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Nottingham Trent University tops the People & Planet University League – but under 25% of uni's on track to meet 2020 climate targets

Today, Nottingham Trent University top the sustainable university rankings with University of Brighton and Manchester Metropolitan University placed 2nd and 3rd highest in the only university league table that ranks public commitment and performance toward environmental and social justice.

  • Over a quarter of all UK universities have now committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

  • Newcastle University 8th position – highest ranked research intensive university

  • Royal Agricultural University 16th position – highest ranked small and specialised university

  • Cardiff Metropolitan university – top in Wales (4th in UK)

  • University of Worcester placed 5th

  • Edinburgh Napier University – top in Scotland (22nd in UK)

  • City University London 7th position – top of London league (followed by the LSE)

However, the 2016 results show a 4-year downward trend in carbon emission reduction across the higher education sector; with only 24% of universities still looking likely to meet sector carbon reduction targets of 43% by 2020.

People Planet blame the removal of government and funding council incentive or support for sustainable development in the higher education sector since coalition election in 2010.

Published today by student campaign network People & Planet (1), the 2016 People & Planet University League (2) audits and scores 150 publicly funded UK universities (3) on their policy and action for environmental and social justice (4). Nottingham Trent University (NTU) have hit the No1 spot in this years table after consistently being ranked in the top 10 universities by People & Planet over the last 7 years (5).

First published in 2007, the league celebrates the ambition and success of universities that are taking a holistic and practical approach to tackling climate change and social inequality. The 2016 league results show that over 80% of universities now have publicly available policy on environmental issues and a quarter of institutions back this up with comprehensive targets to improve their sustainability. (6) This year the data showed two record highs – 55% of UK universities – opening their campus up to external scrutiny of an external environmental management system audit (7) and half of all universities have publicly available ethical investment policy. (11)

It was also announced that UK universities are leading the way on fossil fuel divestment globally. The University League shows that 42 higher education institutions have committed to exclude the fossil fuel industry from around £10.7bn of endowment wealth, overtaking other EU countries, the US and Australia.

Amoge Ukaegbu, Campaigns and Movement Building Co-ordinator, People & Planet said: ‘UK universities have been world leaders on cutting-edge research into climate solutions. By severing their ties with fossil fuel companies, universities are standing in solidarity with the communities across the world that are on the frontline of fossil fuel extraction and climate change. The Fossil Free movement has grown exponentially with students and universities at its core, pioneering a new way for public institutions to be truly independent of the fossil fuel economy and in doing so, trailblazing a path for wider society to follow.’

In what campaigners claim is 'a game-changing announcement' it was revealed today that 16 new UK universities have committed to divest. These institutions join twenty six other UK universities that had already ruled out investing in coal and tar-sands or all fossil fuels. Combined this represents over a quarter of UK universities and places UK universities ahead of their global rivals. The UK all most has almost as many universities divested as the rest of the globe put together, with a total of 51 educational institutions divesting globally outside the UK – in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and Republic of the Marshall Islands. The USA is closest to the UK with thirty five institutions committing to divest, however this number only makes up a fraction of their institutions representing just over 1% of the US higher education sector.

100 policies included a vision to offer learning opportunities for sustainable development across all areas of study, with a third of universities starting the process by supporting teaching academics to explore areas of sustainability in the curriculum. 20 universities had implemented a framework to help them ensure that every student explored environmental and ethical challenges in their courses. (6)

NTU is integrating sustainability into its teaching and learning through its “Green Academy”.

“We made it a formal requirement six months ago that all of our courses incorporate at least one of the 17 UN sustainable development goals,” (8) says Grant Anderson, NTU’s environmental manager. “We think it will give our students an edge in their careers to have considered some of the environmental challenges they will face in their lifetimes,” he says.

"So chemistry students are looking at the role they can play in finding solutions to feeding the world in a sustainable way and primary education students learn practical gardening skills that they will be able to share with their pupils at the university’s food share allotments".

NTU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Edward Peck, said: “Returning to the top of the People and Planet University League – alongside a plethora of other awards – shows what can be achieved when professional services colleagues, academics, and students work together on an issue in which they all believe. ”

Whilst this years People & Planet University League acknowledges the inspiring vision and practice of the top 30 universities, by awarding them a "First" class degree, the overall picture looks less encouraging when you take a step back. At the national level, university commitment to meeting the climate challenge is dwindling.

60 institutions lacked any evidence of a senior role with responsibility for sustainability issues, which may leave middle management staff powerless to make key decisions with regard to sustainability. More worryingly, People & Planet noted a decrease in university environment staff as one third of universities now appear to have no dedicated environment team at all. (6)

Since 2009, the number of drivers encouraging sustainable development in the Higher Education sector, have all but disappeared. (9) This is especially poignant in England when you look at the change in government priorities.

Before the coalition were elected in 2010 there was a flurry of carbon reduction and sustainability initiatives in universities that were encouraged by government policy and linked to university funding. (9)

Hannah Smith Co-director; Research and Campaigns at people & planet said:

This was an exciting time – the future looked set to harness the energy of 150 institutions of research, creativity, innovation and knowledge, not to mention the 5million students per year. Right now the policy landscape looks bereft of any support or incentive, which we find extremely concerning when you consider the opportunity the UK has to meet carbon reduction targets through the ambition of world-class universities” .

Since 2005 the HE sector in England has managed to achieve a 10% reduction in carbon emissions. John Bailey, Head of Sustainability at the University of London has conducted his own research into the plight of university carbon targets. “If the future emission reductions follow the same trajectory will achieve a 26% saving by 2020, a big difference from the 43% target set by the sector" (10) he said.

More Facts

  • University of Warwick (34th) and University of the West of England (26th) named most improved

  • Half of UK universities now have a publicly available ethical investment policy

  • Increase in sustainability projects in teaching and learning across the sector

  • First class institutions include University of Leeds, University of Bristol, Swansea University, and Glasgow Caledonian University.


Notes to Editor

We can provide further analysis on areas of your choice. For further analysis or interviews, please contact:

People & Planet Co-director; Research and Campaigns - Hannah Smith 01865 403225 or

(1) People & Planet is 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, at home and globally.

(2) The People & Planet University League is compiled by the UK’s largest student campaigning network, People & Planet. The full results are published on 22 November in partnership with The Guardian and are available in full to other publications from 10:00hrs on the same day.

The full results can be viewed at:

(3) In 2016, the People & Planet University League ranked 150 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

(4) To be included in the People & Planet University League, institutions must receive public funding and have degree awarding powers.

(5) This is 3rd time NTU have been ranked 1st place in the People & Planet University League – an unrivalled achievement.

(6) Data from People & Planet university League 2016

(7) 82 universities were found to have been externally accredited by an Environmental Management System (EMS) auditor

(8) the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals

(9) Previous HE drivers included:

  • Hefce Sustainable Development agenda - since 2005 hefce drove a supportive sustainable development agenda. This included consultancy to establish data on carbon emissions for all institutions with a carbon reduction strategy to support universities to achieve the Climate Change Action 2008 commitment in public sector emission reductions and 2 sustainable development frameworks. The last hefce sustainable development strategy contained no framework.

  • Business Innovation Skills grant letter to hefce (outlining key funding priorities for the academic year) included environmental sustainability (& carbon reduction from 2008) every year until 2014, when it was removed. The last grant letter to include sustainability.(28.) 

  • Capital investment Frameworks (CIF 1&2) 2009/10 onwards - the funding was linked to a requirement to reduce carbon emissions. If universities did not demonstrate this requirement, they would not receive 100% of funding. In 2011 hefce said: "Carbon requirements under any future Capital Investment Framework are expected to be more demanding, probably requiring absolute reductions in scope 1 and 2 emissions"....

  • Staff and student union representatives in UK universities tell us that CIF is no longer part of the funding agenda as the pot of funding available has decreased to nominal amounts.

  • The Carbon Trust were funded to support universities in producing carbon management plans to meet climate change act requirements.

  • Higher Education Academy Green Academy and sustainable development work – funding reduced or cut.

  • Student Green Fund - funded by hefce - a second round was promised but never materialised and the funding was cut.

  • UN UNESCO decade for sustainable development (2005-2014) ended and unlike in Wales, where HEFCW developed on the agenda to provide support and funding to enable universities to equip students with skills and understanding for sustainable development; this agenda or support is non-existent through the English government.

(10) Using data from the Higher Education Statistic Agency Estates Management Record

(11) 74 UK universities now host an ethical investment policy online

What can you see online once the table is published at

  • Click the university name and a summary scorecard box will pop out

  • Click the button to view the full detail of the university scorecard

  • Also published are sub-leagues, e.g. Russell Group universities, so you can compare universities by peer groups.

  • You can also make your own sub-league to compare an arbitrary set of universities

Twitter handle: @peopleandplanet