Carbon, energy and water

The primary cause of climate change is carbon dioxide emissions; carbon dioxide is responsible for 64% of man-made global warming and carbon dioxide levels have increased by about 45% since the Industrial Revolution began. It is therefore important that we measure our carbon emissions and work to reduce them.

Carbon emissions fall into 3 ‘scopes’:

  • Scope 1 – refers to direct emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels. For BCU this means the consumption of gas, gas oil, petrol and diesel across the estate;
  • Scope 2 – refers to the indirect emissions that BCU is responsible for from consuming electricity;
  • Scope 3 – refers to the indirect emissions created elsewhere because of BCU’s consumption of products and services. This covers everything associated with the organisation including water and wastewater treatment, business travel, commuting, purchases, construction, waste etc.

BCU declared a Climate Emergency in September 2019, which signals our commitment to reducing carbon emissions over the next decade.

What are we doing?

We are currently working towards a target to reduce carbon emissions by 43% by 2020/21, compared with a baseline year of 2005/06, which will complete 31 July 2021. As can be seen from the graph below, it is likely that we will exceed the target and achieve a 44% reduction. 

The graph shows the actual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for academic year 2005/06 to 2019/20 and forecast emissions for 2020/21, in tonnes. It also shows the target emissions for each year. Emissions generally reduce each year, from approximately 15000 in 2005/06 to 80000 in 2019/20. 2020/21 emissions are forecast to be approximately 8350 tonnes, slightly lower than the target emission.

BCU’s Scope 1 & 2 carbon emissions have fallen during this target period because:

  • The emissions factor applied to electricity consumption has fallen dramatically due to the increasing contribution of renewable and the reduction of coal-fired generation to the grid;
  • BCU has moved out of older, more energy intensive building stock into newer buildings;
  • BCU has continued to invest in energy efficiency improvements and managing our energy waste.

However, due to the pandemic the way ventilation has been delivered to our buildings has led to gas consumption significantly increasing during 2020-21.

In alignment with BCU’s commitment to the Climate Emergency, for the period to 2030 we’ll be aiming to get to net-zero in Scope 1 & 2 CO2e emissions.

Net-zero means that emissions are reduced as close to zero as possible, and the unavoidable emissions are offset. 

Scope 3 carbon emissions

Some Scope 3 emissions are already reported on an annual basis to HESA. As can be seen from the graph below, procurement represents the largest share of BCU’s overall CO2e emissions, the largest category of which is attributable to construction. Over the next academic year we will be focusing on better understanding these procurement emissions by improving data collection. We will also be seeking to gather data for previously unmapped areas of emissions like staff & student commuting.

BCU will also use the coming academic year to clearly identify and quantify all Scope 3 emissions with an intention to have clear targets, and methods for reaching them, in place before 2025. 

Graph shows the scope 3 carbon emissions for academic tears 2015/2016 to 2018/19. For all years total scope 3 emissions are about 40000 tonnes except in 2016/16 when they are much higher, over 60000 tonnes. For each year the emissions are broken down into electricity transmission and distribution, business travel, water and procurement. The majority of scope 3 emissions are from procurement in all years.


Water is often taken for granted, but increased frequencies of drought across Europe, changes in lifestyle and a growing population means that our water resources are increasingly being put under pressure. At BCU we have made a commitment to managing our water use responsibly.

We ensure that all new taps, urinals and showers fitted across the estate will be of a specification that consumes less potable water than standard specifications for the same type of fittings. As a result we have seen a reduction in our water use, as shown in the graph below.

Graph showing water consumption at BCU from the academic year 2008/09 to 2019/20. In 2008/09, water consumption was 140,000 meters cubed and in 2019/20 it was 60,000 meters cubed. Over the years there has generally been a steady decrease, except in 2018/19 when consumption was 91,000 meters cubed. For each year the graph shows the split between residential and non-residential water consumption, which are about the same except in 2018/19 where non-residential made up 90% of the consumption.

Over the last two years BCU has undergone a programme of installing data loggers to all water meters. This has meant that a more accurate picture of water consumption has been possible. It also enables the Energy Manager to target waste.

How BCU will reach its targets

Energy, carbon and water management

BCU’s Energy Manager closely monitors electricity, gas and water consumption and undertakes a rolling programme of building energy audits. The audit results along with recommendations from the Engineering Team are then used to create and prioritise energy improvement projects across the estate.

BCU are also continually improving the collection of data from metering across the estate, for example recently installed water meter loggers have helped to identify leaks and water wastage and improved our understanding of how our buildings are performing.

Energy efficiency

We have a range of energy saving measures such as lighting controls, variable speed drives, LED lighting, insulation and draught proofing. We are in the process of developing a long term programme of projects to be delivered, including looking to improve the energy efficiency of BCU’s historic and older buildings.

Decarbonisation of heat

BCU has gas-fired CHP (Combined heat and power) in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Seacole Building and University Locks accommodation. There are also biomass boilers in Curzon and Parkside Buildings. BCU are exploring options for decarbonising the provision of heating and hot water to its estate. The outcome of this exploration will feed into the refreshed Energy, Carbon and Water management strategy 2021-2025 (due to be finalised in autumn 2021).

New builds

All new builds must follow our Birmingham City University ‘Sustainable Buildings Standard’ with a minimum of BREEAM Excellent and an Energy Performance Certificate rating of A.

Solar PV

BCU has over 200 panels on four buildings which generate just under 100,000 kWh a year, which is equivalent to the energy use of 25 average UK homes in one year. Further panels are to be installed at the Joseph Priestley and Seacole Buildings.

Improved Building Management System control

BCU is undertaking a project to improve its Building Management Systems (BMS).

Green electricity and gas

BCU is committed to purchasing 100% green electricity and green gas.

Energy, carbon and water management strategy

BCU’s existing Carbon Management Plan is now out of date and is being refreshed. Once work around decarbonisation of heat and scope 3 emissions reduction has been completed, the new strategy will published on this webpage. The strategy will outline how BCU plans to get to net-zero carbon emissions over the coming decade.

Scope 3 emissions reduction

For further details on how emissions from procurement, travel etc will be reduced please refer to the Environmental Plan 2020-2025.