Reflecting on progress and resetting our ambitions for Sustainability at Melbourne
Publication of the University’s Sustainability Report 2020 marks the end of the Plan period 2017-2020. It presents an opportunity to acknowledge the University’s significant sustainability achievements, reflect on areas where greater effort is required and recalibrate our approach as we develop the University’s next Sustainability Plan.
Integrating action on sustainability across all areas of institutional activity for the first time, the Sustainability Plan 2017-2020 set us forth on an ambitious path to new modes of operation and governance in a warming world and framed institutional priorities for advancing sustainability through our teaching, research and engagement activities.
Sustainability Case Studies in 2020
These case studies are supported by the University’s Sustainability Framework.
View the key elements of the Framework
Snapshot of performance against the
Sustainability Plan (2017-2020)
Below is a summary ‘score card’ of University performance against the Sustainability Plan 2017-2020.
Overall status of targets as at end 2020. For a full report of progress against Plan targets click here.
- achievement highlights in each category across the Plan’s full duration, and
- future directions under our new Sustainability Plan
Or access previous Reports for detailed year-on-year progress against the Plan.
We’ve significantly increased the degree to which sustainability is integrated into core undergraduate curriculum under the current Plan – although more work needs to be done. The first Sustainability Fellows were appointed in 2019 to champion this effort at faculty level.
New Plan development activity is considering approaches for achieving a more consistent integration of sustainability across a wider range of subjects, through methodologies that are responsive to the unique potentials and impacts of sustainability across individual disciplines.
Highlights to date
2020 Wattle Fellowship launched, a year-long co-curricula program that fosters student leadership on sustainability. First cohort commences mid-2021.
2020: Joining Melbourne Module ‘Sustainable Communities & Campuses’ launched for commencing undergraduates.
2019: Sustainability Fellows Program established. This initiative is championing undergraduate sustainability-in-curriculum integration. Faculty-based Fellows now appointed in Arts, Science, Education, Engineering & IT, Business & Economics.
2019: Office for Environmental Programs receives the Melbourne ‘Award for Excellence in Education for Sustainability’ for sustained excellence in interdisciplinary sustainability. Current Masters of Environment specialisations offer subjects drawn from nine out of ten faculties.
2018-2021: Ten new sustainability-related interdisciplinary University breadth subjects developed, representing just under 30% of the overall offering.
2018: Milestone - 1,500th graduate from the University’s Master of Environments program
Trust and values
Sustainability remains enshrined at the highest level of University strategy. Under Plan targets, we are operating in alignment with the principle of stakeholder inclusiveness through our ongoing consultation with students, staff and external stakeholders in the development of foundational aspects of the Sustainability Framework - and through publicly available performance reporting. To date, consultation has included extensive internal and external engagement to develop our Sustainability Framework, including the Sustainability Charter released in 2016, the Sustainability Plan 2017-2020 and our annual Sustainability Reports.
However, feedback indicates more work is required to raise the profile of institutional sustainability endeavours. The 2020 Student & Staff Sustainability Survey found that 30 percent of respondents had no awareness of whether the University’s sustainability targets were being met, and just under half did not believe that the University’s sustainability objectives have been ‘clearly articulated’.
Development of the University’s new Sustainability Plan is underway and will progress into the second half of 2021. Plan development is guided by the University’s institutional strategy to 2030, Advancing Melbourne. The finalised Plan will align with Advancing Melbourne’s five intersecting themes and assist in delivery of the University’s strategic priorities.
Highlights to date
2020: a 14-week period of internal consultation is undertaken to inform new Plan development in ways meaningful to, and supported by, the University community. Incorporated opportunities to provide feedback on performance under the Plan 2017-2020.
2018: the University’s Sustainability Executive wins ‘Outstanding Leadership Team’ at the 2018 Green Gown Awards Australasia.
2016-2017: Development and launch of the Sustainability Plan 2017-2020.
2016: the University’s inaugural Sustainability Report published.
2016: University becomes a signatory to the University commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
2015-2016: Development and release of the University’s Sustainability Charter.
The University’s Sustainable Investment Framework (SIF) outlines key criteria for integrating global climate change risk into the University’s investment decision-making. Our investments are managed externally, with fund manager performance measured against the SIF.
In 2018, an independent assessor concluded that the University’s primary investment manager, the Victorian Funds Management Corporation (VFMC), demonstrated strong alignment with the SIF, as evidenced in the VFMC’s 2018 climate change position statement and updated Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies. In 2020, the assessor found that the VFMC had made further significant progress in its approach to climate change, and that the carbon intensity of the University’s investment portfolios had reduced since its 2018 assessment.
Although the University is on track against its targets under the Plan, feedback captured through the 2020’s University community consultation process indicated that many students and staff believe a stronger commitment to divestment from fossil fuels should be a priority under our new Sustainability Plan. A significant subset of those who raised this topic called for a more transparent and clearly articulated pathway to divestment.
Work on Plan targets listed for 2021 completion are progressing. A proposed Impact Investment Framework was presented to the University’s Investment Management Committee (IMC) in late-2020, who determined that further work was required to ensure alignment with University values and goals.
Highlights to date
2020: the University signs up to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), which encourages investors to enhance returns and manage risks through the realisation of six Principles for Responsible Investment. The University will submit its first UNPRI report for the 2021 calendar year.
2019: the University’s primary investment manager, the Victorian Funds Management Corporation, makes the Responsible Asset Allocator Initiative’s top 25 list, commended for their “commitment to responsible, long-term investing, integration of ESG risks into portfolio decision-making, and leadership in reflecting saver’s preferences on key issues such as climate change, gender equality, fair labour practices, sustainable infrastructure, education and healthcare”.
2017-2018: the University develops and implements its first Sustainable Investment Framework (SIF), to more systematically integrate climate change risk into investment management. The requirements in the SIF cover many of the Sustainability Plan’s targets and actions.
Overall status of targets across 'The Campus' activity area.
For a full report of progress against these targets click here.
Energy and emissions
The University committed to net zero emissions from electricity by 2021 and carbon neutrality before 2030. We are on track to achieve our net zero emissions from electricity by 2021 target and are mapping our pathway to achieve carbon neutrality before 2030. Electricity represents the University’s largest source of emissions, at over 60 per cent.
The University’s focus is now on addressing our scope 1 and scope 3 emissions, with new Plan development activity incorporating a revised roadmap for carbon neutrality. Work is underway to map pathways and revised timelines for achieving certified carbon neutrality.
Highlights to date
Wind-generated PPAs deliver net zero electricity emissions (2017-2021)
- Two consortium-based Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) negotiated in 2017 enabled construction of wind farms at Murra Warra and Crowlands in 2018
- Renewable electricity generated will enable the University to reach its 2021 net zero electricity emissions target
On-campus renewable energy & demand reduction projects (2017 – 2020)
- 10,000 solar panels (3MW) installed on 38 campus buildings, equivalent to powering 462 homes, with 3,445 tonnes of CO2 saved annually
- Smart Campus Energy Upgrades (2019 – 2022), $45.6m capital investment to improve University building efficiency. Projected savings of 18-25 GWh and 19 – 26,000 tonnes CO2 annually
- Clean Energy Finance Corporation projects (2016-2018) continue to deliver 3 GWh of annual energy savings
In 2020 waste to landfill dropped well below plan targets, but this was as a direct result of the move to a virtual campus. In 2019 our landfill waste still averaged 29kg per person, exceeding the Plan’s 20kg target - so there is still much work to do.
Reduction and re-use is at the forefront of waste reduction conversations across the University and pivotal to current and future action for improving waste management practices. Development work for the new Plan is focused on implementing circular economy principles as a driver for strong, progressive action and as a measure of the University’s future performance.
Highlights to date
Choose to Reuse Plate Program at Parkville’s Union House (2019 – 2020):
- Diverted 331,413 single use items from landfill in 18 months post-launch. Union House waste reduced 30 percent
- First initiative of this type and size at an Australasian institution. Won the 2020 Green Gown Award for ‘Creating Impact’
- Choose to Reuse Events Service launched March 2020
Furniture & Equipment Re-use Service (2017 – 2020):
- Enables 18,362 items to be reused, diverting 366,162 kg of waste from landfill during the Plan period. Results in $9.85 million savings.
- Since it’s 2012 launch, the service has diverted a total of 618 tonnes of waste and delivered 27,000 items for re-use.
Climate mitigation and resilience
Our approach to climate risk has matured from an asset-focused approach to one that considers University assets as enablers of outcomes, such as quality experiences for our campus communities. Climate adaptation plans have been completed for Parkville and Fishermans Bend campuses, as well as all major infrastructure developments since 2018. Risk screening has been completed for Dookie, Burnley, Creswick and Werribee campuses.
Improving the ways in which the University understands and addresses its climate impacts and risks is expected to be an area of focus under the new Plan.
Highlights to date
Regional Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for Greater Melbourne (2020-2021). University collaborates with Victorian Dept. of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to understand and address the climate-related vulnerability of international students, informing strategy development.
The University reached its water use reduction target in 2019. Increased non-potable water use and the integration of water harvesting and re-use initiatives into new infrastructure developments were our main pathways to achieving this target.
Water reduction and re-use technologies will continue to be implemented as our campuses evolve.
Supply chain and procurement
The University spends around $1 billion annually through its suppliers. We've made good progress operationalising protocols that minimise harm and maximise positive social and environmental outcomes through our procurement processes. In 2018, the University met its commitments under Fairtrade certification and implemented a supplier code of conduct. In 2019-2020, the University’s social procurement framework, incorporating the University's response to modern slavery, was developed and implemented.
Development work for the new Plan will focus on integrating just economy principles as a driver for strong, progressive action through our procurement processes and supply chains.
Highlights to date
University moves to 100 percent Fairtrade kitchen consumables and 100 percent recycled copy paper (2018)
University signs up to Supply Nation, established to connect members to Indigenous businesses Australia-wide (2017)
Travel and transport
Our emissions reduction targets for fleet vehicle and staff air travel have been achieved, although pandemic-related travel restrictions in 2020 contributed to the latter outcome. Remaining fleet and flight emissions were 100 percent offset in 2020. Completion of a Sustainable Transport Plan was our one unmet target in this category.
‘Travel and transport’ refers to staff and student commuting behaviours, and the University’s scope of action under the Plan includes encouraging student and staff uptake of active and/or sustainable transport options. Outreach and enabling initiatives - such as improved end-of-trip facilities for cyclists and the University’s regular ‘Ride to Uni’ events – have also underpinned Plan progress in this area.
Videoconference-enabled alternatives to conference-related air travel have become our ‘new normal’. Embedding this change beyond the pandemic is an opportunity to address our greatest source of transport-related emissions – and encourage other organisations to do likewise.
Highlights to date
Pool of University fleet vehicles reduced by 31 percent (2017 – 2020)
Car parking spaces on Parkville campus reduced 19 percent, replaced with bike parks (2017 – 2020)
The University uses the Green Building Council Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star rating scheme to guide the sustainability of its new infrastructure and demonstrate leadership in sustainable design and construction. Under the Plan, Green Star ratings have been achieved on several major projects, reaching national excellence and world leadership status under the GBCA’s rating system.
Sustainability is a core pillar of Parkville’s New Student Precinct (NSP). The NSP is scheduled for majority completion by early 2022 and has integrated sustainability across design, construction and student-led Precinct activations. Eight Sustainability Principles to inform design were co-developed in partnership with NSP end-users, our students. An Environmentally Sustainable Design strategy for the NSP was developed in partnership with Aurecon. The NSP will deliver a minimum 6 star Green Star ‘Design and as Built’ rating for all new buildings and 5 star rating for existing buildings within the Precinct.
The University’s new campus at Fishermans Bend offers an unprecedented opportunity to embed sustainability into our built environment, and advance sustainable infrastructure far beyond the borders of our estate. Through the GBCA’s Early Access Program, the Fishermans Bend project will test ways for Green Star rated buildings to reach greater levels of sustainability and help evolve the rating tool to meet the challenges of the coming decade.
Highlights to date
6 Star Green Star ‘Design & As Built’ ratings achieved for Werribee’s Teaching & Learning Building and Parkville’s Western Edge Biosciences Building (2020). The GBCA’s 6-Star rating is deemed world leadership standard.
6 Star ‘Green Star Communities’ rating achieved for Parkville campus (2017)
Considerable work has been undertaken since 2019 to retrospectively progress our unmet targets. The recruitment of a dedicated Project Officer, supported by student interns, has subsequently enabled strong progress. Biodiversity data collection is now expected to be complete by the end of 2021.
Data collection and analysis will inform biodiversity-related priorities and targets in the new Sustainability Plan and future Biodiversity Management Plans. Campus biodiversity data will also serve as a valuable teaching and learning resource and improve the way we manage our campus landscapes to support and increase biodiversity.
Highlights to date
Bees@Unimelb wins in the 'Creating Impact' Category at Green Gown Awards Australasia (2019)
The University releases its first Biodiversity Management Plan (2017)
Tree Temperature Vulnerability Assessment at Parkville campus (2017). Findings inform climate adaptation planning and landscape management decisions
Over the course of the Plan, self-reported levels of participation in personal sustainability undertakings by staff and students (such as ‘minimising my use of paper’) have remained consistently high. Participation rates for programs and events have also exceeded Plan targets, with Parkville’s Farmers Market, Choose to Reuse Plate Program, Furniture Re-use Program and Green Impact Program topping the 2020 Survey rankings for student and staff engagement.
Our 2020 Student & Staff Sustainability Survey indicated that overall awareness of University sustainability issues has increased since 2018, with 17 per cent of survey respondents reporting high levels of awareness. This represents a six point increase on 2018 and exceeds the Plan’s 15 percent target. Despite this increase, awareness levels fell short on the Plan’s second, broader awareness target: 61 percent of respondents reported ‘moderate’ or higher levels of awareness, nine points short of the 70 percent target.
Student and staff awareness, perceptions and attitudes to climate change and sustainability are evolving. The University is being challenged to do better. Feedback from students and staff has highlighted the need for better alignment of institutional action with the sustainability priorities of our student and staff community – and for greater empowerment of our ‘grassroots’ staff and students to lead, innovate and collaborate on institutional initiatives under the Plan.
New Plan development activity incorporates a review of staff and student engagement in Plan delivery. Key areas of consideration are ways of framing and formalising the role of students and staff, and how richer participation might be achieved through a more holistic approach to integrating the Plan’s operational, governance and curriculum-integration activities. Also in focus are methods for improving the way we listen to and communicate with our students and staff, and raising awareness of Sustainability at Melbourne with our student and staff audiences.
Highlights to date
2020: Virtual Sustainability Tour of Parkville campus launched to support student and staff communities across the globe.
Green Impact Program (2017-2020)
- First Australasian institution to pilot the international Green Impact program. Since 2017, a total of 1,319 staff and students have completed 3,983 practical sustainability actions.
- In 2020, Green Impact pivoted to enable continued participation while our University community studied and worked from home.
Student Sustainability Internship Program (2020-2021)
- Designed to deliver a meaningful professional experience and positive, tangible action in University operations. Open to all students undertaking an internship subject.
- Piloted in semester 2, 2020 and subsequently continued, with 15 students from seven programs completing internships as at end semester 1, 2021.
Student Volunteering Program (2019 - 2021)
- Formalised student volunteer program launched, integrated with LiCA to enable greater student benefits.
- Facilitates student participation in the engagement and operational aspects of the University’s sustainability programs, events and initiatives.
Sustainability Team outreach & events (2017-2020)
- University’s Sustainability Team produces 200+ sustainability-related events for over 8,000 current students, prospective students and staff. Figures exclude regular forums like the Sustainability Advocates.
Fair Food Unicycle launch (2017)
- Portable bike/kitchen designed to support University events and minimise landfill waste by providing reusable service ware for event participants.
- Engaged an audience of 5,700 people in its first year.
Some outstanding initiatives and outcomes have been achieved under the Plan’s external engagement targets. The University regularly convenes conversations with policy, industry and academic leaders to tackle critical issues of cultural, economic and environmental sustainability, and some exceptional efforts were undertaken during 2020 – including the University’s leadership role in the development of a national COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery.
A ‘partially met’ status reflects the fact that there is greater opportunity to leverage our considerable convening power to bring policy, industry and community leaders together for change.
Similarly, values and principles of sustainability have been embodied and advanced through several initiatives under the University’s Keystone Engagement Programs. A ‘partially met’ status acknowledges that further effort is required to more deeply and systematically integrate sustainability considerations into engagement strategy at the highest level.
Highlights to date
2020: The University Chairs the Go8 group of interdisciplinary experts to develop and deliver a national COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery to the Australian Government.
2020: Co-development, with the region, of the Goulburn Valley Action Plan. The Plan identifies priority areas including sustainable agriculture, water and climate challenges, and improved health and wellbeing outcomes, and is an outcome the University’s long-term partnership with the Goulburn Valley region.
2019: Our Pathways to Politics Program for Women sees its first alumna elected to Federal Parliament, and six alumni stand in Victoria’s local government elections.
2019: An assessment of the University’s commitment to reconciliation indicates 21 of 25 target measures in the University’s Reconciliation Action Plan have been met or exceeded to date.
Industry partnerships and outreach have emerged as areas of strength under the Plan’s research impact targets. The breadth and depth of University partnerships and publications across the social, ecological and economic dimensions of sustainability continues to characterise our sustainability research, and the 2020 launch of the University’s Research Hub has delivered an important new channel through which to communicate our research outputs and impacts to the wider world.
Notable in 2020 was the University’s continued commitment to convening critical conversations on global sustainability policy, community and ecological resilience. There remains, however, significant opportunity to leverage our considerable expertise to become a prominent actor in global sustainability policy development. Greater effort is also required to foster and leverage connections between the University’s sustainability research agenda and our campus operations and planning, to advance a living labs approach to our core teaching and research activities.
Advancing Melbourne articulates a renewed focus on research translation to tackle global ‘grand challenges’, with none more pressing than global sustainability and climate change. Agreed in 2020 and launched in March 2021, Melbourne Climate Futures (MCF) emerged in response to calls for a more streamlined and holistic approach to the University’s climate change research agenda. MCF aims to accelerate the transition to a positive climate future, leveraging our research capability and expertise, growing impact, demonstrating leadership and empowering the next generation of students and researchers. MCF will bring researchers together to contribute to greater action on climate change and is emblematic of the University’s commitment to growing inter-disciplinary knowledge and action across the social, ecological and economic dimensions of sustainability.
Highlights to date
2020: Melbourne Climate Futures was agreed for launch in 2021.
2019: A Research Capability Mapping tool was developed to provide insights into University research including sustainability related topics.
2018: Hallmark Research Initiatives (HRI) program fosters collaboration in priority areas, enabling the maturing of interdisciplinary research communities that build on existing strengths across the University. Funding was allocated to five new interdisciplinary initiatives to be launched in 2019: Affordable Housing HRI, BioInspiration HRI, Creativity and Wellbeing HRI, Future Food HRI, Indonesia Democracy HRI.
2017: In line with the Grand Challenge of “Supporting sustainability and resilience”, design of the Connect Initiative (now Melbourne Connect) research precinct was completed in 2017. To foster research collaborations between academia and major industry partners, government departments and community organisations to drive projects focusing on a range of areas including energy efficiency, carbon and water management, climate change mitigation, sustainable cities and regions, and disaster management.
2016: A delegation of the University's researchers and postgraduate students attended the United Nations Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador in October. Professor Carolyn Whitzman addressed 30,000 participants from over 150 countries, outlining the role of universities in implementing the New Urban Agenda.
Our new Sustainability Plan will shape how the University leads and acts on critical global sustainability challenges for the next five years and beyond.
Given the operational challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 - and to enable sufficient time for internal consultation and development of the new Plan – our existing Plan (2017-2020) has been rolled over into 2021. Development of the new Plan is now well underway, and is guided by the five intersecting themes of the University’s new institutional strategy to 2030, Advancing Melbourne.
Read more about the Plan’s consultation and development process
For queries or to provide feedback on our sustainability framework, please contact us at: