Cutting emissions

Net Zero - why do we need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions now?

Like filling a bath with water, so long as the tap remains open, the bath will eventually be full, and spill over. Our atmosphere is that bath, and we have nearly filled it. At our current rate of emissions we will have used up our entire Carbon budget in the next decade if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C. That is why we are taking action now, and we're asking you to join us.

What is a carbon budget?

Our action and Net Zero commitment

Despite significant growth of our largest campus in Edinburgh, we outperformed the carbon reduction targets set by our previous Carbon Management Plan.

We report the emissions performance, for our Scotland campuses, annually under the national public bodies Climate Change Duties (PBCCD) reporting process. You can access our reports on the Sustainable Scotland Network website.

LED Light Bulb climate change

We've implemented a broad range of energy and carbon reduction projects including LED lighting schemes, with more than 13,000 lights replaced in recent years. Projects have included our early adoption of LED street lighting: the installation at the Edinburgh Campus was completed in 2014 and has saved the equivalent of enough electricity to power a typical home for around 500 years, preventing the emission of hundreds of tonnes of CO2.

Other projects have focussed on improving the energy performance of our buildings by enhancing their fabric, including extensive double-glazing schemes and additional insulation. We have also started to improve the efficiency of our building services, optimising their energy consumption and introducing efficient modern control and delivery technologies. 

Our newer buildings, such as GRID, are heated by heat pumps rather than gas and use integrated renewable energy generation, supporting our transition away from fossil fuels. Our current focus is on accelerating our action to decarbonise our operations, ensuring that we capitalise on our own ground- breaking research and complete detailed planning around some of the technical challenges on our route to net zero.

Our Net Zero commitment and planning

The Net Zero concept is key to society's response to climate change, with administrations and organisations across the globe recognising the need for rapid progress to net zero emissions, where greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced and residual emissions are balanced by appropriate removals.

We are committed to acting quickly to reduce our operational emissions, in support of our Global Environmental Sustainability pledge to achieve Net Zero between 2030 and 2035.

A first step has been the development of a new global emission baseline using pre-pandemic data from 2018/19 and including all Scope 1 and 2 emissions and some of our key Scope 3 emissions from our campus operations in Scotland, Malaysia and Dubai.

Baseline emission total 20,237 tCO2e (2018/19)
Scope (1-3) Emissions Source tCO2e
Scope 1 Direct emissions Natural gas and other fuels 7,512
Scope 1 Direct emissions Fugitive gases 219
Scope 2 Indirect energy emissions Purchased electricity 7,122
Scope 2 Indirect energy emissions Purchased cooling 209
Scope 3 Indirect value chain emissions Business travel 3,944
Scope 3 Indirect value chain emissions Water and wastewater 310
Scope 3 Indirect value chain emissions Waste 320
Scope 3 Indirect value chain emissions Electricity transmission and distribution losses 601

Our single largest source of emissions comes from our built environment, with the heating of our Scottish campuses providing our greatest single challenge in achieving net zero operational emissions. We are exploring a number of potential solutions, whilst using digital twins to better understand our energy and heat usage.

We've mapped the emission reduction trajectory we can achieve via transforming our use of energy, and via other far-reaching changes to the way we operate. These changes and initiatives will require substantial, transformative investment in our estate and operations, but are fundamental to the achievement of Net Zero.

Sustainability and achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remain at the forefront of our global University’s agenda. Heriot-Watt University has unveiled a highly collaborative and community-led approach to accelerate its progress towards achieving sustainability.

We’ve published our Climate Action Framework our commitment to achieving sustainable change across our Scotland, Malaysia, and Dubai campuses. Empowering the entire University community across five campuses and those learning online to advocate, support and embed greener ways of living, helping to achieve our global carbon reduction targets.

What are we doing to accelerate decarbonisation and net zero transition in in our research?

We possess leading expertise in enabling the race to net zero, from the development of new fuels and materials to designing efficient buildings of the future. Learn more about our Net Zero research activity.