Environmental Leadership Award Winner: Ulster University

Environmental Leadership Award Winner: Ulster University

Ulster University (UU), as Northern Ireland’s civic university, is grounded in the heart of the community and strives to make a lasting contribution to society as a whole.


The University is renowned for world-class teaching which transforms lives, stretches minds and develops the skills required by a growing economy. The outcomes of its research have global significance with local relevance, and contribute to the social, economic and cultural betterment of Northern Ireland.

What Ulster University did

UU is committed to understanding and managing its environmental impacts for the benefits of students and staff as well as the people and businesses resident in neighbouring communities and region. Through high quality and impactful environmental sustainability programmes, UU catalyse action and collaboration so that students and staff make positive changes.

At Ulster, Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Montgomery is chair of the Environmental Sustainability Steering Group and champions the sustainability drive. In addition to core areas of travel, energy, waste and procurement, the steering group seeks to embed education for sustainable development within the university curriculum so that graduates have the skills, knowledge and experience to contribute to an environmentally and ethically responsible local society as well as benefiting society on a national and international scale.

National Union of Students Green Impact programme engages staff in identifying and addressing environmental issues in their workplace. The university is on-track to meet its carbon management target of 29% reduction in emissions by 2020. The university Estates Services and Procurement functions are accredited to ISO14001 Environmental Management System standard which helps to monitor and measure environmental improvements and has seen the introduction of sustainability impact analysis within procurement to promote sustainable practices within an extensive supply chain which includes a significant number of local businesses across Northern Ireland.

Significant investments in green buildings and infrastructure include four new capital-building developments built to BREEAM Excellent sustainability standards, two 800kW wind turbine units that generate 16% of the university’s electricity, eight solar photovoltaic generation schemes and three modern cycle storage hubs to enhance cycling as a preferred travel option to campus.

A commitment to greening its campuses, in conjunction with teaching and learning practices, creates sustainability-driven graduates who are socially aware with the skills needed to succeed in the modern workforce and beyond.

The university’s 5&50 Strategic Plan includes the following focus areas to deliver a university that is innovative and sustainable.

The environmental sustainability policy commits the university to minimising the impacts from business operations in relation to carbon, energy, water, waste, travel, procurement and the curriculum. Implementation of the policy ensures the Positive Environmental Impact element within the university’s Strategic Plan is realised.

The Carbon Management Plan (CMP) 2010/11-2020/21 and Green Impact (GI) Program provide the Estates Services Operational Excellence approach to environmental sustainability.  The CMP outlines the university’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions and GI engages, motivates and recognises staff champions who undertake environmental improvement actions within their areas.

Ulster is committed to integrating Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into the curriculum as part of its approach to Academic Excellence. An ESD Working Group aims to link learning, teaching and research to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Impacts and Outcomes

  • Scope 1 & 2 Carbon emissions reduced by 45% compared to the 2005/06 baseline year level
  • Two 800KW wind turbines installed at Coleraine campus generate 860 tonnes of carbon savings and reduce campus electricity demand by 40%, while 20% exported to the local electricity supply grid provides savings to the university’s electricity bill
  • Across all campuses, there are eight Solar Power Generation Systems with a total capacity of 180KW producing 140,000KWh of renewable electricity annually, equivalent to 40 tonnes of carbon savings
  • Electricity consumption dropped by 20% since 2010 saving £500K per annum and 1,250 tonnes of Carbon
  • More than 500 remotely monitored energy meters spread across all campuses, allowing real-time analysis of energy performance and energy savings
  • A large rain water harvesting system on the Belfast campuses displaces 2,000m3 or £5,500 worth of non-potable imported mains water per year.
  • Excavated two well-water boreholes on the Jordanstown campus saving 5,000m3 or £14,000 worth of imported water for sports pitch irrigation and non-potable sports centre usage
  • Water saving actions and technologies have reduced water consumption by 35% or 44,000m3 from 2010/11 consumption levels
  • Through video conferencing, car travel reduced by 1,671 miles
  • Commercial waste fell by 7.2% in 2018, with zero waste to landfill.
  • In 2018, 345 tree saplings were donated by Woodland Trust and planted on campus with local school children
  • Magee campus is flanked by mature trees and is home to a growing population of Red Squirrels following the introduction of feeding boxes as part of an Ulster Wildlife initiative
  • A Supplier Engagement Tool which has helped 550 suppliers create their own sustainability action plan, 80% of which are SMEs
  • Customers can purchase a reusable ‘Keep Cup’, made from bamboo fibre or a compostable cup which reduces dependence on natural resources used in disposable cups
  • Toxic free alternatives to chemical cleaners now used. The Stabiliser Aqueous Ozone system infuses cold tap water with ozone to provide a cleaning solution, which kills viruses and bacteria.
  • The university delivers ‘Green Impact’, a people development communication programme delivered in collaboration with the National Union of Students which brings staff and students together to make positive environmental changes to their workplace

For more information, please email ml.gaile@ulster.ac.uk