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University sustainability rankings 2021

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 charting the environmental and ethical performance of unis in the UK.

How the university sustainability league is calculated

confused maths meme

Credit: CBC

These rankings were compiled by People & Planet and included 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 and strategy
  • Sustainable staff
  • Environmental auditing and management systems
  • Ethical investment
  • Carbon management
  • Workers' rights
  • Sustainable food
  • Staff and student engagement
  • Education for sustainable development
  • 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.

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Most sustainable universities in the UK

These are the 10 most sustainable universities in the UK:

  1. Manchester Metropolitan University – 86.3%
  2. King's College London – 79.5%
  3. Nottingham Trent University – 78.8%
  4. De Montfort University – 78.1%
  5. Cardiff Metropolitan University – 76.9%
  1. University of Worcester – 76.9%
  1. University of The Arts, London – 75.8%
  2. University of Bedfordshire – 75.2%
  3. Plymouth University – 73.9%
  1. Swansea University – 73.8%

If you're wondering how Manchester Metropolitan University managed to come out top in these rankings, it probably had something to do with scoring 100% for environmental policies, 100% for carbon reduction, 100% for environmental auditing and management systems, and (you guessed it!) 100% for sustainability staff. Wow.

Manchester Metropolitan University's response

How did Manchester Metropolitan University respond to being number one for sustainability?

Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, told us:

We are absolutely delighted that our important work on sustainability has been recognised in this way. Sustainability forms an integral part of everything that we do, from our teaching and research, to the way that we build and use our campus.

We know that the environment is one of the top concerns for people of all ages and this award demonstrates the pivotal role that sustainability plays in university life at Manchester Metropolitan.

While places like Manchester Metropolitan University 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 sustainable universities

These are the 10 worst universities for sustainability:

  1. University of Bolton – 6.3%
  2. Royal College of Art – 5.1%
  3. Ravensbourne University London – 4.8%
  4. University College Birmingham – 4.7%
  5. Norwich University of the Arts – 4.5%
  6. Stranmillis University College – 3.1%
  7. Royal Academy of Music – 2.4%
  1. Courtauld Institute of Art – 2.4%
  1. The University College of Osteopathy – 2.3%
  2. University of Sunderland – 0.7%

Scoring 0% across 11 categories, including sustainable food, workers' rights, sustainability staff and ethical investment, the University of Sunderland 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, the University of Sunderland 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.

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Full university league table for sustainability

RankingUniversityTotal score
1Manchester Metropolitan University86.3%
2King's College London79.5%
3Nottingham Trent University78.8%
4De Montfort University78.1%
5=Cardiff Metropolitan University76.9%
5=University of Worcester76.9%
7University of The Arts, London (UAL)75.8%
8University of Bedfordshire75.2%
9Plymouth University73.9%
10Swansea University73.8%
11London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)72.9%
12University of Salford72.6%
13City, University of London71.9%
14Bournemouth University70.2%
15University of Reading69.9%
16University of Exeter69.8%
17=Aston University69.5%
17=Northumbria University69.5%
19University College London (UCL)68.6%
20University of Bristol67.3%
21Newcastle University67.2%
22Coventry University66.8%
23University of Greenwich66.6%
24University of The West of England, Bristol (UWE)63.7%
25University of Oxford62.9%
26University of Winchester62.8%
27Keele University62.4%
28=Bangor University61.8%
28=Middlesex University61.8%
30Durham University60.4%
31=Bath Spa University60.2%
31=Birmingham City University60.2%
33University of Brighton59.6%
34University of Leeds59.5%
35University of Hull59.4%
36Queen Mary University of London58.2%
37University of Derby57.9%
38London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine57.5%
39University of Wales Trinity Saint David56.1%
40University of East Anglia56%
41University of Kent55.9%
42Glyndwr University55.3%
43Edinburgh Napier University55.2%
44=Cardiff University55%
44=Sheffield Hallam University55%
46University of Liverpool54.2%
47Anglia Ruskin University53%
48Birkbeck, University of London52.9%
49Liverpool John Moores University52.6%
50=Guildhall School of Music and Drama52.4%
50=University of Huddersfield52.4%
52SOAS University of London51.7%
53=University of Nottingham51.3%
53=University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)51.3%
55University of Leicester50.9%
56London Metropolitan University50.8%
57University of West London50.6%
58University of Bradford50.3%
59University of Warwick50.1%
60=University of Sheffield49.5%
60=Arts University Bournemouth49.5%
62University of Essex49%
63Cranfield University48.9%
64Glasgow Caledonian University48.8%
65Solent University48.2%
66Imperial College London48%
67University of Lincoln47.8%
68University of Manchester47.7%
69Oxford Brookes University47.3%
70Leeds Beckett University46.9%
71University of Portsmouth46.8%
72University of Edinburgh46%
73Kingston University44.8%
74=Loughborough University44.5%
74=University of Surrey44.5%
76University of Bath44%
77Ulster University42.5%
78Canterbury Christ Church University42.3%
79Lancaster University41.8%
80Buckinghamshire New University41.6%
81University of Northampton41.4%
82=University of Cambridge40.8%
82=University of Gloucestershire40.8%
84University of Glasgow40.3%
85Edge Hill University40.1%
86University of South Wales39.8%
87Queen's University of Belfast39.6%
88University of St Andrews39.1%
89=University of Aberdeen39%
89=University of Westminster39%
91=University of Strathclyde38.6%
91=Teesside University38.6%
93University of York36.9%
94Brunel University London36.7%
95Liverpool Hope University35.6%
96University of Hertfordshire35.5%
97University of Stirling34.8%
98=University of Chester34.5%
98=University of Cumbria34.5%
98=University for the Creative Arts34.5%
101University of Chichester34.3%
102University of Suffolk34.1%
103Royal Holloway University of London32.4%
104York St John University32%
105University of The West of Scotland (UWS)31%
106Glasgow School of Art30.4%
107University of East London29.9%
108University of Sussex29.5%
109Heriot-Watt University28.8%
110Aberystwyth University28.5%
111Newman University28.1%
112Goldsmiths University of London27.8%
113Staffordshire University27.7%
114University of Abertay Dundee27.4%
115Robert Gordon University27.3%
116Harper Adams University25.7%
117The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama25.4%
118Royal Veterinary College25.3%
119Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance25%
120University of Southampton24.9%
121University of Wolverhampton23.7%
122Falmouth University22.9%
123St. Mary's University College Belfast22.5%
124Leeds Trinity University22.2%
125University of the Highlands and Islands21.3%
126Bishop Grosseteste University20.8%
127Royal College of Music London20.7%
128University of Dundee20.4%
129Roehampton University20.2%
130=Queen Margaret University19.8%
130=Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance19.8%
132=University of St Mark and St John19.1%
132=St Mary's University Twickenham19.1%
134London South Bank University18.9%
135The Institute of Cancer Research18.6%
136=St George's University of London15.3%
136=Leeds Arts University15.3%
138University of Birmingham13.1%
139Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine12.7%
140Royal Agricultural University12.5%
141Writtle University College12%
142Royal Northern College of Music9.3%
143The Open University8.3%
144London Business School7.9%
145University of Bolton6.3%
146Royal College of Art5.1%
147Ravensbourne University London4.8%
148University College Birmingham4.7%
149Norwich University of the Arts4.5%
150Stranmillis University College3.1%
151=Royal Academy of Music2.4%
151=Courtauld Institute of Art2.4%
153The University College of Osteopathy2.3%
154University of Sunderland0.7%
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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 container like 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 as well as which foods should go in the fridge if you want them to last longer.

It's also worth reading our guide on how to cut down on plastic and save money to see how to reduce your environmental impact without doing some serious damage to your bank balance instead.

Find out the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint – the tips can help you save (or even make) money.

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