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Please note: The baseline figures in this report have been superseded due to an error in the original research report by SQW. Please use the figures in the summary below (updated September 2010), not those in the report.


SQW Consulting and SQW Energy were commissioned to undertake research to measure a carbon baseline, and to make recommendations for a sector-level carbon reduction target and strategy for higher education in England. The study was conducted between November 2008 and April 2009.

The key deliverables were:

  • to recommend an appropriate carbon reduction target(s) for the sector
  • a method for measuring carbon performance which is scientifically based and specific recommendations for measuring progress
  • a 1990 baseline established using scientifically based methods
  • a recommended strategy for achieving this target
  • any necessary guidance for institutions in developing carbon plans. This will complement existing guidance and programmes, such as the Carbon Trust's Higher Education Carbon Management programme.

SQW Consulting and SQW Energy compiled a range of data, documentation and other relevant literature, consulted with key stakeholder organisations, and visited 10 case-study higher education institutions. Two consultative workshops held in January 2009 provided an opportunity for interactive discussions with representatives from institutions, experts in the field and representatives of key stakeholder groups.

The report presents a sector-level carbon baseline for two years: 1990 and 2006. In 2006, total sector carbon emissions were 3.177 MtCO2, a rise of 26 per cent since 1990. It suggests that the sector could aspire to exceed national targets for carbon reduction for 2020 and 2050 and makes recommendations to assist HEFCE in defining a strategy for making steady progress towards the sector target.

Following this research, HEFCE, UUK and GuildHE are consulting on a sector-level target and strategy for higher education in England (HEFCE 2009/27).

This research by SQW, carried out in 2008, used 2007 guidance on carbon conversion factors from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which have since been updated. The latest, 2010 guidance from DEFRA and the Department of Energy and Climate Change provides revised carbon conversion factors (including retrospectively). The carbon reduction target and strategy for higher education in England (HEFCE 2010/01) uses this revised data.