Opinion | Its recent ‘Sustainability’ award is impressive, but the University cannot rest on its laurels


Milan Perera, English, Second Year

The University of Bristol has been awarded a coveted ‘First Class’ ranking and placed 20th among 154 universities in the latest People & Planet University Sustainability League. This is welcome news, but it also shows that the University can’t rest on its laurels.

People & Planet, an influential student-led network, assesses universities on their performance on issues such as climate action, investment in renewable energy, financial ethics, food and energy sourcing and migrant rights.

And Bristol has excelled in some of these categories. One standout achievement was scoring top marks (35 per cent out of 35 per cent) on the commitment the University made regarding the screening out of fossil fuel investments.

The University announced that it is committed to divesting from the fossil fuel industry within the next few years. It also has a strong sustainable strategy in most areas, including emissions, biodiversity, sustainable procurement and transport.

The University made a similar pledge to screen out investments in the arms manufacturing sector, for which they scored 5 per cent out of 10 per cent.

The allure of mega funding is understandable, but it does not justify the University's role in financing climate-harming behaviours

However, the survey showed that the University is far from perfect in many areas.

Its score on ethical banking is a sore point in an otherwise glowing report-card;  the University scored zero per cent on their ethical banking policy.

To rub further salt in the wounds, the University scored another zero for their efforts in excluding banks that finance fossil fuel industry. Unfortunately, the University of Bristol still banks with Barclays, whose estimated £4 billion investment in the fossil fuel industry places them in the docks as one of the worst climate villains.

The allure of mega funding is understandable, but it does not justify the University’s role in indirectly financing climate-harming behaviours.

Large businesses offer attractive workshops and career services on campus. For Universities competing for students, it is hard to decline this kind of support, even if it means overlooking their benefactor's poor climate record and lack of financial transparency.

But universities need to develop a sterner moral compass and decline the generous offers of these climate villains until they change their ways.

Similarly, the University scored nothing in the catering sector of the survey. The sourcing of its food reflects the University’s commitment to sustainability, meaning this poor record undermines its reputation as an environmentally conscious institution.

It cannot use this award as an excuse to rest on its laurels

To resolve this, the University should accredit its catering links (with suppliers and catering organisations) through organisations such as the Soil Association and the Food Made Good Membership. This would ensure that our catering is sourced in an ethical and sustainable way.

In order to encourage staff and students to make an active participation towards sustainability, Bristol could adopt a measure similar to the ‘Greenspace Movement’ introduced at the University of Durham.

The Uni needs to fight to protect its inclusive nature.

This policy rewarded individuals for their contribution to sustainability through a campus-orientated app. Users gain points for logging positive activities which go towards vouchers, charity donations and festival tickets.

It may sound trivial, but it has proved to be a huge success in Durham.

There are also areas in which the University excelled, but which will need ongoing attention. It cannot use this award as an excuse to rest on its laurels.

As the ongoing migrant crisis is turning into a full-blown humanitarian crisis, universities up and down the country are expected to play their part. In this area the University excelled itself by offering full scholarships for a selected number of candidates with transitory immigration status.

But the Uni needs to fight to protect its inclusive nature. For example, it must dissociate itself from doing the biddings of the Home Office by reporting on those students whose immigration status are in question. If ignored, this could threaten its sanctuary status.

This prestigious accolade is a well-deserved recognition of the tireless campaigning of the Bristol Student Union. The SU not only represented Bristol at COP-26 but has also been a vociferous force in reducing the carbon footprint of the University.

In the face of this the SU scored full marks (10 per cent) for 'Working towards continual improvement in environmental sustainability.'

The University has come on leaps and bounds in sustainability. But it must use this recognition as a springboard to further their efforts towards combating the climate crisis that we are all facing.

Featured image: Markus Spiske

How do you think the University could improve its sustainability record? Let us know @EpigramOpinion, or on Facebook