Somerville College, Oxford
Somerville College, the best-performing college in the new sustainability demands tracker

SU establishes traffic light system for sustainability demands tracker

Following the launch of sustainability demands in November 2022, Oxford SU has established a new sustainability demands tracker for individual Oxford colleges with a traffic light system.

The traffic light system marks a college’s performance in each sustainability demand using three colours, with green indicating full satisfaction of a demand, orange indicating partial satisfaction, and red indicating lack of satisfaction.

Oxford SU has set three sustainability demands for every college to complete by the end of March 2023. The “target” demand refers to whether a college has a target for net zero carbon emissions and a biodiversity net gain by 2035.

Meanwhile, the “strategy” demand refers to whether a college has published a strategy for achieving their net zero target that includes annual reporting, a focus on scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions as well as biodiversity consequences, and divestment from fossil fuels.

The “enablers” demand measures whether a college has sufficient governance, such as a sustainability committee and staff dedication, to act upon the strategy.

Information on 38 Oxford colleges’ and 5 private halls’ performance in each sustainability demand is also available on Oxford SU’s website and is conveyed through the traffic light system. Somerville College received two green marks and an orange mark, making it the best-performing college in the tracker.

With one green mark and two orange marks, 11 colleges including Jesus College, Pembroke College, and Magdalen College, followed on the podium. There are 14 colleges and halls, including Blackfriars, Christ Church and Oriel College, with red marks for all three demands.

According to Oxford SU, the sustainability demands were originally established following some students “voicing their concerns and ask(ing) colleges to make commitments” in addition to the central university strategy.

This is especially relevant, as the University itself intends to reach net zero carbon by 2035, only ten colleges have committed to this so far. In a comment to Cherwell, the SU stated that “we can’t really claim the whole University is committed to this since the colleges make up such a huge part of the University”.

“I think the tracking system is quite a good one, but I don’t think it’s publicised enough,” Reece Molloy, first-year Physics student at Pembroke College and aspiring climate physicist, told The Oxford Student. Molloy added that the tracker should have placed more focus on issues such as biodiversity and the use of greywater.

Molloy also praised the establishment of the college leaderboard in the traffic light system. “It makes me proud to be part of Pembroke,” he said.

“In terms of the actual rating system, I think it’s quite a good system because you need something visual and graphic and quite immediate to catch people’s eyes,” Henry Nurse, first-year Music student at Pembroke College, stated. “But it should always be accompanied with detailed written analysis, so you don’t just have it be that reductive,” Nurse added.

Nurse also thinks that it is important not to let environmental policies become political tokens. “That’s something we have to be cautious with when we have all these enthusiastic environmental projects – are they actually going that extra mile and actually delivering a long-term and meaningful change?”

I think the tracking system is quite a good one, but I don’t think it’s publicised enough.

We hope colleges start work towards developing pledges if they haven’t already, and mentioning that they are hoping to set targets is one way to show this commitment,” Anna-Tina Jashapara, Vice-President of Charities and Community at Oxford SU, wrote in an email to The Oxford Student. 

Jashapara added that colleges can show that they take their plans seriously “in all aspects of college life” by “covering all scopes of emissions, with topics such as buildings emissions, food, transport, and resource use”. She also emphasised that colleges can make their actions towards their goals more visible “by publishing the work they are doing on their websites”.

Regarding biodiversity monitoring, Jashapara wrote: “Methodologies for measuring increases are developing, and the colleges are working on a cross-college report on audits.”

Jashapara added that “[w]e will share any information we can from the University and colleges as we receive them, and hope this is something that the University and colleges can work on collectively,”.