But in many other areas of environmental performance, such as reducing carbon emissions, the sector has made “excellent progress” according to this year’s People and Planet university Green League.
ManchesterMetropolitan University topped the list, despite receiving the worst possible “fail” grade in 2007, followed by the universities of Plymouth, Gloucestershire, Worcester and Brighton.
Louise Hazan, climate campaigns and communications manager at People and Planet, who compiled the league, said that it was the first time that all universities surveyed had an environmental policy.
“However, we’re seeing excruciatingly slow progress from too many universities in some criteria such as ethical investment given the urgency of the climate challenge,” she said.
People and Planet singled out the University of Oxford’s decision to accept £5.9 million from oil giant Shell to fund research at its Earth Sciences department.
The aim of the partnership, Oxford said in May, is to “support more effective development of natural resources to meet fast-growing global demand for energy”.
People and Planet quoted a student from Oxford, Chris Garrard, who said environmental campaigning at the university was “tainted when the vice-chancellor and others at the top set a tone of profit before people, and deals before ethics”.
It also gave Oxford a “fail” rating in the table.
A spokesman for the university said that the ranking was “disappointing” and said the table “omits some key environmental benchmarks” such as the number of staff and students who drive to work, which Oxford would score highly on.
“Unlike many universities we also have a water management strategy to reduce water consumption and we are also devising strategies for biodiversity and sustainable purchasing,” he said.
“Nonetheless we recognise there is a lot of work to be done and we are looking very carefully at our sustainability impacts, dedicating a one-off Higher Education Funding Council for England grant of up to £14 million to carbon reduction projects.”
Ms Hazan also said that universities had gotten much better at preparing their students for sustainable jobs.
“Forty-seven per cent of universities gained full points for integrating sustainability into the curriculum, compared with per cent just two years ago,” she said.
“In response to higher student demand People and Planet also recorded a huge increase in initiatives to engage staff and students on sustainability issues,” Ms Hazan added.