In response to the climate emergency, the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) has decided to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions that it produces. (Photo: Noah Buscher / Unsplash)
The aim of this initiative is to develop an environmental sustainability plan
The carbon footprint is the measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by an activity or individual, or by an organization. On the initiative of the University Council's sustainability group, the UOC has calculated its carbon footprint for the first time. In 2019, the University emitted 3,089 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 2.08 kilos of CO2 per teaching credit. The calculation was based on 2019 because the pandemic made remote work more widespread among the institution's professionals and the results would have varied considerably.
Calculating the carbon footprint is vital to understand how these emissions are generated and thus identify effective measures that can be taken to reduce them, as "we're in the midst of a climate emergency and climate chaos, and universities must be a reference point and set an example, both for other institutions that have to tackle this issue and for our community", said Pastora Martínez Samper, UOC vice president for Globalization and Cooperation.
Being aware of the amount of GHG emissions that we generate as an institution "is an important starting point", said Isabel Solà, a member of the University Council's driving group, "as it provides us with a tool to make an annual calculation and find out what our situation is so that we can look for solutions to reduce this footprint". Martínez Samper added that "we've made a commitment not to increase our carbon footprint from this first calculation, and to develop a plan to reduce it. We'll also recalculate our footprint annually to evaluate whether our initiatives are on the right track". The UOC's carbon footprint was calculated with the support and advice of Inèdit, a strategic eco-innovation firm specializing in supporting organizations in their efforts to achieve sustainability.
The results of this type of study are always expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalent, a figure that includes the total amount of greenhouse gases from all emissions, as they do not all have to be directly derived from carbon.
The study not only calculated the total emissions, but also gave a breakdown of the most polluting groups or activities in the day-to-day running of the university.
The UOC has an Environmental Sustainability Plan
With the aim of reversing the current climate emergency, in 2021 the UOC signed climate action commitments and joined the Government of Catalonia's Programme of Voluntary Agreements, an important step because "it strengthens our determination in the fight against climate change. We also have to set an example as a university that is responsible for educating citizens and professionals who are capable of facing global challenges, by investing in research and generating knowledge in this field that allows us to move forward", said Martínez Samper.
The vice president believes that "we're facing important challenges: how we measure the impact of student activity or the implications of the New Way of Working on the UOC's carbon footprint. Building on this carbon footprint analysis, we'll design a sustainability plan that will enable us to move towards climate neutrality for the university by 2030." All these goals are part of the Environmental Sustainability Plan, promoted by the University Council and included in the Strategic Plan, and they also respond to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promoted by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda.
Goal: reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% each year
Given this situation, measures must be introduced to achieve a 5% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, in order to reach the neutrality target set for 2030. To this end, work is being done to draw up an action plan and, according to Isabel Solà, "calculating our footprint will allow us to see the impact of these actions and thus make adjustments so that they can be more effective."
Although these measures must be taken as an institution, we can also do a lot on an individual level, through small actions in our daily lives to achieve the overall common goal. "The New Way of Working has one very direct impact, and that is reduced commuting by UOC staff, which results in a reduction in the CO2 emissions from transport. It should be noted, however, that working from home increases household energy use and reduces the direct influence that we as an organization have on our emissions. Improvements have also been made to the UOC's buildings to make our facilities more energy efficient, and we're continuing to work on other possible improvements that will allow us to achieve climate neutrality", said Eduard Bosch, Deputy General Manager for Finance and Resources.
Bosch explained that, for several years, "the UOC's been promoting different initiatives to reduce the impact of our university activity. For example, an annual budget is set aside to improve the energy efficiency of the different spaces, and environmental criteria are included in the university's purchases", and he added: "we also ensure that all electricity used is renewable. Now we have to work together with the different departments and the University Council to develop a specific action plan that will allow us to achieve this reduction." Isabel Solà also believes this to be true, declaring that "the University Council will continue to promote initiatives to make the UOC an increasingly sustainable university".
We still have a long way to go, but we started this journey several years ago and the calculation of the carbon footprint will allow us to reach the university's goal of climate neutrality in the near future.
Pastora Martínez Samper
Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation
Expert in: Management and assessment of research, responsible research and innovation, and open science.
Knowledge area: Political science.