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Targeting Net Zero Carbon Assets and Operations by 2030

6 April 2021

Targeting Net Zero Carbon Assets and Operations by 2030

The climate emergency is one of the biggest threats facing humanity. At Unite Students we are committed to doing what’s right and want to play our part in fighting climate change. That’s why we’ve set a target of being net zero carbon by 2030.

Being net zero carbon means that we will:

  • target big cuts in energy use in our buildings
  • generate as much clean, renewable energy as we can
  • buy only 100% renewable electricity and move away from using fossil fuels
  • work with our suppliers so emissions are reduced
  • offset any remaining emissions which can’t be completely removed with supporting activity which will reduce carbon use elsewhere, such as investing in renewable energy projects in developing countries, or reforestation


Why is this important anyway?

Climate change threatens people, economies and wildlife around the world, with wildfires, flooding and storms. These are becoming more severe and more frequent on every continent. Average temperatures are already almost 1oC higher than pre-industrial levels, and at current rates, scientists expect this to be 1.5oC by 2040. If temperatures continue to rise, most scientists agree that there could be catastrophic and irreversible changes to the climate.

But it isn’t all bad news as there is already lots happening to combat climate change and if all play a part, we can make a real difference. In 2015, 195 countries agreed to limit climate change to “well below 2oC”, and the UK and EU committed to being net zero carbon by 2050.  At Unite Students, we recognise that we can move faster and play a bigger part in fighting climate change, which is why we have committed to being net zero carbon for operations and new developments by 2030 – 20 years ahead of this deadline  We feel that this level of ambition is in keeping with that of other real estate businesses and our university partners, and in line with the expectations of our customers, investors, and society.


Our Net Zero Carbon journey

We have committed to achieving net zero carbon operations and developments by 2030, and will be publishing our Net Zero Carbon Pathway document before the end of 2021 setting out clearly:

  • What we mean by net zero carbon operations and development, and how we will establish the level of decarbonisation we need to achieve in line with climate science.
  • Specific targets for energy consumption, renewable energy, and carbon reduction.
  • How we measure and report our carbon emissions.
  • How we will target meaningful reductions in operational carbon emissions and embodied carbon of new developments.
  • How we will decarbonise our energy supply in a way that helps drive real reductions in carbon emissions and increase renewable energy generation.
  • How we will use carbon offsetting to address any residual emissions and achieve net zero carbon.

While we will be working up the detail to publish before the end of 2021, we are still able to provide an overview of how we’ll be going about this:


Net zero carbon operations

The first step towards making the operation of our buildings net zero carbon is to reduce the amount of energy consumed. This starts by encouraging customers and colleagues to reduce energy use, for example by switching off lights and other electrical items when not in use or closing windows when the heating is on. We will also work to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings by improving controls on heating and hot water systems, replacing gas boilers with low-energy heat-pumps, or improving insulation and windows.

Second, we’ll look at any opportunities to generate our own renewable energy on site, for example by installing solar panels to generate zero carbon electricity.

Third, we will make sure that any electricity we use through the National Grid is renewable. We already buy all our electricity from certified zero carbon sources such as windfarms or solar farms, using a system called the Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) scheme, and will look at creating even stronger links in future that will help create even more zero carbon energy such as corporate power purchase agreements (cPPAs). 

Finally, we will “offset” any remaining carbon emissions that we have not been able to remove, such as those from travel, or from our wider supply chain. Offsetting means investing in independently verified projects which reduce or remove carbon emissions elsewhere – for example by investing in renewable energy projects, or fuel-efficient cooking stoves in developing countries, or protecting rainforest from illegal logging.


Net zero carbon developments

We will work to make sure that the new properties we build are net zero carbon. This means we will reduce the carbon-footprint of the materials used for buildings – so-called “embodied carbon”.  We’ll do this by optimising the design so that we use and waste less, using lower-carbon materials, and improving construction site practices to reduce energy, water, and waste. We will then plan to offset any remaining carbon that cannot be designed out, using certified carbon offsetting schemes. 


Science Based Carbon Targets

To make sure that we really are playing our part, we will be setting carbon targets in line with the independent Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI).  Setting carbon targets using the SBTI tool is widely recognised as one of the best ways to ensure the activity we undertake is based on climate science, and in line with an overall target to keep climate change to less than 1.5oC.  We are currently working to set our carbon targets using the SBTI tool and we will publish more details on these later in 2021 within our Net Zero Carbon Pathway.