Unite Students, the UK’s largest provider of student accommodation, has today released a new document outlining its pathway to net zero by 2030, including targets for carbon reduction now formally validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).
Unite Students has set two key overarching targets for delivery as part of its Sustainability Strategy: net zero carbon operations by 2030 and net zero carbon development by 2030. The new pathway brings together areas of focus, further targets and planned investment covering both elements.
The pathway outlines four key steps:
- Reduce operational energy consumption: Based on a target of 28% reduction in energy intensity by 2030 against a baseline set in 2019. This target is in line with the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) 1.5°C energy reduction pathway.
- Invest in renewable energy: Unite has made a commitment under the RE100 programme to source 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and will seek to purchase more energy in the future via corporate power purchase agreements that support the development of new renewable energy generation capacity.
- Reduce embodied carbon: Based on targets in line with the RIBA Climate Challenge programme, which require a 48% reduction in embodied carbon by 2030.
- Mitigate residual carbon: We will offset any residual operational or development emissions that cannot be removed completely using certified carbon offsets, aiming to prioritise measures that actively remove atmospheric carbon.
Unite Students has already invested over £30 million in energy efficiency since 2014. It has identified a further c.£100 million of additional opportunities for capital investment to achieve the carbon reduction targets outlined above. This represents an annual investment of around £10 million in energy initiatives going forward, equivalent to £5-7 million p.a. on a Unite share basis.
Unite Student’s in-house energy and environment team has developed a new modelling tool to chart each existing building’s journey to net zero – producing individual plans for each of their 173 student properties – setting out a route to achieve set targets.
Work to meet targets around new developments, meanwhile, will focus on site selection, material selection, design optimisation and cutting construction site impacts. Unite is developing a Sustainable Construction Framework to support this work and help ensure that sustainability considerations are factored into each key stage of a project.
Student sentiment and responsible living
The release of the pathway follows, and was informed by, research by Unite Students into student sentiment around climate change, and their day-to-day lifestyle choices.
The survey of 1,000 undergraduates, carried out in collaboration with Opinium, showed that students are more concerned about climate change than any other issue in 2021 – including Covid-19. The study also revealed that just 18% think the UK government is currently doing a good enough job at tackling climate change, a quarter (25%) think the same of the EU and just 15% think similarly of UK businesses.
Unite Students is committed to addressing student concerns and helping to facilitate responsible living.
The release of the pathway document also follows the news that Unite Students has been awarded a four-star rating in its annual GRESB Assessment for 2021. The GRESB Assessment is an objective global ESG benchmark and reporting framework, assessing the performance of real estate and infrastructure funds, companies, and assets.
Unite Students saw a four-point improvement in its score from 2020. It is now 1st in the “European, residential, listed” category for overall score.
On the release of the net zero pathway, Richard Smith, Chief Executive of Unite Students, said:
“Our overarching business strategy sets out our commitment to ensure Unite Students makes a positive social contribution and reduces its environmental impact. This is reflected through our commitment to become a net zero carbon business by 2030.
“As the UK’s largest provider of purpose-built student accommodation, we believe our net zero carbon ambition also offers a unique opportunity to help generations of students living with us to adopt responsible living habits. We understand the scale of the challenge, but believe this is the right thing to do, and that the change needed will make us a stronger and more resilient business”.
James Tiernan, Head of Energy & Environment at Unite Students, said:
“The release of our pathway document is an important milestone on our journey to net zero. It brings together the tangible targets and more granular detail our stakeholders need to understand where we are currently, as well as the direction of travel.
“We have set ambitious targets and developed a detailed plan to get there, including substantial investment in our existing buildings. Our new modelling tool has helped us create tailored plans for each individual building – identifying how different initiatives change energy consumption, carbon emissions, operating costs and EPC rating – and is directly informing our asset management and capital planning.
“For new builds, we are focusing on reducing whole life carbon emissions, meaning we will cut embodied carbon while ensuring buildings are low carbon in operation and at end of life.”
Please find further detail in the full document, available here: https://www.unite-group.co.uk/sustainability/our-net-zero-pathway