The Cost of Net Zero

News Detail


eauc- The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education

Higher/Tertiary Education membership associations AUDE (the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates), BUFDG (the British Universities Finance Directors Group) and the EAUC (the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education) have launched their new Cost of Net Zero Calculator tool, together with a report ‘The Cost of Net Zero’, which sets the new tool in context, and has been delivered by Energise (a sustainability consultancy supporting organisations and sectors to collaboratively address their carbon footprint by providing expertise and tools) with additional funding from the Department for Education.

Higher Education Providers (HEPs) and Further Education colleges that form the membership of these professional bodies, have grappled with one significant question – “What is achieving a net zero carbon state going to cost?”

This is despite the significant focus and activity that has gone into climate change in the sector in recent years. While universities/colleges declared climate emergencies, made significant inroads into specific efforts to adapt – on contractor management, on catering services and food waste, on fleet management, in the curriculum and more, as examples – there was no consistently used and understood means of knowing the likely overall cost of achieving a net zero carbon state for each institution. With no overall estimate of cost, universities and colleges have found it difficult to incorporate long-term sustainability planning into their usual financial and strategic planning mechanisms, never mind actually deliver the host of projects dependent on clear decision-making and sufficient funding.

The new Cost of Net Zero Calculator aims to give a standard means of answering this crucial question, and in doing so unlock investment funding for the many actions that are needed. This is urgent if the sector is to play its part in the national and international effort to halt climate change.

The accompanying report, called ‘The Cost of Net Zero’ and published today together with the calculator, helps us all understand the context, the scale and the nature of the task.

  • The overall estimated cost of achieving net zero for the entire sector is £43.8bn (made up of £37.1bn for Higher Education and £6.7bn for Further Education)
  • Of this, £29.1bn is within the supply chain, £8.8bn within the built environment and £6.1bn within the category of travel/transport
  • Given such widely different types and scales of HEP within the sector knowing the average cost to an institution can only take us so far. Nevertheless, that average cost is determined as £124.9m
  • This report follows the January publication of the ‘Accelerating towards net zero’ report from the same partnership group led by the Royal Anniversary Trust, and shares methodology with the earlier report.

While this tool is a starting point, and will be improved in ongoing iterations, it will provide clear information that organisations need to adopt a long-term investment approach and arrange sustainable and reliable funding. Working with stakeholders including the Department for Education and devolved governments to unlock investment from the widest possible range of sources is one of the desired outcomes of this project.

For members of AUDE, BUFDG and the EAUC, the report makes clear the relative cost level and estimated carbon reduction achievable within each of the three categories of supply chain, built environment and travel/transport, together with specifics on what will need to be done, or how to influence our supply chain partners in delivering change.


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