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Reaching Net Zero goals in Higher Education with Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability

The UK has become one of the first major economies to vow to reach net zero by 2050, putting pressure on the public sector to reach this goal, including the higher education sector. Universities cater to hundreds of thousands of students each year, racking up huge carbon emissions. From campuses and student accommodation to the travel of international students, universities have a long list of items to offset or reduce when it comes to reaching net zero.

London School of Economics became the first UK higher education institution to reach carbon neutral for the academic year 2020/2021 across all its measured carbon emissions. The University of Glasgow has also been vocal about its sustainability mission, setting a net zero target of 2030, and declaring that it would stop the use of all fossil fuels within a decade.

Universities symbolise progression, accomplishments, and innovation, making them ideal organisations to pave the way to net zero. UK universities have already built solid reputations, and there are many world-class research institutions that have the ability to reduce carbon emissions in new ways, thanks to the array of academics that universities have access to. Financial power also sets universities apart from other organisations, which can be invested into sustainability projects and further research.

Not only are universities, colleges and schools committing to ambitious decarbonisation plans; these institutions also have the capacity - and indeed the responsibility - to support and educate our leaders of tomorrow.” – Nigel Topping, the UK’s High-Level Climate Action Champion

As London School of Economics has proven, becoming pioneers within the topic of sustainability and net zero attracts a flurry of positive press. But this isn’t the only reason for universities to reduce carbon emissions. Universities can benefit financially by reducing running costs on campus with more efficient insulation and heating, or by introducing more remote lectures to reduce the use of electricity on campus – which also minimises transport of students and staff to and from classes. Greener universities will also attract more future-thinking academics and students, and sustainability becomes increasingly more important to younger people.


The barrier

Historically, poor monitoring and analysis has stood in the way of achieving net zero carbon emissions. Without tools to record the current situation and track improvements, how can any organisation seek to reduce their emissions? There is no way to manage a problem if it can’t be measured, and so tools need to be effective and available in order to hold universities accountable and support them on their decarbonisation journey.


Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability

Luckily, Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability is coming to the rescue. The long-awaited cloud platform is currently available to preview and will be generally available later this year. The platform will act like a financial accounting system but for carbon emissions – measuring inputs and outputs to compare data over time. Education institutions will be able to record, report, and then reduce emissions, and the platform will suggest key changes to make. Just like financial accountancy, regulatory agencies are likely to pop up to verify the accuracy of carbon emission monitoring.

Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability will bring everyone onto the same page using the same vocabulary, the same metrics, and the same equations. Universities will be able to directly compare themselves with others thanks to the standardised platform. Nothing can be measured at scale unless you automate it, so the platform will allow companies of any size to easily monitor their progress with help from integrations for efficient analysis.

Microsoft found that the top reason why organisations want to implement a platform such as Cloud for Sustainability is the cost savings. Universities can make significant savings by reducing emissions – allowing them to invest more in the local economy or in further research. The second reason why organisation want to implement the platform is to improve their brand or image. Sustainability is a trend that will only continue to grow, and companies that care about the environment will attract better students and staff.


Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability is going to revolutionise the way organisations monitor their carbon emissions.

Find out more from Microsoft about the upcoming release.

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