Sustainability at the RAU

Through our curriculum

When we design and validate our courses, we aim to ensure that everyone who studies here will be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and attributes to work and live in a world where balancing economic, social, and environmental factors is vital.

Depending on the course studied, this might include doing a project to assess how sustainability features can be incorporated into a building conversion, investigating the long-term effects of farm management in soils, or working with a local wildlife group to find the most effective way to restore the habitat of a rare bird, insect, or plant. Students may visit farms to see how to measure to improve sustainability and animal welfare can be put into practice.

What we eat and how we use land are central to tackling climate change, restoring nature, health, and livelihoods. The RAU’s purpose, to care for the land and all that depend on it, puts us at the heart of these important issues. Our academics include leading experts in agroecology and regenerative agriculture, soil management, animal welfare, farmer-centred innovation, cultural heritage and climate change, and healthy and resilient food systems.

We also walk the talk, with our in-house restaurant focused on sustainable sourcing and partnering with local community kitchen – The Long Table, and our Wild Campus project, enhancing the habitats on our doorstep.

Through RAU research

From sustainable agriculture, food security, and equine science and management, to business, real estate, rural land management and the rural economy, our researchers are regularly called upon by policy-makers and the national media for their expert option on a range of topical issues and policies.

Sustainable cropping systems are a key research theme at the RAU, with projects ranging from the impact of non-chemical weed control techniques, weed recognition, factors influencing nitrogen fixation for fertility building, bi-cropping, and developing novel legume cropping systems. A key resource and research theme has been a 10-year fully replicated field trial site investigating how crop establishment technique influences crop growth, development and yield whilst also assessing how these treatments have impacted soil health and physical soil characteristics. These research projects are helping agriculture move towards reducing the environmental impact whilst developing viable alternative production systems which is helping steer a more sustainable pathway for growing crops.

We also have leading expertise in supporting farmer-led research and innovation, coordinating the Farmer-Led Innovation Network, which brings together initiatives, support practical and innovative sustainability projects involving thousands of farmers across the UK.

Sustainability on the ground – what we are doing now

Biodiversity and the Wild Campus Cirencester

With our neighbouring college and school we are investing over £500,000 in habitat improvements to connect wildlife populations, benefit protected species and support our community. Wild Campus is a European Regional Development Fund-funded project, established in 2020 as a partnership between the RAU, Cirencester College and Cirencester Deer Park School. More information about the Wild Campus can be found here.

Sustainable procurement

We hold an investment policy, which highlights our approach to social, environmental and ethical issues. A separate ethical investment policy is in the process of being updated currently. In addition, we have been assessed by Food for Life – Soil Association on our sustainability measures. We ensure all of our milk and yoghurt is organic, fish is sustainable, only use free-range eggs and 100% British Red Tractor meats, and we do not purchase GM products. In addition we reduce deliveries coming to the campus by only allowing orders twice a month.

Emissions and discharges

The RAU is committed to reducing the emissions and discharges it produces. We installed a biomass boiler and have put marketing material in place throughout the campus, to ensure that power is only used when necessary, posters advising lights out when leaving rooms, heating turned down where possible and windows are shut when the heating is on and all equipment is turned off when not in use. RAU is continually monitoring ways that we can reduce these emissions and discharges further and our newer buildings, including Farm 491 and the Growth Hub, have been built with this in mind. Cleaning products for the kitchens are purchased from a company called Biohygiene, which manufactures carbon neutral products and we aim to roll this out to all departments on campus.

Sustainability in the RAU community

RAU is keen to engage with our community, including students, staff, governors, shareholders, external partners and local residents, making them aware of our Sustainability Action Plan and plans for the future, including involvement with our Wild Campus and plans for University Gate, welcoming the community’s views to shape our ideas for a sustainable innovation village at our University Gate site, to harness the power of the land and rural communities to meet global challenges.

Waste management

The RAU is committed to the development of sustainable waste management processes and principles of reduce, reuse and recycle throughout the campus and a full guide is provided for staff and visitors to follow. Our catering and dining halls only use compostable disposables. We use long-life deep fryer oil from a local firm (Cotswold Gold), that lasts 25% longer, after which the company collects the waste oil and turns this into biodiesel. In addition, our food waste is weighed, so that we can try to reduce this, and then collected by Olleco who composts all of this. More information can be found in our Sustainable Food Policy.

Water

We are in the process of reviewing our strategy for reducing our water usage, however currently, if we have catering/cleaning equipment that needs to be replaced due to end of life, we replace this with top-ranked items for energy efficiency and low water usage. As a site with older buildings, we are actively looking to find other ways to reduce water use further.

Travel and transport

The RAU has adopted a number of initiatives to reduce the amount of traffic into the University. We have a ‘cycle to work’ and ‘share a lift to work’ schemes, we also have a shuttle bus which takes staff and students to the centre of Cirencester to reduce emissions. In addition we have charging points in our car parks for electric vehicles.

Construction and refurbishment

New construction and refurbishment of existing buildings is done with sustainability in mind and following environmental guidelines. RAU is involved in a project called University Gate, a development that will harness the power of the land and rural communities to meet global challenges. The development will use construction methods that minimise environmental impact, design will enable energy efficient and low carbon ongoing usage, operations and maintenance of the site and the design will protect and enhance biodiversity.

Sustainability action plan 2023-2030

We are currently updating our Sustainability Action Plan to set and deliver renewed and ambitious goals by 2030.

Sustainability is central to our purpose as a specialist university focused on cultivating care for the land. Educating the next generation of farming, land management and rural community leaders, we have a deep responsibility to understand and communicate the climate, nature and social crises affecting farming, food and the land, and to foster critical thinking and innovative action to address them.

It is absolutely crucial to our ethos, impact and credibility that we walk the talk. Our campus – from the farms we manage, to our campus, buildings and catering – must be exemplary.

We know that we are not there yet. We need to set renewed goals that are consistent with this high ambition, and commit to sector-leading targets on GHG reduction and carbon sequestration, biodiversity, community engagement, health and more.

We are well-placed to achieve this. Many of our academics have relevant expertise, our professional services team includes staff with the experience of successful sustainability initiatives, and the university’s new leadership team and Governing Council are strongly committed. Dame Fiona Reynolds, as Chair of the Governing Council, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area, including as a previous Director General of the National Trust.

Yet we will also need help. We encourage our alumni, partners, friends and supporters to join us is finding innovative ways to develop the RAU into the exemplar that it should be, and that the UK needs.

Please get in touch if you are interested in working with us, and keep visiting our website to follow developments.

Graham Pollard – Chief Operating Officer

Graham started with the RAU last year and has brought a wealth of knowledge of leading environmental and sustainability initiatives. As part of the Vice-Chancellors Executive Group, Graham will lead the RAU in reviewing and updating our Sustainability Action Plan commitments, and realising our refreshed ambitions. Graham chairs our Sustainability Action Group.

Sustainability Action Group

The Group, chaired by the Chief Operating Officer, has responsibility for the development and implementation of sustainability initiatives across the RAU.

The Committee shall ensure there is an integrated, proactive approach to environmental sustainability across the RAU that is informed by best practice and supports the university’s vision, objectives and strategy.

Students’ Union

The student union is in the process of developing their strategic plan which includes sustainability targets as per the QSU framework.

Students can be involved in the University’s Green Impact programme which brings together students and staff to ‘green’ the campus, curriculums and community. Students can sign up to be an environmental auditor or a Green Impact project assistant.

Staff engagement

Our Sustainability Policy is implemented as part of the staff induction policy, this is reinforced with a reminder on staff pay slips and marketing material around the campus.

The importance of the sustainability policy is highlighted in the strategies and values of the RAU and culture of the University.

The nature of the studies at RAU incorporates sustainability throughout the course curriculum and specific modules.