Jonathon Porritt: blame vice-chancellors for poor sustainability efforts

Leading environmentalist says it is 'ridiculous' for university heads to 'shuffle responsibility'

October 17, 2015

A leading environmentalist has said it is the fault of vice-chancellors for universities failing to hit sustainability and carbon emission targets.

Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth and chancellor of Keele University, spoke to Times Higher Education after leading a debate at London South Bank University on whether the sector needed to protect the environment.

He said although he is “very critical of government”, it was up to the leaders of universities to maintain their sustainability effort.

“Now that the government has chosen [a] particular model for progressing HE in this country – and they have delegated a lot of power and influence to each university – this blame has to lie at the feet of every vice-chancellor in this country," he said.

“It’s no good them saying: ‘oh but we’re not getting any support to do this, that and the other.' That’s not the deal any longer. I can be very critical of government because I think they’re failing in their leadership duties as well, but the idea that v-cs, as a group of key influencers in the UK, can shuffle the responsibility back up to a bunch of ministers, is patently ridiculous.

“The responsibility for their own carbon targets lies with that group of decision makers. And they need to be held to account on that.”

His comments follow the recent report by sustainability consultancy Brite Green, which revealed universities would achieve only a 12 per cent reduction in absolute carbon emissions by 2020, well short of the 43 per cent sector target. Mr Porritt called the results “damning” and universities were in a “dangerous position where things could go backwards”.

However, he conceded that universities were not helped by government.

“[In terms of] real leadership from BIS or any bit of the government that ought to have an interest in this country’s sustainability performance and young people’s role in a more sustainable world? You’d have to say that’s just evaporated completely,” he said.

He added it “should be part of the accountability” of vice-chancellors to demonstrate leadership in sustainability besides other “critical aspects” such as research and contribution to the economy.

“I’m in no way diminishing the importance of those but you’ve got to put performance on sustainability in the mix of performance measures for v-cs,” he said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Vice chancellors might also sustain their teaching staff, rather than cutting them to pay for senior management or the creeps in the Kings College Policy Institute.

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