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Five ways to decarbonise your college estate

02 April 2024

The UK faces a pressing challenge: achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Colleges and universities, with their sprawling estates and significant energy consumption, have a crucial role to play in this journey. It is often the case that the further education sector is one of the most motivated to reduce emissions, with young people and many other stakeholders increasingly committed to delivering true environmental sustainability.

So how can your organisation meet this challenge whilst also battling tightening resources? Here are five starting points for UK colleges to decarbonise their estates in alignment with the FE Sustainability Framework.

1. Energy: prioritise efficiency and renewables

The first step is to understand your current energy usage. A comprehensive audit will identify areas of high consumption and potential savings opportunities. This could include analysing heating, lighting, ventilation, IT equipment and appliances across all buildings on your estate.

Once you know where your energy is going, you can start making changes. Simple measures like upgrading to LED lighting, installing smart thermostats, and draught-proofing buildings can produce significant energy savings. Additionally, consider larger-scale investments in renewable energy sources like solar panels, ground-source heat pumps, or biomass boilers.

2. Water: reduce consumption and explore green solutions

By introducing water audits and leak detection programs, colleges can discover high levels of water consumption and identify potential leaks. Furthermore, by installing water-saving fixtures and introducing behavioural change campaigns, colleges can reduce water use overall.

These initiatives, alongside rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse potential, align your college with the Sustainability Framework's "reduce" principle.

3. Waste: minimise, reuse, and embrace circularity

Colleges typically generate a lot of waste, from food and paper to electronic equipment. Implementing effective waste reduction, recycling and composting programs can significantly reduce their environmental footprint. Additionally, exploring circular economy principles, where products are designed for reuse and repair, can further minimise waste generation.

4. Travel: encourage sustainable options and electrify vehicles

Colleges can encourage students and staff to adopt greener travel options. This could involve investing in cycling infrastructure, providing subsidized public transport passes, or setting up car-sharing schemes. Additionally, electrifying college vehicles and installing charging points can significantly reduce emissions from transportation.

5. Procurement: choose sustainable, low-carbon options

This lever highlights the importance in recognising the significant impact your college's purchasing decisions have on its environmental footprint. It encourages a shift from traditional cost-focused procurement to sustainability-based procurement, where environmental and social factors are considered alongside price. This helps to decarbonise the estate, whilst supporting suppliers who are committed to sustainability.

By taking these steps in alignment with FE Sustainability Framework, UK colleges decarbonise their estates and reduce their carbon footprint but also set an example for the wider community.

At Inenco we champion colleges that have made sustainability a priority and are proud to sponsor the AoC Beacon award for Education for Sustainable Development. This year’s winner Suffolk New College have delivered a college-wide green skills programme with sustainability embedded in enrichment projects, capital investments and curriculum development to transform teaching practice and project-led innovation. Both learners and staff have a sustainability mindset, and there is a strong culture of project-based entrepreneurial ambition and a willingness to suggest and try new approaches and initiatives.

Colleges in the UK are facing similar challenges, but each circumstance will require tailored solutions. Inenco provides valuable support in navigating these challenges to help colleges achieve their sustainability goals.

To find out more about how we can help colleges and many other organisations to map out and deliver their roadmap to net zero please contact us at 08451 46 36 26 or email

Inenco are sponsoring the AoC Sustainability and Green Skills Conference 2024 taking place on 23 April 2024. Book your place here.