The University’s vision is to be net zero by 2035. The University will take out all avoidable greenhouse gases it releases into the atmosphere and compensate for emissions that are unavoidable. We understand that carbon is just a proxy for wider environmental sustainability, including in areas such as the loss of biodiversity and the minimisation of waste, especially plastics, and will set ourselves challenging targets in these areas too.

We have already reduced our carbon footprint by 15%, which is a big achievement since the University area and student population has grown by 20% over the past 10 years. We are working with clean energy, behaviour change and offsetting to continue reducing our footprint. We have a long way to go but so far managed to:

  • connect 25% of our buildings to clean energy supply
  • plant over 1,000 trees for biodiversity
  • launch Training in Environmental Sustainable Action (TESA) as a module for all students
  • launch a sustainable investments policy to guide how University endowment funds are managed.

Our sustainable legacy

Our position at the forefront of the sector is based upon a longstanding commitment to addressing climate change.

  • In 1998, we launched the St Andrews Prize for the Environment.
  • In 2005, the Environment Team was formed as a specialised unit under the Estates department to drive environmental change.
  • Also in 2005, we were one of the first Universities to launch a truly interdisciplinary Sustainable Development programme.
  • In 2017, we opened our own biomass plant to source our energy responsibly.
  • In 2019, we put a socially responsible investment policy in place for all University funds.
  • In 2020, we launched a hands-on education in practical sustainability for all students entering the University.

Our strategy

In February 2020, Principal Sally Mapstone launched the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB). The ESB leads the University's response to climate and environmental change, as well as the Scottish Government's target to become carbon net zero by 2045. We are accelerating our institutional approach to sustainability in teaching, research and operations to realise this goal.

Students, academics and professional staff form the ESB. Led by Professor Sir Ian Boyd, the board has launched the University's new environmental sustainability strategy to become net zero 2035. Thus, the University aims to be net zero ten years earlier than the Scottish Government's target. To achieve this, the ESB brings together five working groups: 

  • Sustainability in the Curriculum
  • Students and Community
  • Research
  • Operational Adaptation
  • Estate, Energy and Environment.

For all enquiries concerning the ESB, please contact

What is net zero?

Net zero means that, as a University, we emit no more greenhouse gases than we remove from the environment. This means that we balance our emissions by powering down the University's energy consumption, powering up with clean energy, and taking out emissions from the atmosphere. With the right balance, our emissions become zero. 

When we talk about a net zero University of St Andrews, we refer to every environmental impact we produce. This includes biodiversity and waste. Since we are an international University, travel is an essential part of our carbon emissions. To compensate for unavoidable emissions, like travel, we can plant trees, restore peatlands and use technology like carbon capture and storage. With these steps and actions powering down consumption and up clean energy, we make zero impact on the planet and stop environmental degradation. 

What are the effects of climate change?

Wetter winters and dryer summers are to be expected in Scotland. Climate Adaptation Scotland warns that this will affect food production, patterns of disease, our infrastructure needs and more. We take these risks seriously. With the work of the ESB, we are reducing our emissions while adapting to the climate changes we will inevitably face. The University is determined to play our part in a green future.

Strategies, reports and policies

The St Andrews Forest

The St Andrews Forest aims to form a global tapestry of woodland and other nature-based projects, which will reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The project recognises that some emissions are unavoidable and balancing actions must be taken.

Beyond carbon, the Forest strategy considers benefit to nature, and benefit to people: “The right trees, in the right places, for the right reasons.”

In time, the project will also demonstrate other nature-based solutions, including restoration of peatlands and salt marshes, and blue carbon projects.