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University sustainability rankings 2019

Unis are under increasing pressure to be kinder to the environment – but how many are actually taking action? These university rankings reveal the best and worst places for sustainability.

plastic earth with thumbs up and down

Credit: Tetiana Shumbasova (background) – Shutterstock

The general UK university rankings can tell us a lot, but when it comes to some of the issues we really care about, like (a big one!) the planet, they can fall a bit short.

If you've been wondering how sustainable your university is, wonder no more. Here are the comprehensive results on the environmental and ethical performance of unis in the UK.

Find out where your university ranks in the world – there are a fair few UK unis in the top 200.

How the university sustainability league is calculated

confused maths meme

Credit: CBC

These rankings were compiled by People & Planet, including 154 unis across the UK.

You'll see in our run-down of the results below that each university's been given a total percentage score. This is worked out based on their performance in 13 categories:

  • Environmental policy
  • Sustainability staff
  • Environmental Management System (EMS) auditing
  • Ethical investment
  • Carbon management
  • Workers' rights
  • Sustainable food
  • Engagement
  • Education
  • Energy Sources
  • Waste and recycling
  • Carbon reduction
  • Water reduction

Each university's scores across all categories are combined, with some categories carrying more weight than others. An overall total percentage is calculated, and the higher the total percentage, the higher the ranking!

Now on to the interesting bit...

Thinking about moving to more eco-friendly countries? Here's how much it can cost to study abroad.

10 most eco-friendly universities

Simon Cowell thumbs up

Credit: NBC

Here are the 10 most sustainable universities in the UK:

  1. University of Gloucestershire – 80.6%
  2. Manchester Metropolitan University – 79.9%
  3. Nottingham Trent University – 75.2%
  4. Northumbria University – 66.6%
  5. City, University of London – 66.4%
  1. University of Worcester – 66.4%
  1. Coventry University – 65.9%
  2. University of Bedfordshire – 65.3%
  3. Aston University – 63%
  1. Swansea University – 63%

If you're wondering how the University of Gloucestershire managed to come out top in these rankings, it probably had something to do with scoring 100% for sustainable food, 100% for carbon reduction, 100% for auditing and EMS and (you guessed it!) 100% for carbon management. Wow.

The University of Gloucestershire's response

University of Gloucestershire

How did the University of Gloucestershire respond to being number one for sustainability?

In a joint statement, Dr Alex Ryan (Director of Sustainability) and Miriam Webb (Sustainability Engagement Manager) from the uni told us:

We are thrilled that we’ve topped the league table again!

Since the league started in 2007 – when it was optional to take part – the whole sustainability agenda in the university sector has moved on.

There is friendly competition among the growing number of universities of all sizes who are making moves in this agenda, which is pushing progress forwards all the time.

This isn't the first time the University of Gloucestershire have come first in this league...

We were last at the top of the league in 2008 and we have held a top 10 position since the start (we’re the only university who has held top 10 place on every run of the league) but the performance levels increase each year so it takes more to be ahead of the curve.

So for our university, as one of the original pace-setters, to still be able to compete with the larger players, is a great credit to the commitment and the results that we’ve achieved, which are now led by students, staff and partners across the university.

While places like the University of Gloucestershire are leading the way in terms of sustainability, others, in comparison, are doing much (much!) less. Let's hope your uni doesn't appear on the list below.

10 least eco-friendly universities

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Credit: ABC

  1. Stranmillis University College – 15.5%%
  2. The University College of Osteopathy – 15.4%
  3. Glasgow School of Art – 15.2%
  4. Royal Academy of Music – 14.7%
  5. University of Bolton – 14.3%
  6. Leeds Trinity University – 13.7%
  7. Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Drama – 13.1%
  8. Royal Veterinary College – 11.6%
  9. University of the Highlands and Islands – 10.2%
  10. Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance – 9.8%

Scoring 0% across eight categories, including sustainable food, workers' rights, sustainability staff and ethical investment, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance is placed 154th out of 154 universities.

But, it's important to note that, if People & Planet can't find information for some categories (i.e. if the university hasn't made some info public), they will give them a score of zero. So, we hope, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance may be a bit more sustainable than the results suggest.

If you've not seen your university yet, check out the full university league table for sustainability below.

Full university league table for sustainability

RankingUniversityTotal score
1University of Gloucestershire80.6%
2Manchester Metropolitan University79.9%
3Nottingham Trent University75.2%
4Northumbria University66.6%
5=City, University of London66.4%
5=University of Worcester66.4%
7Coventry University65.9%
8University of Bedfordshire65.3%
9=Aston University63%
9=Swansea University63%
11University of Bristol62.9%
12Newcastle University61.5%
13London School of Economics and Political Science60.5%
14University of Greenwich59.8%
15=De Montfort University59.6%
15=Plymouth University59.6%
17Canterbury Christ Church University58.7%
18UCL58.2%
19Keele University58.5%
20University of the Arts, London58.3%
21Bangor University57.9%
22King's College London57.8%
23University of Leeds56.5%
24Glasgow Caledonian University56.4%
25University of Bradford56%
26University of Brighton55.9%
27=Bath Spa University55.7%
27=Bournemouth University55.7%
29University of Reading55%
30University of East Anglia54.6%
31University of Wales Trinity Saint David53.3%
32SOAS, University of London53.2%
33University of Winchester52.8%
34Birmingham City University51.9%
35University of Leicester51.4%
36Birkbeck, University of London51.3%
37University of Exeter50.4%
38University of Edinburgh49.3%
39University of the West of England, Bristol48.9%
40University of Kent48.2%
41London Metropolitan University48%
42University of Central Lancashire47.8%
43Anglia Ruskin University47.4%
44University of Essex47.2%
45University of Oxford46.9%
46Cardiff University46.8%
47=Glyndwr University46.6%
47=University of Hull46.6%
49University of West London46.4%
50Sheffield Hallam University45.5%
51University of Sussex45.3%
52=London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine44.9%
52=Southampton Solent University44.9%
54Teesside University44%
55Edinburgh Napier University43.8%
56University of Derby43.7%
57University of Ulster43.5%
58Loughborough University43.4%
59University of Manchester43.1%
60University of Warwick42.9%
61Leeds Beckett University42.4%
62University of Chester42.2%
63University of Westminster42%
64University of Salford41.9%
65London South Bank University41.6%
66University of Sheffield41.4%
67University of Cambridge41.3%
68Cardiff Metropolitan University41.2%
69Royal Agricultural University40.4%
70University of Bath40.3%
71Liverpool John Moores University39.9%
72Oxford Brookes University39.8%
73University of St Andrews39.5%
74Middlesex University39.1%
75University of Nottingham39%
76Newman University38.5%
77Guildhall School of Music and Drama37.8%
78Royal College of Music, London37.4%
79University of York37.2%
80University of Lincoln36.8%
81Buckinghamshire New University35.9%
82University for the Creative Arts35.7%
83Queen Mary University of London35.1%
84Aberystwyth University34.4%
85=University of Chichester33.5%
85=University of Glasgow33.5%
85=Staffordshire University33.5%
88Arts University Bournemouth33%
89University of Birmingham32.8%
90Cranfield University32.2%
91Lancaster University31.6%
92Edge Hill University30.5%
93Kingston University30.4%
94University of Southampton30.1%
95University of Hertfordshire29.7%
96Durham University29%
97University of Stirling28.7%
98Bishop Grosseteste University28.5%
99University of Liverpool28.2%
100University of Sunderland27.8%
101Goldsmiths, University of London27.7%
102University of Northampton27.5%
103Queens University of Belfast27.4%
104University of Suffolk27.1%
105=Heriot-Watt University26.9%
105=University of East London26.9%
107University of Portsmouth26.4%
108Falmouth University26.2%
109University of Huddersfield26%
110Ravensbourne University of London25.9%
111University of Cumbria24.8%
112Brunel University London24.6%
113University of Surrey24.4%
114=The Robert Gordon University24.1%
114=The University of the West of Scotland24.1%
116University of Abertay Dundee23.9%
117University of Aberdeen23.3%
118=Royal Northern College of Music23.2%
118=University of Strathclyde23.2%
120=Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London23.1%
120=Liverpool Hope University23.1%
120=Royal Holloway, University of London23.1%
123University of Wolverhampton22.4%
124York St John University21.3%
125University of South Wales21.2%
126Leeds Arts University20.8%
127The Open University20.4%
128=The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama20.1%
128=Queen Margaret University20.1%
130Imperial College London20%
131Writtle University College19.8%
132Roehampton University19.7%
133Harper Adams University19.2%
134University of Dundee19%
135University College Birmingham18.3%
136St George's, University of London18.1%
137Norwich University of the Arts17.2%
138=The Institute of Cancer Research17.1%
138=St Mary's University College Belfast17.1%
140=London Business School16.8%
140=Royal College of Art16.8%
140=St Mary's University, Twickenham16.8%
143Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine16.1%
144University of St Mark and St John15.9%
145Stranmillis University College15.5%
146The University College of Osteopathy15.4%
147Glasgow School of Art15.2%
148Royal Academy of Music14.7%
149University of Bolton14.3%
150Leeds Trinity University13.7%
151Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance13.1%
152Royal Veterinary College11.6%
153University of the Highlands and Islands10.2%
154Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance9.8%

How to live sustainably on a budget

Hands holding piggy bank

Credit: Watchara Ritjan – Shutterstock

Sometimes, it can feel like an impossible task to save the environment and your bank account. But, thankfully, there are ways to live more sustainably without spending a fortune.

One easy way to cut down on plastic waste, and save money in the process, is by no longer buying cups of coffee or bottled drinks while you're out.

Buying a reusable water bottle, like these cheap patterned bottles, or a travel coffee cup will make a massive difference. After the initial purchases, you'll be able to fill them up for free with tap water, or get small discounts off hot drinks at some chain coffee shops for using your own cup.

Also, you can avoid food waste (and the extra cost of replacing out-of-date food) with some careful changes to how you buy and store food. Check out our tips on how to keep food fresh for longer.

It's also worth reading our guide on how to cut down on plastic and save money to see how our editor, Jess, got on when she tried the plastic-free challenge on a budget.

The University of Gloucestershire's tips

With the University of Gloucestershire ranking first for sustainability in these league tables, we asked their sustainability team how students can reduce their impact on the environment without spending a fortune.

Dr Alex Ryan and Miriam Webb from the University of Gloucestershire's sustainability team told us:

We know students care deeply about sustainability and the long term big picture for communities across the globe, but students also have to wrestle with difficult financial pressures every day.

Sustainability has to bring the concerns of planet and purse together.

As part of their Live Smart programme, they offer advice to students on living sustainably for less. You can find their tips here.

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