UWE collapsing from 3rd to 37th position in UK-wide sustainability league of universities

The University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) vision for sustainability is stated as follows in its sustainability strategy (2008/2012):

By 2012 UWE will be recognised by its students, staff and wider stakeholders as one of the leading universities in the United Kingdom for its sustainability performance.

However, according to People & Planet’s Green league, “the only comprehensive and independent league table of UK universities ranked by environmental and ethical performance”, not only UWE is far from being one of the leading universities in terms of sustainability: it is falling down!

In 2008, the Western Eye reported that ‘UWE rank[ed] third in sustainability league‘ but UWE has since fell faster and faster down the ranking and decreased its performance. In 2011 (date of the last ranking), UWE ranked 37th! The table below provides the detail of UWE’s position in the league since it was created in 2007.

Year Rank Score
2007 8 40.0/60
2008 3 51.5/60
2009 9 48.0/60
2010 17 39.0/70
2011 37 36.5/70

In other words, while UWE’s sustainability strategy aims “to continuously improve its sustainability performance and achieve the [above-mentioned] sustainability vision”, it is utterly failing at doing so.

But that’s not everything. Not only the discourse at top- and marketing-level at the moment fails to acknowledge that UWE’s sustainability performance relatively to other universities is collapsing, but most of it is self-congratulating. In other words, UWE is indulging in greenwashing: producing the perception that it is green without doing anything to actually become sustainable. One blatant example of it is this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Fds90uIgUk

Many initiatives have been proposed at various levels of the organisation yet little or no significant progress can be seen. The discussions I’ve been having in the past few months suggest that this poor performance has much to do with resistance ‘at the very top’, and with the tendency of the Vice-Chancellor and his clique to systematically put the university’s incomes above all other concerns (e.g. but not exclusively environmental/ecological ones). I will post more about this on this blog soon.

However, UWE’s top management are not the only ones to blame for this. UWE’s student union (UWESU) co-signed UWE’s sustainability strategy yet, not only it promotes frenetic consumerism (in particular through its newsletter) but when UWE People and Planet passed a motion at the 2009 AGM to ban bottled water for environmental reasons, this was also met by resistance ‘at the very top’ grounded in the exact same logic. UWESU’s presidents overruled the democratic decision due to concerns for the union’s incomes!

To balance a bit what is nothing less than dangerously misleading propaganda, it is thus perhaps useful to stress some massive shortcomings pinpointed by people and planet’s survey. On UWE’s sustainability webpage, Steve West, UWE’s Vice-Chancellor, says the following:

Sustainability is embedded in how we run the university and how we connect with the wider community. Please support us.

From the detailled analysis of People and Planet’s Green League results for 2011, this is what you can learn about how sustainability is embedded within the university. UWE has:

  • a policy on sustainability but it is not reported on annually at senior level (1.1 and 1.2),
  • no policy for ethical investment (4.1) and none of its investment or banking decisions were influenced by ethical considerations (4.3),
  • a plan addressing its carbon emissions but no target to reduce its emissions (5.2),
  • in fact increased its emissions since 2005 by 8.1% (12.2),
  • no commitment to integrate sustainability into the curriculum in its Corporate or Strategic Plan (9.1),
  • no commitment to integrate sustainability into the curriculum in its Teaching and Learning Strategy (9.2).
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