Universities across the UK are attempting to go greener. However, is pledging towards the cause working? The latest findings show that there’s a long way to go since there are too many unis that do not give sustainability the attention it deserves. So, which unis are they, and which is the least environmentally friendly uni?

People & Planet provides a comprehensive table of 154 UK universities ranked by sustainable performance. They release annual rankings from the most environmentally friendly to the least environmentally friendly uni. They use a set criterion that investigates a university’s environmental and ethical actions. Unis are scored out of 100 on areas such as carbon reduction, use of sustainable food, and education for sustainability. The league table released by People & Planet shows that a shocking 30 out of 154 universities completely fail to meet the sustainability criteria. Despite setting lofty sustainability goals for themselves, unis haven’t been able to deliver on their promises of going green.

So, read on to find which universities scored dead last, and what the least environmentally friendly uni in the UK is.

The least environmentally friendly uni in the UK: revealed
Source: iStock

University of Birmingham

England’s first civic university, the University of Birmingham says that they have a “unique role in contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” Their website says that they have a “zero waste to landfill” policy. This means that they are very particular about how they deal with their waste. However, this uni still fails to reach the standards of People & Planet. They have an overall sustainibilty score of 13.1% largely due to sustainable staff.

University of Bolton


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Following on, next on our list is the University of Bolton. Despite launching a sustainability committee in 2019 and offering degrees in Environmental management, It only scored a sustainability score of 6.3%.

However, on the uni website, the Environmental Sustainability Lead for the University said: “The University recognises the environmental impacts from its activities, routine operations, infrastructure development and its influence over wider community regionally, nationally and globally.”

Royal College of Art

The Royal College of Art is located in London and it’s the world’s leading art university. However, it does not even have a defined environmental policy. This means they haven’t set any sustainability goals in the first place, so they have nothing that they could potentially work towards. It comes with little surprise then, to find out that the university has been ranked at 146, with an overall score of 5.1.

Norwich University of the Arts

Next up on our list of the least sustainable universities in the UK is Norwich University of the Arts. They scored an overall rating of 4.5% This isn’t great compared to the 70 and 80% ratings that some of the top-scoring environmentally friendly uni’s received.

Royal Academy of Music

According to this uni’s website, “the Academy seeks to conduct its operations in a manner that is environmentally and financially sustainable, that is, in a way that will meet ‘the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’”. They have a clearly outlined environmental and biodiversity policy. But according to People & Planet, their only saving grace is their worker’s rights. They score a 2.4% and are ranked at 151.

And now, the least environmentally friendly uni in the UK…revealed!

University of Sunderland

Located in London, the University of Sunderland ranks dead last in terms of meeting sustainability requirements. They have a very detailed analysis and outline of their carbon management, waste disposal, biodiversity, and environmental initiatives. Yet, the uni scored a 0 in environmental policy, carbon management, waste & recycling, and many more categories. They only scored a 10 in engagement and a 2 in education, which brought their overall score to 0.7.

However, the university has something to say about this. Sunderland commented that its last place positioning did not reflect its “full commitment – and successful work around sustainability”. The University of Sunderland also said that it chose not to submit the most recent data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) Estates Management Record.

The least environmentally friendly uni in the UK: revealed
Source: iStock

“Our environmental sustainability plan to 2025 is already delivering a lasting impact on the environment, including investment in a new fleet of electric vehicles, installation of air source heat pumps and an ongoing solar power project already implemented on City campus now being rolled out to our St Peter’s campus,” a spokesperson said. So, can we expect the university to rise in the rankings next year?

Find the entire list of university rankings here.

Want to know more about prospective universities? Check out our wrap up of the least diverse universities in the UK.