Green UCL


What is UCL doing to respond to global sustainability challenges? 

22 March 2017

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Climate change is one of, if not the most significant challenges of modern society. It affects all aspects of our economy, society, and the environment. Our growing population will need to face up to challenges of energy, water and food insecurities.

UCL has 38,000 students and 11,000 staff from 150 different countries, spread over 230 buildings. We are effectively a small city, and like any city we have a big environmental footprint. Last year we spent £13 million on electricity and heating, which resulted in 68,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

As an institution we need to find ways to reduce our impact and rise to the challenge of climate change.  While we are working hard to make our campus more sustainable by investing in greener buildings, practices and products, we also see the opportunity UCL has through engagement with staff and students on sustainability-related issues. UCL students will become leaders all over the world, so we want to make them sustainably literate citizens, able to solve these global, pressing challenges. Below are just a handful of examples of green initiatives which we are implementing at UCL to respond to our sustainability challenges.  

Green Initiatives at UCL

A sustainable campus

UCL’s campus is undergoing the largest transformation of its history, with £1.2 billion being spent on creating state-of-the-art buildings, designed to be good for the environment and student welfare. Our latest buildings, including the new Bartlett School headquarters, have won awards for their sustainable designs. All buildings have been built with and kitted-out in, environmentally conscious materials and products such as sustainable paints, timber from well managed forests and reusable furniture. 

Watch this video to see the plans for UCL’s new student centre and campus in Stratford

Innovative technology is further reducing our reliance on fossil-fuels, for example we are taking waste heat from our new data centre to provide heating for one of our buildings.

Here East solar

A number of our buildings are already generating their own renewable energy from solar panels, and we have an onsite power station which provides low carbon heat to 40 buildings on the Bloomsbury campus. But we want to go further than this and so are looking at options to source all our energy from renewables over the next few years.

Food and Drink

Calthorpe project

We are dedicated to developing a sustainable and healthy food culture at UCL. We're providing Fairtrade, local, seasonal and organic food where possible and student group ‘Sugar Snap’ have been working with UCL to develop a new range of healthy salad pots. UCLU have been working with the student vegetarian society to develop a new vegetarian/vegan range in their cafes.  To tackle waste, UCL is trialling a reusable lunch box scheme. There are also discounts on coffee and tea for students and staff who use a reusable cup. Additionally if you are interested in growing your own food, you can get involved in UCL’s allotment at Bentham Farm.

Waste disposal

coffee logs

At UCL zero waste is sent to landfill. On average 65% of UCL’s waste is recycled at a Materials Recovery Facility, with the rest being turned into energy. You can view how items are recycled at the facility in this video; thanks to a huge solar system on the roof the waste facility is carbon neutral. We have partnered with one of UCL’s alumni BioBean to turn UCL’s waste coffee into bio-fuels which is used in London’s buses and we are working with our waste collector to develop a new coffee-cup recycling facility. 

Green transport


As part of our ongoing work to improve cycling facilities on campus, UCL actively campaigned for the retention of the Torrington Place and Tavistock Place cycle lanes last year. The lanes, which run past the Bloomsbury campus have made cycling safer and healthier for students and staff. The campaign achieved a successful outcome with Camden announcing plans to make the cycle lanes permanent. UCL also runs free bike maintenance sessions, the next one is on April 25th in the front main quad.

We’d be surprised if you hadn’t noticed all the construction work going on around campus. To reduce traffic congestion and air pollution during UCL’s ‘transformation’, we have set up a Logistics zone outside of London. This allows large Lorries to deliver their goods off campus. Smaller vans then take the goods to campus, once their load is full. This means less vans on campus and better air quality for everyone.


swift image

As we are based in the heart of London, we know how important it is to encourage wildlife at UCL. From green roofs, rewilding schemes and student-led projects to put swift boxes on our buildings, we are helping to enhance UCL’s biodiversity. UCL’s Conservation Society have monitored the wildlife around our Bloomsbury campus, and have recorded over 30 bird species- including peregrine falcons and a Kestrel. This is a remarkable feat given the urban nature of our site. Weekly bird walks are organised by the Conservation Society, you can join in by visiting their site here.

Research, Teaching & raising awareness


UCL has an amazing number of researchers working to solve environmental and climate change issues, and many were involved in the historic Paris Climate Change negotiations and agreement.  To engage our community about sustainability, UCL has hosted a variety of events, talks and lectures. Last year our annual Lancet Lecture was on climate change for a healthier world by Christiana Figueres, former UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary.

With our living lab projects, students and academics are encouraged to use the campus to solve sustainability challenges. Students from the BASC School are currently studying UCL’s toilets, to come up with solutions as to how to reduce water consumption from toilet flushing. UCL’s Grand Challenges and Global Citizenship programmes also enable students to learn and work to solving global issues. Get involved here.

Green Champion Network

We have over 100 green champions volunteering to make UCL a more sustainable place. If you would like to get involved in the programme next September, or have any further questions please email green-ucl@ucl.ac.uk.  You can view the programme on our website here.