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People & Planet - Co-director; Research and Campaigns

Student led league table changed the face of university sustainability - the People & Planet University League 10 years on

The 10th annual People & Planet(1) University League(2) published today reveals how a decade of student pressure on campus has transformed the sustainable development of Higher Education in the UK. Yet some universities - big, old, small and specialised - are failing students and future generations by not taking their responsibility seriously.

This year's league table proves how a public pledge 'The Green Education Declaration'(3) made in 2012 has been successful in holding more than half of universities to account on sustainability 5 years after 40 Vice-Chancellors signed it. Yet 40% of the universities that signed are ranking low in the 2017 league table - which measures environmental performance at higher education institutions.

Manchester Metropolitan ranks top. University of Gloucestershire 2nd and Nottingham Trent University are placed
3rd. The London School of Economics is the top Russell Group university, ranked 14th overall. The top 30 universities receive a 'First class' degree style classification. Imperial College London is classified as a 'fail' after ranking 141st in this years table.
Naomi Pratt, a student in Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London said:

"Imperial’s results in this league are shocking, especially for a ‘world-leading’ institution which markets itself on global outlook, sustainability and environmental responsibility. But they are also unsurprising as oil and gas industries seem woven into the fabric of the university, blatantly contradicting the aims of the college and undermining the research into renewables and climate change undertaken here."

Other universities at the bottom of the table include Writtle University College and University of Aberdeen.

Top of the Scottish league is Edinburgh Napier University, followed by University of Edinburgh. University of Glasgow are ranked lowest for environmental sustainability in Scotland. Of the 8 Welsh universities, half are ranked in the top 30 with Cardiff Metropolitan most sustainable in Wales.

This year People & Planet proudly look back on a decade of publishing a unique University League and celebrate its efficacy in changing university culture for sustainability. The idea of a league table came from a 2003 student campaign demanding for universities to go green’ on over 60 campuses around the UK a student research project determined the key factors needed for a university to take action on the environment and this became the first set of criteria in 2007. Hannah Smith Co-Director for Research and Campaigns at People & Planet said:

"The league table was a eureka moment; universities love rankings, and finally we would produce one led by students! By 2010 it was clear that this was going to be a game-changer, with all the numbers moving in the right direction, towards sustainability.

 We had clear aims: to make transparent the sustainable development of publicly funded universities, to create competition in the sector that would drive environmental and ethical performance, and to empower students and prospective students with the understanding of whether and how an institution was taking responsibility. The number of universities employing environment staff doubled and in 2013 we celebrated a milestone - 100% of all universities had finally set policy on their environmental impacts. Our table has consistently and unashamedly held universities to account over the last decade".  

In 2012, the student-led People & Planet 'Green Education Declaration' was signed by 40 Vice Chancellors(4) at UK universities - they pledged to meet carbon reduction targets, integrate sustainable development into teaching and learning, and call on the government to support them to resource a low carbon future. Five years on, findings from the People & Planet rankings show that the declaration has had an impact, with 60% of green education declaration signatories ranking in the top third of the league table for overall sustainability, and a third of universities pledging to green their curriculum are proving their commitment by scoring over 70% in the education for sustainable development section of the league methodology – a 1st class score(5).

University of East Anglia (UEA) is among them, scoring 100% for education for sustainable development and ranking 30th in the league table; Lewis Martin, a 2nd year student studying Politics and International Relations at UEA is one of many students across the UK urging their universities to act on climate change. On the findings, he said:

"I'm proud to see that UEA are meeting their pledge, students have been campaigning for the University to divest from fossil fuels for 4 years and last week they confirmed they have! We're demanding UEA make this statement public and enshrine their divestment in policy – severing our ties with the fossil fuel industry is just as important as education for sustainability"

However, the other half of universities are failing on their promise – ranking low in the table(6) for carbon emission reduction, with falling numbers of dedicated sustainability staff(7) and neglecting to equip students with the education and tools needed to meet climate and social justice problems (8). The University of Kent signed the declaration in 2012, but today rank 101st of 154 universities, with a score of 20% for green education. Students at Kent are currently campaigning for their university to improve workers rights in their supply chains. Other universities failing to meet their green education declarations include University of York and Goldsmiths University of London (9) .

Over 10 years, the People & Planet University League has driven and tracked significant changes in university sustainability measures; the number of the universities carrying out regular environmental auditing has increased by 100% and this year a record third of universities have their environmental monitoring certified by an independent auditor. This year the table also shows the number of universities taking action on sweat shops has almost tripled since 2016(10), whilst 59 universities have now made a commitment to not invest in fossil fuels, up from zero when the indicator was first measured in 2013.

But considering the urgency of climate change and social inequality, other action has been frustratingly slow or even regressing; the amount of renewable electricity that universities bought tripled in the first 5 years of the league table, yet worryingly this years results show that this trend has reversed, with the average amount of renewable electricity bought by universities 3 times less than at its peak(11).


Full results are available online from 9:00am on Tuesday 14 November at:



Notes to Editor

Full results are available online from 9:00am on Tuesday 14 November at:

(1) People & Planet are Britain’s largest student network campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment. We’re a student-led movement that empowers young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to make change happen on social and justice issues, at home and globally.

(2) In 2017, the People & Planet University League ranked 154 UK universities – awarding them a First class degree, 2:1, 2:2, Third, or Fail – according to 13 criteria including: Environmental policy, audit and human resources, and their performance in areas such as carbon reduction, waste and water recycling, student engagement, teaching and learning for sustainable development, energy efficiency, sustainable food and workers rights. The ranking combines information made public by universities online, with raw estates data obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). The full methodology is published online at:

To be included in the People & Planet University League, education providers must receive public funding and have degree awarding powers.

(3)The Green Education Declaration 2012:

  • welcomes the introduction of sector-wide carbon reductions targets for the higher education sector

  • reaffirms their commitment to achieving institutional carbon reduction targets and sector-wide targets of 43% by 2020

  • commits to integrating education for sustainable development into the curriculum

  • urges the government to work with the sector in developing a strong vision and strategy for a low-carbon sector

  • calls for adequate resourcing to enable the sector’s transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future

(4) People & Planet published the list of 40 Vice Chancellor names and universities that signed the declaration in 2012.

(5) The education criteria in the People & Planet University League looks for evidence on:

  • Whether the university has made a senior commitment to integrating sustainable development into teaching and learning

  • Whether the university has a framework or strategy for integrating education for sustainability and how to track this success

  • Whether staff (academic) are supported to integrate education for sustainability into their teaching and learning

  • Whether academic research and student projects for real world sustainability are supported and highlighted by the university

(6) 16 of the universities where the VC signed the declaration are ranking below position 70 of 154 universities in the league table.

(7) The number of universities scoring zero for evidence of dedicated university sustainability staff has increased to a third of all universities in 2017. The number of universities scoring any marks at all for having evidence of dedicated sustainability staff has decreased to now only one half of all universities scoring 10% or more in this criterion. The universities that scored the Green Education Declaration show a higher than average score for sustainability staff, but where the score is low, they are also universities ranking low overall in the league table and on education for sustainability. In 2012 two thirds of all UK universities employed at least 1 full time member of dedicated environmental sustainability staff.

(8) 18 of the universities where the VC signed the declaration are scoring less than 30% in the education for sustainability criteria in the People & Planet University League.

(9) Despite signing the declaration in 2012 when Goldsmiths ranked 110 in the league, no progress has been made, Goldsmiths rank 115th in 2017 and score just 10% in the education for sustainability section. University of York rank 73rd in the 2017 league table and score 30% for education for sustainability.

(10) Number of universities taking action on sweatshops operating in their supply chain has increased in the last year from 9 to 24 institutions in 2017.

(11) Last year 77 universities bought some renewable electricity; this year it's just 59. The universities who do buy it are buying less; 28 universities bought more than 95% of their electricity from renewable sources this year compared to 33 universities in 2016.