UNSW Sydney will switch to 100 per cent renewable electricity, expand on-site solar energy generation and improve energy and water efficiency as part of a new three-year plan to reduce the university’s environmental footprint.

The new plan will see UNSW Sydney’s buildings become emissions free by 2020, as part of the university’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Launching the university’s Environmental Sustainability Plan (ESP), UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs, said the plan sets out a strategic roadmap towards best practice in the higher education sector.

“Our planet is currently facing a series of complex environmental challenges, from pollution of land and oceans to biodiversity loss and climate change.

“UNSW is a major investor, consumer and landholder and our Sydney campuses form part of the daily lives of some 62,000 students and more than 6700 staff.

“The university has the scale of a small city, so it is right that we grow and invest like any sustainable city would, with a responsible and clear plan.”

Under the new plan, UNSW will increase its on-site solar energy generation through the university’s world-first solar energy agreement, design new buildings to operate emissions free and introduce centralised waste collection in offices to save an estimated one million plastic liners annually.

Energy efficiency upgrades will target the least efficient buildings on campus, saving enough electricity to power around 400 homes by 2022. Improvements to water efficiency on campus will save 12,000 cubic metres of water per year or enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools.

UNSW has also committed to integrate best practice environmental, social and governance principles within investment activities by establishing a Responsible Investment Framework. This will allow the university to invest in solutions to combat climate change and align its investment portfolio emissions intensity with the Paris Agreement commitments.

Professor Jacobs said UNSW has a history of environmental stewardship across research, learning and teaching, and campus operations dating back several decades.

“About 50 per cent of the solar panels sold worldwide today use UNSW-designed technology, and our alumni are at the forefront of the photovoltaics and energy transition industries globally,” Professor Jacobs said.

“Our new plan builds on these achievements while significantly raising our levels of ambition to respond to the scale of environmental challenges we face today.”

The ESP is designed to address UNSW’s key environmental issues and defines commitments, targets and activities across ten focus areas, each supporting a specific theme of the UNSW 2025 Strategy and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It was developed following an internal review and consultation process which involved more than 350 students, professional and academic staff, and government representatives during 2018.

“UNSW’s research, learning and teaching programs aim to address environmental challenges that are critical to the future of our planet. Under this plan, we will develop a set of resources that  engage the student and staff community in the SDGs through learning and teaching programs, while making sure academic staff are able to decide how to include SDG thinking within their courses,” UNSW Head of Environmental Sustainability, William Syddall, said.

Mr Syddall said UNSW will also establish a pathway for the university to achieve net zero emissions in the future.

“Once UNSW has eliminated greenhouse gas emissions from building energy use by 2020, our focus will turn to indirect sources of emissions such as travel, embodied emissions and purchased goods and services,” he said.

“We hope this plan inspires not only our university community, but the wider community to take action for a sustainable future.”

In 2018, UNSW became the first university in Australia to commit to having 100 per cent of its electricity supplied by photovoltaic solar power.

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