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Sustainability at Sydney

How we’re contributing to a more sustainable future
The University is addressing some of the world's most complex issues by putting sustainability at the heart of our research, education, operations and in the way we care for Country. Our sustainability strategy guides how we will make an impact, locally and globally.

Creating a culture of sustainability

The University of Sydney will build and inspire communities to create a culture of sustainability both locally and globally.

In our responsibility to care for Country on which our campuses lie, we will enact change. Putting our research and education into practice, we will enrich and transform lives now and for future generations.

The University’s sustainability focus centres around the following pillars:

Enriching lives through research and education

We are working together to use our world-leading research and education, addressing some of the world’s most complex issues in sustainability facing the world to contribute to a long-term sustainable future.

Enabling resilient places and a responsible footprint

We are nurturing more sustainable and resilient campuses, and developing a culture of shared responsibility in our approach to sustainability.

Empowering good governance and coordination

We will be transparent and open to report our progress to demonstrate our enduring commitment to sustainability at all levels.

These pillars are supported by a foundation of caring for Country. No matter where we are in Australia, we are on Country. We must appreciate the complexity of the natural environment as it shifts and emerges over time and minimise negative human impact on it.

The University recognises that one of the greatest global challenges is climate change and its effects. As part of our contribution to sustainability, we are making the following commitment to action on climate change:

In view of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations (UN) Production Gap Report, the University of Sydney recognises the need for immediate and comprehensive action to meet, and preferably exceed, the Paris Agreement targets. The clear scientific consensus is that the global community urgently needs to make deep and sustained reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C and thereby avoid longer and more intense bushfire seasons, water stress, extreme weather events and the collapse of ecosystems, including coral reefs. Actions on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction are also imperative.

Reducing emissions and adapting to climate change is a complex challenge, with implications for areas as diverse as ecology, energy, agriculture, health, cultural heritage, law, politics, migration, inequality, urban planning, finance, insurance and international security. The University of Sydney is confronting the many challenges of climate change through our research, teaching, infrastructure and policies and through our national and international collaborations.

The University of Sydney is home to Centres, Institutes, and researchers who are already engaged in finding solutions to complex real-word problems. In the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, that assess universities against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the University of Sydney was ranked 2nd overall, and in the top 10 for six specific goals (SDGs 2, 8, 11, 15, 16, 17). We aspire to attain top 10 status in SDG 13, Climate Action and to translate the important research we do into practical actions on campus. The University of Sydney will also continue to offer interdisciplinary programs and units of study which educate students about sustainability and climate change.

Given the gravity of the situation and the enormity of the challenges, we as a University declare openly that more immediate and comprehensive action is needed to address climate change. As  scientists have warned, ‘the time to act is rapidly closing’. Our next step will be the adoption of a Sustainability Strategy in 2020 which includes actions on emissions reduction and uptake of renewable energy. We recognise that effective action requires all institutions, including governments, corporations, and all civil society actors, including universities, to review and enhance their actions on climate change on a regular basis, consistently with climate science. Consequently, in addition to the annual review of our targets and annual reports on the implementation of the Sustainability Strategy, the University of Sydney commits to reviewing its progress on addressing climate change and SDG 13 every two years commencing in 2022, and to enhancing its performance where necessary.

Some of the targets we are aiming to achieve include:

  • Net zero emissions by 2030
  • Zero waste to landfill by 2030
  • 30% reduction on potable water use by 2030
  • Minimum 5 star Green Star rating for new buildings, and 4 star Green Star for all complete building refurbishments
  • Introduction of sustainable procurement practices to reduce waste and increase social sustainability

Find out more about our targets and how we are going to achieve them. 

ACTS Green Impact

Green Impact is the University's flagship engagement program that runs from April to September, encouraging staff and students to get together in teams and commit to sustainable action on campus and at home.

By completing actions you will contribute to our sustainability targets as well as towards creating a more sustainable future. Participants will have the opportunity to develop their own actions and projects and participate in workshops planned throughout the program.

Learn more or find out how you can get involved.

Bioquest - Questagame

Bioquest is a worldwide competition among universities that runs in April and August with the aim of collecting biodiversity data that will help inform scientific research and conservation.

Teams photograph, identify and share sightings of plants and animals (on campus or from home) using the BioQuest app, which is shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Atlas of Living Australia.

Learn more or find out how you can get involved.

The University’s Sustainable Investment Strategy 2030 forms part of our broader commitment to climate action and our vision to create a more sustainable future.

We are taking an integrated approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in our investments, including climate change, diversity, modern slavery and Indigenous rights.

Our actions focus on engagement, investment and divestment.

Engagement

  • We are collaborating with others, including joining associations such as the Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC) to drive best practice in transition-focused investing that is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • We are directing our external managers of pooled funds to incorporate ESG  and low carbon transition factors into their investment decisions. Those external investment managers will engage companies to set carbon reduction targets and manage material ESG impacts.
  • We seek to influence the higher education sector and society more broadly to improve sustainable investment strategies.
  • We will transparently report on engagement undertaken and progress achieved to keep stakeholders informed.

Investment

  • We will increase our investments in sustainable solutions that will enable us to achieve our goals.
  • We will report on investments in sustainable, low carbon, and green investments as part of our annual reporting.

Divestment

  • We will exclude fossil fuel companies that demonstrate no commitment to a low carbon transition.
  • Where we have a direct mandate we will divest from such investments by the end of 2021. 
  • Where we invest in collective or ‘pooled’ investments, we will disclose any holdings in fossil fuel companies by the end of 2021. We will divest from any pooled investments that continue to hold fossil fuel companies that are not aligned with a low carbon transition before the end of 2025.
  • Starting immediately, we will make no new investments in fossil fuel focused private market funds.

These actions will support progress towards our goal in the Sustainable Investment Strategy 2030: to ensure our investment portfolio is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and Net Zero by 2050. That overall goal is underpinned by the following targets for our endowments:

  • Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050
  • Aligned with the Paris Agreement by 2030, which is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as 45 percent reduction in absolute emissions based on a 2010 baseline
  • Free from modern slavery by 2030
  • Free from human rights abuses with a focus on Indigenous rights by 2030.

To support our progress, we have set the following interim milestones:

  • By the end of 2021, we will communicate clear definitions and methodologies for assessing performance against the headline goal and underlying targets. We will use carbon transition methodology based on the Transition Pathway Initiative; a global initiative driven by the London School of Economics (LSE).
  • By the end of 2025, we aim to be able to map the endowment’s investments to:

  • the SDGs
  • the Paris Goal of stopping the climate from warming more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels
  • supply chain transparency, sufficient to identify and assess modern slavery risks in the operations or tier 1 supply chain of portfolio companies
  • any significant risks to Indigenous rights and culture.

The Sustainable Investment Strategy 2030 builds on progress made over several years to decarbonise our share portfolio. Since 2014, when we first started measuring the carbon footprint of our investments as part of our ESG investment framework, we have reduced the carbon intensity and absolute emissions of our listed equity portfolio by 70 percent and 79 percent respectively (as of 30 September 2020).

In addition to enhancing our investment strategies to tackle climate change, we will continue to consider the impact of our investments on Indigenous rights, first introduced into our investment policy in 2017. We will also continue to scrutinise our portfolio and work with other investors to meet our commitments on modern slavery announced earlier this year; while not currently aware of any such issues in our listed investments, we expect to have a very high degree of confidence by 2030 through this process.

Making an impact through our research


Educating future sustainability leaders

We offer a number of courses and units of study in sustainability-related areas.

You can also explore opportunities to get involved in sustainability-related projects through our Industry and Community Project Units or add a sustainability flavour to your degree with our Open Learning Environment units.

Find out more about why you should study sustainability at Sydney.

 

Enabling sustainable and resilient campuses

We are committed to managing our waste and resource recovery as sustainably as possible.

We have introduced the 'Better Recycling, Less Waste' campaign at our Camperdown and Darlington Campus, with plans to introduce the initative across our other University campuses. We also provide a range of recycling opportunities that are available to our staff, students and visitors to our campuses, including mixed recycling, secure documents, e-waste, batteries and construction waste.

Find out more about how we will make our waste management more sustainable.

We are committed to building a sustainable university using renewable energy, thanks to our rooftop solar projects.  We currently have rooftop solar systems installed on 23 buildings, which generates more than 1 MWh (1000 kilowatt hours) of solar energy per year. 

Investing in solar energy reduces our carbon emissions and allows us to make cost savings. As we continue to deliver the Campus Improvement Program, we will continue integrating solar energy on our new buildings.

Find out more about how we will reach net zero emissions in our operations.

Over the last 10 years, the University has built a number of new buildings across our campuses as part of our Campus Improvement Program.

As part of this program, a sustainability framework was developed to ensure our built environment is resource efficient, cost effective for our daily operations and provides improved environmental, economic and social benefits to students, staff and surrounding communities.

Find out more about how we will ensure our buildings and infrastructure are climate resilient.

Water is a precious resource and essential in maintaining our natural landscapes, which are an important part of our campuses. Our aim to reduce the use of potable water consumption is a key part of our sustainability strategy.

Our water conservation initiatives include:

  • Smart irrigation systems are used across our Camperdown/ Darlington Campus to minimise water wastage when watering our landscapes.
  • Water-sensitive urban design and infrastructure in our buildings and grounds has enabled us to recapture stormwater to be used on our Quadrangle lawns, instead of potable water.

Find out more about how we will reduce our potable water use.

We are refreshing our Sustainable Transport and Mobility Plan, to help reduce the impact of motor vehicles and further our work in developing a more accessible, pedestrian-friendly environment on our campuses and in surrounding communities.

We promote walking, cycling and the use of public transport, to reduce the number of people travelling to our campuses by private cars.

Find out more about how we will travel sustainably.

Our University campuses support a range of animals, plants and ecosystems that provide the foundations for the ecological services on which we depend. 

As part of our sustainability strategy we are developing a Biodiversity Management Plan to grow and support diverse flora and fauna on our campuses – from the number and types of trees and the canopy they provide, to the various species that reside here and the ecosystems that attract a range of interconnected plants, fungi and wildlife. The plan will guide our University community to ensure that we protect our natural heritage, green infrastructure and the species that needs it to survive.

The University of Sydney won the inaugural 2020 AFR Higher Education Award – Sustainability category – for our commitment to sustainability and in particular the support of innovations by leading renewables scientist Professor Thomas Maschmeyer. This includes a ‘smart bench’ prototype rolled out on campus – the first commercial product of University start-up Gelion, acting as a living laboratory for this next-generation battery-storage to power a renewables future. Read more about our sustainability award.

Applying Indigenous knowledge to care for Country