HSBCDeciding universities’ strategies for sustainability and civic engagement

Deciding universities’ strategies for sustainability and civic engagement

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The higher education sector can play a huge role in supporting local authorities’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions

Cities are at the forefront of the climate crisis. They are home to more than half the world’s population and account for more than 70 per cent of its energy-related carbon emissions. Systemic changes could radically reduce cities’ emissions, and universities are uniquely placed to help local authorities meet their sustainability goals.

Shirin Reuvers, associate director of cities, states and regions at CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), believes that universities’ capacity for sharing knowledge and driving innovation can help local authorities implement successful low-carbon strategies.

CDP will deliver the lightning keynote ahead of the roundtable discussion “Achieving sustainable development goals through civic engagement”, sponsored by HSBC UK, which precedes THE Live 2019. It will provide a forum for HE leaders to discuss, debate and exchange best practice.

“Universities are actors who bring together different areas of expertise,” says Ms Reuvers. “They play a role in helping to try out new ideas and to also ensure that there is an uptake through public engagement and their operations.”

CDP collaborates both with industry and HE leaders to share ideas, knowledge and insights into data, all of which help local authorities monitor progress towards a more sustainable future.

And it is not just faculty and leadership driving change at universities. During the climate strikes, students from more than 160 countries urged their institutions to align themselves with a sustainable future.

For universities, sustainability begins on the campus. This might mean working with local transit authorities to deliver a good service to the university, using electric cars, and having charging points located across campus to promote the use of low and zero-emission vehicles. Or it might be as simple as increasing the vegetarian and vegan options on campus menus. “These are all measures that a university can take themselves to align themselves with the city's goals,” says Ms Reuvers.

Universities can also contribute to sustainability by auditing their supply chains, with any tender applications being considered on the criterion of a supplier’s carbon footprint.

“Universities very often have very large funds, so that means that they are investors,” says Ms Reuvers. “We invite them to look at their portfolio to make sure that this is in line with a low-carbon economy.”

Many cities in the UK have set ambitious climate goals, and might only be able to achieve them with the help of universities. “We have, for example, the University of Cambridge, which has worked with the city council on creating a sustainable community,” says Ms Reuvers, noting that universities are keen to share knowledge that will help accelerate innovation.

Universities’ capability for facilitating growth in start-ups is another driver for green and low-carbon enterprises. And while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, she adds, there needs to be a unified approach, with all stakeholders working towards a shared goal. “There are various ways of cities developing this sort of alliance [with universities] to ensure that the stakeholders aren't working in isolation, that they are working with each other and also, really importantly, that they are pushing each other.”

HSBC is working with both universities and cities in order to deliver a sustainable future, citing a need for closer collaboration between financial institutions and higher education to enable investment in green power generation, transport, waste management, housing and real estate.

“We are shaping industry engagement on climate and ESG-related topics, with our Centre of Sustainable Finance working alongside universities to draw up and publish research,” says Graham Smith, director of HSBC UK’s sustainable finance unit and roundtable discussion co-chair. “Four thousand HSBC employees have also undergone sustainable finance training in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. This type of engagement and collaboration between business and academia is crucial and we believe these are positive steps – but they are still small steps and we look forward to working with universities as a financier as well as a research partner.”

In order to encourage greater company disclosure regarding climate risks and low-carbon transition plans, HSBC works with CDP and other environmental groups.

The 2019 Times Higher Education and HSBC UK roundtable will take place before THE Live on 27 November at the Leonardo Royal Hotel Tower Bridge, London.

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