Environment and Sustainability

Commitment to environmental sustainability

The University of Derby is committed to reducing its environmental impact, and over the past year has made good progress, while working towards Net Zero Carbon across its estate.

In this article we look at how the University addressed environmental sustainability during the 2021/22 academic year, and the plans we have to continue pushing forward with this important agenda.

Sunny picture of Kedleston Road campus with trees
icon17 place rise in 2021 People and Planet University League
iconBest Environmental Management**National Student Housing Awards 2021
iconResponsible Futures accreditation
iconSignatories of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Race to Zero campaign**University of Derby and East Midlands Chamber
iconDerbyGo app green travel mobility trial partnership announced**Partnership between Kinto, the University, Derby City Council and Derby College
iconMore than 125 trees planted on campus**Part of the Woodland Trust’s pledge to plant 50 million trees by 2025

On campus

Roadmap to Net Zero Carbon

The University has held ISO 14001 accreditation for many years and is audited six-monthly by the British Standards Institute. The University has once again performed well in audits undertaken this year and is proud to retain its accreditation.

As part of this, a ‘Roadmap to Net Zero Carbon’ has also been developed and forms the basis for the University direction going forward. The University is aiming to reach Net Zero by 2040, and work is underway by the institution towards achieving that goal.

Derby Business School

The University successfully achieved planning permission for its first Net Zero Carbon building earlier this year – the new Derby Business School building in the city centre, which is due to open in 2024. The building is planned to be Net Zero Carbon in construction and operation. While this will be the first of its kind for the University, sustainability is at the core of all property maintenance and project activities.

Sustainable Travel

In addition to this, 2021 saw the launch of the University’s Sustainable Travel Plan (2021-2025), designed to improve the institution's travel behaviours, reduce the need for travel, and encourage staff, students and visitors to choose more sustainable travel modes.

It also seeks to have wider impact by reducing traffic congestion and the associated harmful effects on the environment from higher carbon-emitting modes of travel.

Linked to the University’s Environment and Sustainability Policy, the plan outlines areas for development including the reduction of single occupancy vehicle usage, the creation of ‘active campuses’, improvement of local air quality, developing regional partnerships and the reduction of the need for travel. 

Progress to date includes switching a number of fleet vehicles to electric models, in collaboration with Toyota, and a programme of fitting electric car charging points to our sites. The University continues to work with partners on the development of safe and sustainable travel alternatives for both our students and staff.


The University has continued to increase the biodiversity in and around its sites through a programme of no-mow and low-mow areas along with pollinator patches and continues to hold a Silver Award as a Hedgehog Friendly Campus.

Employees of the Union of Students operates a beehive at the University's Kedleston Road site and have enjoyed success selling jars of honey produced by the bees to staff, students and visitors. 

In addition, this year the Sustainability Team hosted a number of students on placement, with a brief to complete a project in line with their studies that could be of benefit to the University. One student looked at the connectivity between wellness and nature and how this may be realised at the University’s Kedleston Road site, while another completed a study of the University’s biodiversity areas in order to establish their benefits and inform our future programme developments.

Awards and accreditations

Over the course of the year, the University has been recognised for its work to reduce its environmental impact.

The University rose 17 places in the 2021 People and Planet University League, going from 54 to 37 in the table of 154 universities in the UK.

Institutions were judged on 13 areas such as carbon reduction, waste and water recycling, student engagement, teaching and learning for sustainable development, energy efficiency, sustainable food and workers’ rights.

The University scored strongly in many areas, especially its environmental management system, commitment to education for sustainable development, and the way it engages with its staff and students.

Gaynor Delaney, Head of Compliance and Sustainability, said: "The increase in our rankings is a testament to the level of sustainability work and initiatives that have been completed by the University.

"The People and Planet League is the only table for UK universities which focuses purely on their sustainability credentials. As climate change is a very important issue, the league table is likely to play an increasing part in the decision-making process of our future students."

The People and Planet University League has been running since 2007. The ranking combines information made public by universities online, with raw data obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) 2019/2020 Estates Management Record (EMR) covering 1 August 2019 - 31 July 2020.

Responsible Futures

Another success has been the University and its Union of Students being awarded the Responsible Futures accreditation, reflecting their shared commitment to embedding sustainability and social responsibility across the formal and informal curriculum. 

Some highlights in Derby’s application for accreditation included the University’s success in the Sustainable Development Goals Teach In campaign, progress with the Principles for Responsible Management Education initiative, the University’s Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme, and high-profile research about nature connectedness.  

National Student Housing Awards

The University was also successful at the 2021 National Student Housing Awards, scooping Best Environmental Management for its halls of residence.

Speaking at the time of the award win, Andy Garton, Operations Manager at the University, said: “The use of LED lighting, the creation and maintenance of greenspaces and promoting general environmental awareness to both students and staff throughout halls are examples of key components put in place that will have contributed to us winning this award.

“All of the products used to clean and maintain halls are eco-friendly and we also work with students to ensure we recycle as much waste as we can. We are proud that students have rated us highly in the category, but they are key contributors to the cause and we, like them, are always striving for more.” 

The National Student Housing Awards are based on direct feedback from students.

Partnership working

As well as working to improve its own estate, the University works with businesses and other organisations to help them increase their environmental efficiency.

Earlier this year, the DE-Carbonise project celebrated its successful conclusion. The scheme, which launched in 2019 as a collaboration between the University, Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council, helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire increase their sustainability and save money by reducing energy costs and carbon emissions.

The University’s Business School target was to deliver 19 consultancy projects and generate a reduction of 87 tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the three years of the project. The Business School delivered 22 projects with estimated carbon savings of over 3,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

As part of knowledge exchange activity around the project, the Sustainable Business team recorded six episodes of a new Low Carbon Business podcast with external SMEs.

The De-Carbonise project was also shortlisted in the Benefitting Society category of the 2022 Green Gown Awards. The Awards recognise projects that are making a valuable contribution to sustainability initiatives across the higher education sector.

Colleagues speaking at the University's Decarbonise conclusion event
Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, speaking into a microphone on stage at the Decarbonise conclusion event

As well as De-Carbonise, the University has successfully agreed a number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, which will transform the Trust’s ability to purchase and manage land for biodiversity. Led by colleagues from Environmental Sciences, the partnership will provide the academic expertise that the Trust needs to grow by developing an innovative and holistic business model that can leverage its conservation expertise and enable it to operate commercially, while remaining true to its charitable status.

The University has also worked with partners on the Derbyshire Net Zero Accelerator programme, which launched in March 2022 and was extended until September 2022. In conjunction with East Midlands Chamber, Derbyshire County Council, Marketing Peak District & Derbyshire and The Food and Drink Forum, the programme provided an opportunity for businesses to improve their energy, resource and operational efficiency, reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions, gain green business skills and take some giant steps in their journey toward Net Zero.

Also in conjunction with the Chamber, the University conducted a Green Growth Trends in the East Midlands 2022 study, which showed that the proportion of East Midlands businesses now selling green goods and services has almost trebled over the past seven years. The research was released in August this year.

Green travel

In September 2021, a partnership between Kinto, Toyota’s mobility brand, the University of Derby, Derby City Council and Derby College was announced, to launch a green travel mobility trial.

The DerbyGo app is being trialled in Derby, targeting students at the University and Derby College, enabling them to access a range of transport options to plan their travel, using new technologies on their smartphones.

Derby, as a city, is one of Kinto’s four global partners.

In support of Great Big Green Week 2021, the University once again teamed up with walking app Go Jauntly and the Mental Health Foundation to launch the Green Care Code, a prompt to encourage people to notice the good things in nature — Stop. Look. Listen. Enjoy Nature! The Code was designed based on research by the University’s Nature Connectedness Research Group, which shows that simply noticing nature can bring clinically significant improvements in mental health and increase pro-nature conservation behaviours.

The University has also worked with Go Jauntly, as well as the National Forest, to launch a research study which aims to break new ground in understanding how the UK’s treescapes, a landscape including groups of trees, can benefit wellbeing.

Find out more about the Treefest research project.

You can read more about our engagement with businesses in our Business Engagement section of this Impact Report.

An ongoing commitment

The University is committed to supporting the environment and is involved in a number of initiatives designed to make a longer-term commitment to this important agenda.

In September 2021, the University, along with East Midlands Chamber, became signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Race to Zero campaign, a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

Speaking at the time of the announcement, Professor Kamil Omoteso, Pro Vice-Chancellor Dean of the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences, said: “This pledge provides a springboard for our ongoing efforts to support the shift to a sustainable economy across the region and beyond, and forms part of the University’s wider environmental ambitions and commitment to sustainability on our own net-zero pathway.”

Woodland Trust 

On campus, more than 125 trees have been planted as part of the Woodland Trust’s pledge to plant 50 million trees by 2025 and help tackle climate change.

The project began in December 2021 in connection to National Tree Week, with the planting of Oak, Silverbirch, Hawthorn and Blackthorn saplings and culminated with the planting of 10 native Rowan trees at the start of the year. 

Caroline Locke, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at the University, led the planting in green spaces across the University’s Kedleston Road site with the help of students as well as the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL.

Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, planting trees with academic Caroline Locke and a student
Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL, Associate Professor Caroline Locke and Fine Art student Tristan Stannard