Education sector - Cost of Net Zero

We worked with the most prominent tertiary and higher education (HE) associations to deliver a highly innovative project which is the first of its kind for the sector.

AUDE (the Association of Higher Education Directors of Estates) represents 166 HE Institutions, BUFDG (the British Universities Finance Directors Group) represents over 180 HE organisations, and the EAUC (the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education) represent over 200 universities, colleges and learning and skills organisations.

What the further education sector needed

AUDEBUFDG, and EAUC, and Department for Education funded and collaborated with us to tackle the issue of there being no standard measure of calculating the cost of a Net Zero state. This means that it is a challenge for the sector to incorporate sustainable action into strategic planning and decision-making, secure funding and deliver the actions.

The collaborative project needed to deliver two key outputs:

  1. Guidance for the sector to understand the scale of investment and action required to reach a Net Zero future.
  2. Insight for individual universities and colleges to understand the scale of investment required for their institution to reach a Net Zero state using a standardised methodology and approach for their Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. This would highlight areas that institutions can improve based on their individual footprint, and thereafter tailor their actions and incorporate long-term measures alongside financial and strategic sustainability planning.

Outcomes and benefits for the further education sector

Since being commissioned, we have developed and launched ‘The Cost of Net Zero’ report and ‘Cost of Net Zero Calculator’ tool.

‘The Cost of Net Zero’ report

  • The report aims to help understand the context, the scale and the nature of the task. A few key findings include estimations of the cost of achieving Net Zero for the entire sector, which is £43.8bn overall and the average cost per institution of £124.9m. Of the total cost, £29.1bn is within the supply chain, £8.8bn within the built environment and £6.1bn within the category of travel/transport.
  • In the higher education industry, scope 3 emissions account for
    36% of the sector’s carbon footprint. Supply chain engagement was a key focus area, since scope 3 emissions are often the biggest portion of an
    organisations carbon footprint.
  • In particular, the report outlines the measures that would be required to be undertaken to decarbonise the built environment, including energy efficiency measures, low carbon heat solutions, electrification/fuel switching for heating systems, as well as improvements in building fabric and maintenance.

‘Cost of Net Zero Calculator’ tool

The calculator tool enables institutions to better understand the actions and resource required to decarbonise their individual footprint to achieve the net zero targets that have been set, or to test how achievable an institution’s net zero targets are, based on the individual circumstances of the institution.

The tool provides users with:

  • Holistic pathway modelling to forecast what the additional marginal costs on a decarbonisation journey might look like under different scenarios for short-term and long-term Scope 1 and 2 decarbonisation costs and emission reductions.
  • The impact of a ‘Business As Usual’ (no decarbonisation) forecast for carbon emissions and building and infrastructure maintenance costs.
  • Scenario modelling for Scope 3 purchasing and supply chain emissions so that institutions can use the insight to inform their Scope 3 reduction strategy.
  • For the supply chain, built environment and travel & transport, the calculator provides the weighted cost per tonne of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) for adopting various reduction measures and enables users to understand their payback periods for various reduction categories, as well as access to a database of measures to achieve sustainable action.

The report and calculator tool have been made freely available for all higher education organisations to access and utilise. It is envisaged that the tool will unlock opportunities for carbon reduction and any financial investment required to accelerate the delivery of Net Zero plans.

We continue to engage with AUDEBUFDG, and EAUC to maintain and update the calculator and also to engage with universities and colleges who use the resources that have been delivered to help them on their Net Zero transition.

Front cover of 'The cost of Net Zero' report.

The tertiary education sector has a significant role to play in the journey to Net Zero, by reducing its own environmental footprint, helping to develop new climate solutions through research, being a driver of collaboration/innovation across the economy, and acting as an advocate for climate action. Therefore, we hope this project will not only help an incredibly vital sector move closer to Net Zero, but also help to accelerate our national progress towards a Net Zero future by 2050.

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Analysis of the costs of achieving Net Zero within the further education sector
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Freely available resources to understand Net Zero on sector and individual scales
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Modelling to forecast costs and emissions for short and long term planning
Solar panels and wind turbines in front of a sunset.

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