Carbon Reduction

This section is based on the latest available data from the Estates Management Record (EMR), which is made publicly available by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, HESA.

As well as monitoring institutions’ carbon management plans and targets the People & Planet University League aims to track actual performance in reducing emissions. This criteria recognises those institutions whose ‘low-carbon transition pathway’ indicate they are delivering carbon reductions in line with the sector-wide cuts required. As in previous years, the People & Planet University League awards scores according to how closely an institution’s actual carbon reductions are to the linear trajectory that an institution would need to take to reduce emissions by 43% by 2020/21 from a 2005/6 baseline. For the 2023/24 People & Planet University League, universities will be assessed against their progress towards the previous trajectory of 2.87% per year.

One of the most frequently discussed criteria within the methodology is the metric related to carbon emissions per head. In 2013, universities called for a metric that considered more than their numbers of students and staff when comparing efforts in carbon reduction.

The key aspects considered were;

  • University growth / change over time

  • Research activity

  • Size and number of buildings

  • Accommodation

  • Construction activity

  • Comparing like for like

In collaboration with staff from a range of universities, People & Planet modeled and analysed several alternative approaches which aimed to normalise some of the data relating to carbon emission metrics. The new metric below is a result of the final model, agreed by the oversight group of university estates and environment staff to be a better approach than the metric used in previous years.

The allocation of scores for this section is based on two different measurements of carbon emissions using data from the latest Estates Management Record (EMR): We compare the change in carbon (CO2e) intensity at the same institution over the previous year, and the total emissions reductions against the 2005/6 baseline.

Both parts to this criteria use Scope 1 and 2 total CO2e emissions from the EMR data. This excludes significant other indirect emissions, for example from procurement, travel or flying.

In previous years, People & Planet has re-calculated all emissions for every UK university using the consumption (scope 1 & 2 related) figures taken from the EMR to produce a total emissions figure because historically there were consistency and accuracy problems with the EMR dataset. We believe that these problems have now been fully addressed and this enables us for the first time to use the totals provided by the universities directly.

Accommodation is often a large part of an institution’s total emissions. After consultation with university representatives, emissions arising from university maintained accommodation will continue to be included in this criterion, however in presentation of the figures on the final public score cards we will include a clear note stating what proportion of the institution’s emissions are related to its accommodation provision, so that viewers of the data can get a better understanding of what is behind the figure.

Reducing carbon emissions are critical to mitigating the climate catastrophe. This section was considered as part of the review and any developments are the result of an in-depth consultation across a wide range of institutions, who together reached agreement that these changes represented a good step forward in being a useful way to compare institutions and encourage low carbon futures.

Part 1. Yearly reduction of Carbon intensity

Score 50%

Our maths:

Intensity = {Percent of Sector Emissions} ÷ {Percent of Sector Activities}

Activities are calculated as the average of shares of people (FTE all students and staff), total income and space (total GIA).

So if an institution has 10,000 FTE people and the sector’s total was 1,000,000, it would have 1% of the sector’s FTE. If it has 0.5% of the sector’s income and 1.5% of the sector’s GIA, then we calculate the average of these percentages, concluding that this institution has 1% of the sector’s activities. If its emissions are 1.5% of the sector’s, then the intensity ratio for that year is 1.5. The percentage change in each institution’s carbon intensity is calculated between the last two EMR datasets. Where data does not exist, a zero change in carbon intensity will be assumed and universities will score 0%.

Institutions will receive scores based on sorting and dividing into 7 bands for scores of 0-60%, with 60% going to the institutions that have made the most significant reduction in carbon intensity, and 0% going to institutions who have made the most significant increase in carbon intensity.

By using this relative, change-based metric that compares an institution’s progress against itself we are able to compare a wide range of institutions, from research-intensive to teaching-only institutions. It also allows an institution to expand without penalty, as long as the expansion does not negatively affect the institution’s carbon intensity. People & Planet hopes that this will encourage institutions to always take the lowest-carbon path for new developments

Sector totals  (from HESA EMR 2020/21 record)

Income: £39,374, 509, 000

FTE staff: 2,174, 610

GIA: 27,967,622 m2

Total CO2 emissions: 1,427,923,710 kg CO2e

Part 2. Institutional carbon emissions reductions compared to sector-wide carbon reduction targets from 2005 baseline.

Score 50%

If the EMR data is from - say - 2015-2016, so we’re looking at 2015, i.e. year 10 since 2005. The carbon reduction that HEIs should have achieved by 2015 (based on the Universities UK, GuildHE and HEFCE sector targets) was calculated as (43% by 2020) ÷ (15 years) × (10 years) = 28.6%.

Institutions are now able to provide updated 2005 carbon baselines as part of their EMR return. These updated baselines will be used in preference to original 2005 data, where provided - please see the note ‘2005 baselines’ for more information.

The 0-50% score will be allocated to bands, with 0 score for any increase and with one of the boundaries set at the target calculated for the year corresponding to the dataset.


  • The 2021/22 EMR data will be used to calculate this question.
  • No score is awarded for an increase in emissions intensity.


Interpretation notes

HESA now provides strict rules for data submission around nulls and zero. Universities are instructed to use null when they do not have the data, and are alerted to the fact that this will mean totals are not calculated by HESA.

People & Planet has generally interpreted nulls from the viewpoint that points must be earned through transparency and proof.

However, these calculations require a lot of data from many different fields across the EMR. They also rely on a consistent and comparable dataset across two years’ data. Due to the nature of the comparison, where we have been unable to calculate a change in intensity because of a complexity (i.e. the university didn’t exist before) we have used no change. This will mean that the university receives a mid score, assuming that there are an equal number of universities above and below the no-change. This may be done differently at our discretion depending on the nature of the data that has been omitted or is missing.

2005/6 Baselines on Carbon Emissions

Has the university updated their 2005/6 baseline since submitting their original 2005/6 baseline to HEFCE?

If so, there was an opportunity for all HEI’s to report the new updated 2005 baseline through the latest collection of Estates Management Record (EMR).

People & Planet will use the latest EMR 2005/6 baseline for all universities in the People & Planet University League 2019 where a 2005/6 baseline is required. Where the institution was not yet in existence (i.e. born after 2005/6 or since undergone a merger or de-merger), People & Planet will use a baseline as provided by the university as part of the latest Carbon Management Plan provided by the university.

“We apply a common baseline year so that progress by the sector and individual institutions can be measured as consistently as possible.

We use 2005/6 for reporting against UK government targets, and consultation with the sector confirmed that this was a suitable baseline year. We recognise that some higher education institutions (HEIs) did not exist in their present form in 2005/6 and that others have re-organised significantly since then. We commissioned a report on carbon baselines which takes account of mergers, de-mergers and transfers.

We do not consider that changes since 2005/6 create a need to vary the 2005 baseline approach. All HEIs will change over time and a common baseline allows aggregate change to be measured. HEIs are free, however, to set additional baseline year(s) and target(s).

Where HEIs have significant doubts over the accuracy of the data used to assemble a 2005 baseline they have several options:

  • an additional baseline year/s and target/s can be incorporated within the carbon management plan

  • data for 2005/6 can be enhanced by the institution through research or estimation

  • data for an alternative year(s) can be used as the 2005/6 baseline (preferably this would be data for an adjacent year).

Institutions should bear in mind that carbon targets and progress against them need to be reported publicly and they should adopt a reasonable and transparent approach. This may include information on the nature and scale of any concerns over the accuracy of 2005/6 data.

Institutions can change their 2005/6 baseline if it becomes possible to provide a more accurate figure. Targets may also be changed, for example to reflect new circumstances, better information or advances in technology.

Institutions should bear in mind that carbon targets and progress against them need to be reported publicly and they should adopt a reasonable and transparent approach.

The Estates Management Record is being amended to include the scope 1 and 2 carbon baseline for 2005 and the carbon reduction target between 2005/6 and 2020.

This data will be collected so that we can form an overall picture of the sector’s progress and will first be collected in autumn 2013 for 2012-13”.

Scroll to top