Aarhus University's biggest contribution to the fight against climate change is generating knowledge and creating the foundation for new solutions through our degree programmes and research. But as a large institution and a daily workplace for thousands of students and employees, the university also has a responsibility to reduce its climate footprint and promote the climate-friendly development of its operations.
For these reasons, Aarhus University has adopted an ambitious climate strategy that commits the university to a significant reduction in carbon emissions from operations.
The goal for 2025 is to reduce the university’s CO2 emissions by 35% against a 2018 baseline, and the goal for 2030 is to reduce the university’s C02 emissions by 57% against a 2018 baseline. These ambitious goals live up to the Paris Agreement and the Danish government’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 70% in 2030 against a 1990 baseline.
We are facing an important task: the world is being impacted by significant climate-related challenges with societal, environmental and economic consequences. Aarhus University has an important role to play here, and is conscious of its responsibility as an institution of research and education. The university’s core activities are research, research-based education and consultancy of high international quality. Through these core activities, the university already contributes to solving societal challenges such as climate change. In addition, sustainability is one of the central themes in the vision presented in Aarhus University's Strategy 2025. The climate strategy supplements the overall strategy and will also remain in force for a five-year period, through 2025. Aarhus University is contributing to realising the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by carrying out its core activities. This strategy focuses on how, by reducing its climate footprint, the university can contribute to the realisation of SDG no. 13, Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
In addition to contributing through the performance of its core activities, Aarhus University will also reduce its own climate footprint and take action to make the university’s operations more climate-friendly. The university has set an ambitious goal in order to live up to the Danish government’s goal of a 70 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in 2030, in addition to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to below 2° C and aiming to limit the increase to 1.5° C. At the national level, carbon emissions have been reduced by 29% against a 1990 baseline (Danish Energy Agency,2019: 55). Specifically, Aarhus University has set a goal of reducing its climate footprint by 35% in 2025 against a 2018 baseline and 57% in 2030 against a 2018 baseline.
As an additional goal, the university will also work towards achieving climate neutrality in 2040. However, a precondition for this is that the university can avail itself of such mechanisms as climate compensation.
The goal of a 35% reduction in 2025, 57% in 2030 and climate neutrality in 2040 applies to the university’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, as well as some Scope 3 emissions. Scope 1 and 2 emissions cover the university’s direct emissions: the combustion of fuels such as oil, gas, petrol and diesel (Scope 1), as well as indirect emissions from purchased or acquired electricity, heat, steam and cooling (Scope 2). All other sources of indirect emissions are categorised as Scope 3, for example emissions associated with procurement, construction, air travel and agricultural activities. The university’s goals also include air travel and agricultural activities. These sources are included in the overall goals on the grounds that they account for a relatively large proportion of Aarhus University’s emissions.
In order to succeed, Aarhus University will involve the users of the university, who will realise the strategy in practice through their everyday behaviour. Large numbers of students, staff and guests visit Aarhus University every day, which means that the university also has a major responsibility to encourage climate-friendly behaviour on the university’s campuses. During the strategy period, the university will implement initiatives to make it easier and more attractive for the university's users to make the climate-friendly choice.
The strategy must be implemented in a way that allows the university to continue to support research, education and consultancy of the highest quality – including in areas that require energy-hungry labs, data centres, agricultural machinery, research vessels and the like – and in a way that ensures that the university’s staff can continue to exchange knowledge with international colleagues.
Aarhus University’s climate footprint will be calculated and monitored in an annual GHG emissions report. The 2018 GHG emissions report serves as a baseline for setting the university’s overall goals. It calculates the university’s Scope 1 and 2 climate footprint, and covers some elements of Scope 3 in an appendix. The climate footprint report will ultimately include all significant sources of the university’s carbon emissions. As the university gains a better understanding of the climate footprint of different Scope 3 sources, it may be necessary to define goals and initiatives for these areas, for example for the university’s agricultural activities, which has a significant climate footprint.
The climate strategy will be in force in the period 2020-2025. To supplement the strategy, action plans will be developed detailing how goals and sub-goals will be reached. Progress on goals and action plans will be reviewed on a regular basis. Not all solutions exist as yet; the university’s research must contribute to developing them, internally as well as in collaboration with external partners. Aarhus University wants to help show the way by experimenting with new solutions and taking the actions necessary to reach the goal of reducing the university’s CO2 emissions by 35 per cent in 2025 compared to 2018 levels.
The climate strategy’s goals and initiatives cover four areas:
Campus operations, transportation and procurement are the areas in which the university sees the greatest potential for reducing its climate footprint. Waste has been selected primarily out of consideration for the environment.
Aarhus University has already taken many steps to reduce resource consumption in the university’s operations. As a result, energy consumption per full time employee has been reduced by 20% since 2006, despite the increasing centrality of energy-hungry research areas. Even though Aarhus University has come far, we must continue our efforts. Aarhus University will do this by using smart technologies and encouraging sustainable behaviour among the users of the university’s buildings, and by using the university as a living lab, giving students and researchers opportunities to use Aarhus University as a case.
Transportation occurs both in the form of the daily commute to and from the university and in connection with meetings and conferences in Denmark and abroad. In relation to transportation, the university will take action on three fronts:
Exchanging knowledge with colleagues from around the world – at meetings, in networks and at conferences, for example – is an essential aspect of academic research. Air travel weighs heavily in the climate footprint of international universities. Aarhus University will reduce the climate footprint of its transportation activities, and will encourage staff to choose alternatives to carbon-heavy forms of transportation more often, including taking the train and carpooling more often as well as virtual meetings and conferences rather than air travel.
Road vehicles do not only pollute when they are driven: they pollute by existing. Aarhus University’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions connected with road transport by encouraging staff and students to choose alternative modes of transportation more often, both when on official business and when commuting to and from the university. The university will introduce measures to make it easier for staff and students to reduce their transportation-related carbon emissions. Specifically, the university will reduce the number of kilometres driven, phase out the university’s diesel and petrol vehicles and install EV charging stations on campus. As an additional benefit, these measures will also contribute to cleaner cities.
Aarhus University wants to increase its focus on climate-friendly procurement. The university purchases about 1.2 billion kroner worth of goods and services annually. The university can reduce its carbon footprint by changing purchasing behaviour. In addition to the direct effects of encouraging climate-friendly procurement, Aarhus University wants to influence the market and suppliers by setting high standards for products and services in relation to climate impact.
The university will embrace a holistic approach to procurement that views environmental and climate impact as an important parameter on an equal footing with purchasing price and social sustainability. Sustainability must be incorporated in relation to the materials products are made of, waste products, durability, recycling/reuse and delivery.
Aarhus University also wants to contribute to the greening of society by making green investments and developing a greener investment policy. This will also indirectly influence the market.
Aarhus University wants to approach waste to a larger extent as a resource to be recycled or reused.With about 8,000 employees (full time employees), 38,000 students and annual revenue of approx. 6.6 billion kroner, the university produces significant amounts of waste every day – about 1,200 metric tons annually. Aarhus University’s goal is to reduce the amount of waste produced and increase the amount of waste that is recycled/reused. This will take more waste separation at the university, as well as finding ways for the university’s waste to be recycled/reused.
Aarhus University currently sorts waste into 16 fractions. Canteen kitchens sort food waste, IT units collect and sort electronics and cables, labs sort special types of waste, building operations sorts different building materials, and so on. However, this high degree of sorting is not necessarily apparent to all of the university’s daily users: employees, students and guests who don’t have the possibility of sorting glass and plastic waste, for example. In future, all waste must be separated at source into a minimum of five fractions, which will enable cans, plastic glass and paper (for example) to be recycled and resources to be used as efficiently as possible. To reach these goals, the university will involve the university’s daily users and learn from the experiences of private households in Aarhus, where waste is separated at source.
The climate strategy sets out goals, sub-goals and concrete initiatives to promote the climate- friendly development of the university’s operations. The university will monitor the implementation of the climate strategy closely and draft action plans in collaboration with the faculties and schools and the administration.
Read the action plans (in Danish):
There will be an ongoing follow-up on the activities in the action plan, and the activities for the coming year will be scheduled annually. This will help ensure progress and transparency, as well as local anchoring and ownership of the climate strategy and activities.
Our world is dynamic and changing quickly – not least in steps with the rapid development of technology. Consequently, the implementation and follow-up will allow the university to initiate new initiatives on an ongoing basis and thereby meet new societal needs in the course of the strategy period.