Scotland’s colleges have significantly reduced their carbon emissions, new data shows.
Figures from the Sustainable Scotland Network (SSN) reveal that all but three of the 25 colleges for which data was available lowered their emissions between 2016-17 and 2017-18 – by over 11 per cent in total.
In the two years since the first data was collated, emissions dropped by 18 per cent. That is a significantly larger drop than in the university sector, which managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 8.3 per cent.
The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 commits all public sector organisations in Scotland to contribute to the country reaching its target of becoming a net-zero emission economy – including further education colleges. As part of the work to support that, colleges are part of the SSN, which supports them to be better able to deliver on sustainable development and climate change.
Colleges 'take climate change seriously'
John Wincott, environmental services coordinator at Fife College and vice-chair of the SSN steering group, told Tes that colleges in Scotland were taking their work to protect the climate seriously. “Colleges take that obligation very seriously," he said. "One of our duties to our students is to provide them with the best future we can, and that includes protecting the climate. There is a very strong ethos within the sector to do our very best.”
Mr Wincott explained colleges had reduced emissions by, for example, reducing the use of gas or switching from light bulbs to LEDs. Some institutions were also moving to electric vehicles, he said. “Dundee and Angus College has a rocket composter, they turn their own food into compost using that.”
Overall, sector emissions in 2017-18 amounted to 47,555.62 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) – compared with 53,847.82 the previous year.
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the college sector was supportive of the government’s ambitious plan for Scotland to become a net-zero economy by 2045 and recognised it had a significant contribution to make.
She said the Scottish Funding Council’s Climate Emergency Collaboration Challenge fund was “enticing colleges to further increase the speed at which emissions reductions take place across institutions”.
“The colleges’ statement of ambition commits the sector to being ‘a key partner in delivering Scotland’s inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth”, so colleges are liaising with the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and outlining their plans for further carbon reductions," Ms Struthers added.
An SFC spokesperson said: “The 18 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint is a measure of how seriously Scotland’s college sector takes its responsibilities towards the environment. Following the first minister’s acknowledgement of the global climate emergency, we are now asking colleges to share with us their plans to further reduce their carbon emissions, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and contribution to the UN’s sustainable development goals.”