Sustainable Development Strategy

A: Introduction

The world faces unprecedented climate and societal challenges which requires all individuals and organisations to urgently take action towards net-zero and a just transition. The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the UK to have net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2050. The Scottish Funding Council Net Zero and Sustainability Framework for Action has set a net-zero target of 2040-45 or before, for all Scottish Colleges and Universities. The SFC framework supports the Scottish Government’s national climate and economic plans1, and is focussed on delivering: just transition including community health, wealth, and opportunity; green growth including reskilling, upskilling and skills alignment; and place-based net-zero transformation including infrastructure and education.

In 2015, the UK adopted - along with all UN Members - the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which

… provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.2

17 UN Sustainable Development GoalsAbertay University supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that we must cut global carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To achieve this, we must transform our energy, land, urban, infrastructure and industrial systems, at a scale and speed with 'no documented historic precedent'. Whilst the challenge is clearly colossal, public and political will and the pace of technological innovation to support action has probably never been greater. So, there is good reason for cautious optimism and for all of us to step-up to be empowered to become part of the solution.

We are a University rooted in the history and heritage of Dundee and Tayside. Dundee City Council aims to be net zero and climate resilient by 2045 and has produced the Dundee Climate Action Plan with the Dundee Partnership, which includes the University. Abertay are also represented on the Dundee Climate Leadership Group, which leverages expertise from across the city to engage and inspire collective ownership and a shared commitment to tackling climate change. Within the tertiary education sector in the UK, the Association of Colleges, Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC), GuildHE and Universities UK, have called for institutions to prepare for, and act against, the climate crisis. A Climate Commission for UK Higher Education and Further Education was launched in November 2019. The University is a signatory of the Universities and Colleges Climate Commitment for Scotland; and we are members of the EAUC. All universities and colleges in Scotland are required under the Climate Change (Duties of Public Bodies: Reporting Requirements) (Scotland) Order 2015 to reduce our emissions in line with the Scottish Government target. In 2019, the Scottish Government declared a climate emergency and aim to have net zero emissions by 2045. Accordingly, and in response to the Scottish Government publication of Public Sector Leadership on the Global Climate Emergency: Guidance October 2021, institutions must report on progress on delivering reduction targets for achieving net zero direct and indirect emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, public bodies must consistently, accurately and transparently report all Scope 1 & 2 emissions and all relevant and significant Scope 3 emissions.

Universities have a moral obligation to embed support for the SDGs as part of their social mission and core functions. Through our staff, students, campus, stakeholders, and supply chains, we have significant social, economic and environmental footprints and responsibilities. By implementing the principles of the SDGs within our own governance, operations and culture, Abertay will directly contribute to the achievement of the SDGs within these extensive spheres, and continually expand our contribution as a best practice hub. Our University Strategic Plan 2020-2025 states that

We will develop and implement a new environmental sustainability strategy that is centred on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This University Sustainable Development Strategy has been prepared on that basis and aims to align and integrate with other supporting strategies for our Strategic Plan, including our Learning Enhancement Strategy, Research & Knowledge Exchange Strategy, Digital Strategy, People Strategy, Estates Strategy, Finance Strategy, and Civic Engagement Strategy.

This University Sustainable Development Strategy (2023-2030) has been developed at a time of extensive climate, economic and societal crisis, and as we emerge from the challenges presented by the global Covid-19 pandemic. It describes the strategic vision, high-level prioritised actions, targets and governance structure, developed and agreed by the Abertay community, to mitigate and offset our impact on our climate, ecosystems and communities, and to drive positive personal, local and global change.

To deliver on our Sustainable Development Strategy, Abertay will need to adapt and develop substantially from where we are now. Targets and actions will evolve as innovative and creative solutions are found.


1. Plans include the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation, the Climate Change Plan, the Just Transition Planning Framework and the Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan (CESAP).


B: Vision Statement

Our approach to sustainability is integrated and collaborative, involving partnerships between our students, staff, interacting communities and stakeholders. We will make a positive impact on the world by integrating sustainability into everything we do, by acting responsibly as stewards of the Earth for future generations, and by respecting its life and planetary boundaries. We equip our students and staff to consider the wider implications of their individual and collective actions, and to make a positive difference in their sectors, careers and ways of living. We strive to be kind, considerate, and just to all and to make sure we deserve to belong to Planet Earth.

Our contributions to supporting a sustainable future are delivered in the following ways:

  • Through teaching and learning and university life we will teach sustainably and empower our students with a genuine understanding of sustainability that they can use in all aspects of their lives.
  • Whilst ensuring the sustainability of our own research, knowledge exchange and collaborative activities, we seek to find solutions to the sustainability challenges that we face.
  • Through training and supporting our staff we ensure sustainability is integrated into everything they This includes responsibly managing our operations to minimise social and environmental impacts and maximise benefits.
  • Through being an active member of the community by proactively generating social value both locally and further afield.

Ultimately, we aim to show that through any experience people have with the university, it is obvious that sustainability is important to us.

C: Priorities for Action

Abertay will introduce a range of priorities for action to help address the SDGs in four ways:

  1. Through our teaching, learning and students;
  2. Research and knowledge exchange;
  3. Responsible on and off campus operations;
  4. Our community engagement activities.

Detailed prioritised action plans underlie these and will continue to be reviewed and developed in line with the University Strategy and together with the University community. Our overarching priorities are as follows.

1.  Teaching, learning and students

We recognise the responsibility we hold in providing the teaching and a university experience that enables our students to consider sustainable behaviours throughout their lives, be that professional or private.

  • We will expose all students to the principles of sustainable development, broadly and within the context of their discipline, by embedding sustainability concepts, knowledge and skills into our teaching curriculum and our quality enhancement processes.
  • We will encourage creative and innovative forward thinking in all our students, so that they may contribute to future sustainability developments within their chosen economic sector or field of employment.
  • We will equip our staff and professional practice collaborators, with the knowledge, understanding, skills and approaches necessary to be effective leaders of sustainable development change. 
  • We will support and empower the Students’ Association to engage students in appropriate and effective collaboration, co-creation and sustainability action. 
  • Whilst enhancing quality, we will adapt our teaching to deliver this in a sustainable way, and we will provide more flexible learning experiences, supported digitally where appropriate.
  • We will catalyse change for a sustainable future and enhance the student experience by engaging Professional Bodies and Associations, external partners, communities, private, public and third sector organisations, with the University as an innovative, entrepreneurial, 'living laboratory' for sustainable development.
  • We will support sustainable development and just transition through the development of partnerships for upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce.
  • We will continue to provide an environment that supports equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • We will lead and champion accessible education, through social inclusion, wider access, community and stakeholder engagement, thereby supporting students from diverse backgrounds to realise their potential.

2.  Research and knowledge exchange

Solutions to the global and local sustainable development challenges we face, require the application of excellent fundamental research and creative trans- and inter-disciplinary approaches that consider the interplay amongst a mix of social, economic, environmental, and technological concerns.

  • We are committed to high quality research and innovation that addresses real-world challenges and delivers impact for society, the environment, and the economy. We promote collaborative and interdisciplinary research and innovation through our Pooled Excellence cross-institutional ways of working, to address key local, national and international priorities, focussed within and across our Challenge Spaces (Sustainable Development & Inclusive Living; Security, Equality & Social Justice; Health & Care Across the Lifespan; Creative Industries & Cultural Vitality).
  • We will seek to strengthen our research and knowledge exchange related to sustainable development challenges, through collaboration with national and international partners, networks and opportunities.
  • We will work with the university community and external stakeholders to address sustainable development challenges through civic engagement, social enterprise and knowledge exchange.
  • We will clearly communicate and showcase the contribution our research and knowledge exchange makes to support the UN SDGs.
  • We will support students and academics to assess the environmental impact of their research and knowledge exchange activities (research, fieldwork, digital footprint, stakeholder engagement and conferences) and to adapt towards more sustainable ways of working, whilst also enhancing quality and innovation.
  • We will develop researchers to be adaptable and flexible in an increasingly diverse and global research environment, through provision of researcher training, mentoring, and facilitated interaction with the full gamut of research approaches needed to address sustainable development challenges.
  • We will incentivise and support inter- and trans-disciplinary work on sustainable development challenges through Abertay R-LINCS funding.
  • We will fully engage with the principals of the UKRI Sustainability Concordat (currently in development).

3.  Responsible campus operations

We manage the operation of the university and develop the estate so that it addresses the challenges of climate change and sustainable natural resource management, to support the SDGs and other targets set at international, regional, national and city level. We recognise that our influence and approach to sustainability encompasses all aspects of operations including how we travel, develop our estate, use resources, and how we generate social value for stakeholders. So, in delivering our operations we engage with our staff, students, suppliers, and community, to involve them in helping us to achieve our responsible campus operations.

  • We will achieve net-zero Greenhouse Gas emissions by by 2038.
  • We will review the impacts of all University policies and practices against sustainability targets, and we will adapt our operations to promote sustainable development practices wherever possible.
  • We will encourage and support a reduction in non-essential work-related University travel and its associated environmental impacts. We will provide clear guidance to staff and students that promotes practical measures to reduce the impact of work-related University travel, by eliminating unnecessary travel, improving awareness and encouraging more sustainable methods of travel, and in particular by reducing air travel.
  • We will embed sustainable development principles (social, economic, ethical and environmental) into all our procurement procedures, including design, construction and renovation projects, to facilitate the continual improvement of our estate.
  • We recognise our responsibility to provide healthy and sustainable food and drink to our customers and guests. We will work to incorporate environmental, ethical and social considerations into the products and services provided.
  • We will ensure that all design, construction, and renovation projects are carried out in line with sustainable development principles, including but not limited to benchmarked resource and waste management, maintenance and/ or creation of biodiversity habitats and deployment of sustainable energy solutions.
  • We will embed sustainable development principles (social, economic, ethical and environmental) into our Ethical Investment Policy and processes. We will work with asset managers to ensure ethical investment decisions, which may include urging companies to accelerate their decarbonisation plans, or divestment as a last resort.
  • Whilst maintaining operational efficiency and the quality of the user experience, we will actively promote the use and optimisation of digital technology solutions across the full gamut of University operations wherever possible.
  • We will implement benchmarked Resource and Waste Management, and Carbon Management Strategies, to support local and national priorities to ensure efficient resource use and reuse, and to reduce waste generation by students, staff, contractors, and external design teams. Targets will be set annually and reported through our strategy outputs.
  • We will eradicate fossil fuels as a direct heating energy source from our campus as part of our campus redevelopment works. We will also seek to deploy the optimum amount of renewables to augment primary energy sources and mitigate any offsetting Our plans will aim to align with Scottish Government's Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.
  • Our site wide climate change adaptation works will set targets for energy demand reduction in support of our Energy Management Strategy. Our statutory Climate Change reporting duties will set out our annual results and forecasting targets against all emission scope levels.
  • We recognise the importance of all our staff having the skills and expertise to support more sustainable operations and commit to learning and development programmes to enable
  • We will strategically manage the University’s environmental impact through continuous implementation of our Environmental Management System, which includes all our carbon management, water, waste, travel, procurement, awareness and training plans and and policies.
  • We will monitor and report openly on progress made towards achieving our sustainable development targets. We will report against Scottish Government requirements for carbon reporting across the three scope groups included under the national statutory We will enhance opportunities for sustainable development planning and decision making by the University, through engagement with the University community and external stakeholders.

4.  Community engagement

Abertay is fully aware of its distinctive and unique place as a well-integrated anchor institution with social responsibility and widening access at its heart. We will build on our community engagement approach within Dundee to advance sustainable development action and co-created solutions at the local level. We will build partnerships within and beyond the region to galvanise practical and world-leading approaches to realise our sustainable development goals and achieve just transition, green growth and place-based transformation.

  • As a trusted stakeholder within society, the University will seek to guide and lead local, national and international responses to the SDGs through our spheres of influence, cross- sectoral discussion and partnerships.
  • We will drive positive change within the community through civic engagement and support of local organisations, and through outreach programmes with the public and schools.
  • We will continue to look for opportunities to create and leverage genuine value for the region, its community and the economy, through providing: access to university facilities and infrastructure; specialist knowledge, advice and support on campus for those in need; platforms for debate, enterprise and co-creation; as well as access to employment, up- and re-skilling opportunities.
  • We will promote a clear understanding of, and commitment to, sustainable development so that all people can contribute to the overall goal through their individual decisions.
  • We will collaborate with other colleges and universities, local councils, businesses and the third sector to drive place-based sustainable development action.
  • In managing our operations and estate through ethical, social and environmental principles, we will advocate for the adoption of the SDGs, and promote our position and demonstrate positive impact as a 'living laboratory' for developing responsible education and training, research and knowledge exchange, and campus operations, accounting and reporting.

D: Governance and Implementation

This University Environmental Sustainability Strategy (2023-2030) has been developed in consultation with the student and staff community and is underpinned by a detailed Actions & Projects Register to collate and promote live and adaptable action planning of projects that will facilitate delivery of the commitments we have made. We are taking an integrated whole-University approach to the development and delivery of the strategy, to inculcate a culture for sustainable development.

Development Working Groups have been established to identify priorities, actions and a roadmap for each main area of focus (1-4). Groups are led by staff and/or students with responsibilities, roles, or interests relevant to each areas of focus, thus permitting gap and opportunity analysis, mainstreaming and embedding policy and practice change, and ownership of priorities and activity. Priority and action roadmaps will be reviewed and refined regularly, and will involve consultation and involvement of the staff and student community. Resulting plans are reviewed by a Sustainable Development Steering Group (SDSG) which has overall responsibility for strategy oversight, setting the direction of travel, ensuring an appropriate approach and focus, as well as for monitoring progress towards targets set.

The SDSG is comprised of expert and representative membership from across the University. Approved plans are used to populate a detailed, live Actions & Projects Register to promote adaptable action planning and to monitor change. Key performance indicators and annual reports are used to review progress, and are reported and evaluated through the Steering Group to the University Senior Management Team, the University Senate and University Court. The University will report its progress towards net zero using the metrics required by Government and the Scottish Funding Council.

E: UN Sustainable Development Goals



1. No Poverty

End poverty in all its forms.

2. Zero Hunger

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

3. Good Health and Wellbeing

Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.

4. Quality Education

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

5. Gender Equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

6. Clean Water and Sanitation

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

7. Affordable and Clean Energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

10. Reduced Inequalities

Reduce inequality within and among countries.

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

12. Responsible Consumption and Production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

13. Climate Action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

14. Life Below Water

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

15. Life on Land

Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

17. Partnerships for the Goals

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

F: Definitions*

BIODIVERSITY - The variety of life on Earth in all its forms and interactions. Biodiversity on earth is being lost at an alarming rate. This loss of species and natural systems threatens the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

CARBON FOOTPRINT - The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of an individual, organisation, or community. ‘Carbon’ is used as a shorthand to also include other green-house gases (e.g. methane and nitrous oxide) which cause climate change.

CLIMATE ACTION - Stepped-up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-induced impacts.

CLIMATE EMERGENCY - The situation in which urgent action is needed to reduce or halt climate change to avoid catastrophic environmental damage, and its effects on people and communities.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT - Dialogue between the university and the non-academic outside world, including provision of services, knowledge exchange, development work, social innovation etc.

NET-ZERO - Achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gases produced and those taken out of the atmosphere. This should be achieved through a rapid reduction in carbon emissions, but where zero carbon is not possible offsetting through carbon credits or sequestration through technological or nature-based solutions needs to be utilised.

SCOPE 1, 2 AND 3 - Scope 1, 2, and 3 are different categories of emissions.

  • Scope 1 emissions are those directly under a university’s control (e.g. from cars owned by the university).
  • Scope 2 are indirect emissions (meaning the university does not directly control them) from electricity purchased by the university.
  • Scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions from activities of the university, including travel to and from campus, emissions from waste and water, and emissions from investments. Scope 3 is usually the largest category of emissions.


*Extracted from the 'Climate Action Toolkit for the Higher Education Sector Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education'.

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