campus-wide energy reduction programme
  • Lobbying the University to create electronic-only dissertation submissions
  • Seeking external funding and lobbying the University to improve cycling infrastructure