Scrutiny of Lancaster University's commitment to decarbonisation and the Climate Emergency is at an all time high. One group that has already done the research are the student climate crisis activists People & Planet. Their considerable investigation has led to a ranking of 154 UK universities based on their environmentalism. A Spineless muckraker has submitted their analysis of Lancaster University's score in this league table.

People & Planet are an activist group involved in campaigns at multiple universities, including Lancaster. They lead on diverse campaigns such as Divest Barclays, Fossil Free, Undoing Borders, and Freedom from Sweatshops.

People & Planet's university rankings sees each institution given a degree classification. Universities ranked 1 to 29 are ‘first class universities’, 30 to 60 are ‘2:1 class universities’, 61 to 95 are ‘2:2 class universities’, 96 to 123 are ‘third class universities’, and 124 to 154 are ‘failed universities’.

Lancaster University, despite being ranked 7th in the Complete University Guide and The Guardian, ranks 91st on People & Planet’s league table. This places it only four places above a 2:2 classification, and above only Durham University, out of Complete University Guide’s top ten. This score also places Lancaster below the median of 77, a position currently held by Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The University of Gloucestershire is ranked first, and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance is ranked last. The University of York scores 79th, 12 places above Lancaster University.

Lancaster's score breakdown

People & Planet have a detailed process they apply to determine each of the University’s scores. They break down each university into thirteen categories, ranking each with a percentage of the total score. These categories are as follows:

  • Environmental Sustainability, Policy and Strategy: 0
  • Human Resources for Sustainability: 20
  • Environmental Auditing and Management Systems: 100
  • Ethical Investment: 0
  • Carbon Management: 0
  • Workers' Rights: 0
  • Sustainable Food: 40
  • Staff and Student Engagement: 25
  • Education for Sustainable Development: 50
  • Energy Sources: 80
  • Waste and Recycling: 12.5
  • Carbon Reduction: 25
  • Water Reduction: 11

For each of these sections, People & Planet provides a breakdown with further evaluation. In Lancaster’s ‘environmental sustainability: policy and strategy’ section, for example, they look at publicly available policy and targets and strategy, both of which they scored 0/50% on, giving them a total of 0% for that particular section. In their evaluation, People & Planet highlighted that there is no environmental policy linked on the University’s website. The criteria for this section are that the policy needs to have been published within the last five years, and that there is evidence that someone with a sitting position at the University regularly reviews it. There is no evidence of either of these things happening, causing Lancaster to score 0% here.

People & Planet found that Lancaster has three target areas: waste management, transport, and construction and development. The criteria for targets, however, is that there must be targets for at least five identified key areas, made within the last five years. Lancaster fails in this section on both accounts, meaning they score 0 in this and therefore in the Policy and Strategy overall. People & Planet then go on to give this evaluation for all thirteen sections, with nine sections scoring above 0% for Lancaster. Alongside the aforementioned ‘Policy and strategy section’, Lancaster scores 0% in ‘Ethical Investment’, ‘Carbon Management’, and ‘Worker’s Rights’.

Notably, ‘Environmental Auditing & Management Systems’ and ‘Energy Sources’ score highly, at 100% and 80% respectively.  In these sections, People & Planet mention that Lancaster is accredited to an externally verified environmental management system (however, they do not mention which EMS, and the link to it provided does not work), and for it's combined use of heat and power energy, and its ability to generate its own electricity. People & Planet note a high score for LUSU’s approach to environmentalism, and also for student say with regards to committees on topics such as estates, and planning at the university. Although Spineless has its doubts.

Lancaster also score highly with regards to sustainable teaching and environmental education. These scores come under ‘Staff and Student Engagement’, and ‘Education for Sustainable Development’, which score 25% and 50% respectively. This down to the pioneering work of Lancaster academics in departments such as LEC.

What does Lancaster University think of this?

Earlier this term, the Lancaster University provided a statement to SCAN on their environmental policy, in which they said: 'Lancaster University takes its commitment to environmental sustainability seriously.' They added, 'We also plan to hold a “Big Conversation” early February 2020, underpinned by a sustained communications plan that will engage with staff and students.' This event, however, was arranged for a date during the UCU strike, which meant that any UCU member would have had to cross the picket line in order to attend it, and students weren’t invited at all. The University did acknowledge that certain members of staff weren’t present for ‘various reasons’.

This is sadly ironic considering that the Climate Emergency petition presented to the university in December was heavily signed and promoted by students of the University. When asked for a comment about the petition, the University stated that 'We have not declared a Climate Emergency at this stage while we work to engage our staff and students around how to address targets around travel which make up 70% of the University’s emissions.' The University did not make a comment to SCAN about their ranking on People & Planet’s league table.