Heriot-Watt University is committed to sustainability and adopting a rapid and just energy transition through our frontier education and research programmes and partnering with our global communities to drive real change together.
Heriot-Watt University has always thrived on being a pioneer in discovery and use of natural resources to serve society – a tradition that has been an essential part of our education and research for the past 200 years. Looking ahead we are focused on adopting a frontier role in assuring rapid energy transition to eliminate the effects of the combustion of fossil fuels, and to develop leadership in areas of climate change research. We remain a University with extraordinary global reach, connectivity, and ambition, where we spearhead the creation of new knowledge and societal policies. As a global charity we take a proactive role in educating, researching and partnering with those who share our ambition for rapid energy transition.
We are committed to show leadership in working for the sustainable future of our planet. This includes our focus on a future in which fossil fuels are no longer needed. We are discussing 2030 as being a target timeline to be net zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and equipping our global community with the skills and knowledge to drive real change together. We will continue to work with the energy sector to advocate and assist in a transition to a greener, more sustainable energy, including investing in companies aligned with our ambition to drive a just energy transition.
Research and radical innovation are fundamental to addressing many of the challenges of living sustainably in the modern age. Our world-leading research focuses on finding solutions to major global challenges, through significant international collaborations and connections with government, business, education institutions and industry in addition to long-term community-based projects. Founded on our advanced expertise in energy, we are building on our pioneering research institute to accelerate the energy transition.
Environmental sustainability is one of the Strategic Performance Indicators of our Strategy 2025, which sets out Heriot-Watt’s commitment to delivering statutory environmental requirements and enhancing sustainability outcomes across the full breadth of the University's activities. Our approach is outlined in our 10 Institutional Commitments and associated policies, which will enable us to develop actions regarding sustainability across our global community. We also recognise that the different countries our campuses are based in are at different stages in their work on this issue and we are committed to working with a broad range of our stakeholders to advance thinking on sustainability more widely through our education and research. We believe this approach opens up new areas of expertise and supports skills and training needed for a just transition. To help build a better and brighter way forward, we're creating the Net Zero Community Hub to focus on the importance of actions we can all take to help reach net zero. The Net Zero Community Hub will be the focal point for sustainability thinking and debate at Heriot-Watt, a hub of inspiration, information, invention, and advice.
Working with the Energy Industry to make an impact
The University works in partnership with the energy industry for the benefit of society, our global campuses and university communities. Heriot-Watt and companies within the energy sector have provided financial support for our world-leading research, and through philanthropic support it has created scholarships to enable student access to our education. Further, it has worked with industry to fund initiatives which support the wellbeing of our student community, including the provision of valuable work placements.
We will continue working with and supporting the energy industry through our education and research programmes in order to assist in meeting wider industry and societal ambitions with regards to net zero, responsible consumption of oil and gas, and a transition to renewable energy sources. This will demand difficult decisions, numerous compromises, and broad, significant changes to our way of life and our ways of working. It is a transition that we must all embark upon, enabling and promoting dialogue between energy producers and users.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have an investment policy?
Our investment policy aligns with our strategic direction and overarching values. The University receives donations and endowments which are used to enrich our students’ experience, offering students from all backgrounds the opportunity of a Heriot-Watt education, and enabling the delivery of life-changing research to enhance the world around us.
These additional monies are deposited with credit worthy banks or - for restricted endowments - are invested in longer-term equity and investment grade instruments. Information on Heriot-Watt’s investment portfolio is published as part of our Annual Accounts and is available on our website.
How are you investing to support renewable technology development?
Our research into the complex supply and demand dynamics of the energy transition is at the forefront of the race to net zero. We are pioneering new transition engineering processes that drive strategic innovation, catalysing opportunities in smart energy systems, green logistics and sustainable, efficient use of energy and resources.
We are creating a new Global Research Institute to focus on the net zero challenge, connecting researchers across all our campuses and from multiple disciplines in order to pioneer a collaborative approach to addressing a challenge that is inherent in every aspect of our operations. Founded on our leading expertise in energy, engineering, and construction, we are building a new future through decarbonisation, accelerating the energy transition through radical innovation.
We are leading the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC), that is the focal point of the green transformation in the UK’s industrial heartlands. Powered by research and innovation and funded by UKRI, IDRIC develops innovative decarbonisation solutions at pace and scale in the places where it matters most. Ahead we will continue to be a convener of partners to effect decarbonisation, reaching out through on global campus in UK, UAE and Malaysia.
Renewable energy technologies are being pioneered and developed as part of the Island Centre for Net Zero that Heriot-Watt is a key player, engaging in action research with island councils, enterprises, and communities. The main hub is at the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus, the new home of Heriot-Watt's well-established International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT). The key partners in the ICNZ are the project lead European Marine Energy Centre, Aquatera, Community Energy Scotland and the Island Councils. The ICNZ partnership is a growing distinctive, cross-disciplinary collective which encompasses cutting-edge expertise from public sector, global business, and community groups.
Does Heriot-Watt directly invest in companies who practise fossil fuel extraction?
Heriot-Watt has no direct investment in companies focused on fossil fuel extraction.
Will you continue teaching petroleum and gas engineering focussed on extraction?
Heriot-Watt has always advanced knowledge for the benefit of society. It is our responsibility to use our unique and established position to ensure our educational curriculum is always delivered within the context of driving towards a just transition.
Our curriculum portfolio is kept under regular review, in consultation with our stakeholders and partners as we continue to evolve our training, education and skills provision to meet current and future demand.
In addition, we recognise that different countries globally (in which we have campuses), are at different stages in their work on this issue and we are committed to working with a broad range of our stakeholders to advance thinking on sustainability more widely through our global education and research. We believe this approach opens up new areas of expertise and supports skills and enhanced understanding needed for a just transition.
Will you continue to accept applications and funding for students sponsored by oil and gas companies?
As above - we are committed to working in partnership only with companies who, like us, are actioned towards a just energy transition.
How will you influence oil and gas companies for the benefit of society?
Heriot-Watt has established relations with the energy sector, and a track record of working in collaboration to support dialogue, skills development, and technological advancements. We will continue to work with the energy sector to train the next generation and collaborate on research opportunities in support of our commitment to net zero.
Industry funding for our research remains vital if we are to meet wider societal ambitions around net zero and sustainable development. In addition, there are opportunities to benefit from new sources of funding as climate change becomes an ever-greater focus for grant awarding bodies and other research funders – as well as a rapidly transforming energy sector. We commit to being part of that transformation, which cannot happen if we isolate ourselves from the root cause of the climate emergency. We must be transparent about the damage done by burning fossil fuels, and work with our industry partners to assist both industry and society to transition to alternatives.
What is Heriot-Watt’s contribution to addressing the climate crisis?
The climate crisis is ultimately founded upon the burning of fossil fuels as a source of energy. Heriot-Watt is developing a Net Zero Plan to provide a detailed framework as to how we propose to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere by our operations. As part of our statutory obligations, we publish annual climate change reports via the Sustainable Scotland Network. These detail our on-going portfolio of measures carried out to reduce our total emissions. Our Plan builds upon these measures to accelerate such emissions reductions in order to reach net zero.
We recognise that our role as a University is not only to pioneer research, but also to equip society with the skills needed to tackle the inevitable impacts of the climate crisis head on. We are seeking to mitigate the scale of the climate crisis through the development of carbon literacy resources for our entire global community, equipping our students, staff, and alumni with the tools with which to make informed choices about our individual and collective carbon footprints. We will educate our global community to enhance their resilience and ability to adapt to the climate crisis, which will get worse long before it is eradicated. We want to equip everyone with the skills and knowledge to drive real change and become advocates for a more sustainable future. That is why Heriot-Watt is creating a Net Zero Community Hub to focus on the importance of actions we can all take to help reach net zero - and the impact we can have in building a better and brighter way forward.
Our student community continue to actively demonstrate their advocacy for sustainability through self-organised activities led by a number of groups, such as the Eco Society, Net Zero Society and Ocean Conservation Society. They are the voices that we plan to continue engaging and listening to as we develop our global environmental strategy and the pathways to achieving our long-term goals.
We are developing education and training that is responsive to the needs of employers and communities to progress a green recovery, such as the recent introduction of our MSc Global Sustainability Engineering degree which builds on our 30 years of experience in researching and teaching sustainable engineering with a global focus. And the new MSc Global Environmental Change and Policy a new MSc degree - a joint collaboration between the British Geological Survey and Heriot-Watt – is taught by recognised international experts at one of Europe's leading centres for Earth and marine sciences.
At undergraduate level we are currently rolling out educational experiences which provide students with a fundamental understanding of net zero, energy transition and global challenges. Our ambition is to quickly progress this to all students and graduates of Heriot-Watt.
This reflects a decades-old pattern of constantly updating and adapting our courses in consultation with industry, harnessing their collective knowledge, to ensure that we continually produce quality graduates with the skillsets to make a real and lasting contribution to the energy sector. This will continue to be vital if regional, national, and global ambitions around the energy transition are to be realised.
In parallel with our work reducing our direct contribution to on-going climate change, our research portfolio tackles some of the greatest challenges in solving the climate crisis. Spanning fundamental and applied research strategies, we are working to quantify our contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). From major projects seeking to achieve industrial decarbonisation to community engagement and addressing the need for behavioural change, we are taking a multi-disciplinary approach to applying our broad expertise to global sustainability challenges.
- UK Campuses - extensive programme of energy efficiency projects across campus e.g., LEDs, insulation, lighting controls, water-efficient fixtures, improved heating systems.
- Dubai Campus has been certified to the Gold standard under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria, reflecting high performance in interior environmental quality and in energy, water, and resource efficiency.
- Malaysia Campus holds certification under Malaysia’s Green Building Index scheme and includes the campus’ living green roof - the first of its kind in Malaysia. Other sustainable design features include solar shading and a rainwater harvesting system.
- Awareness raising activities with staff and students.
- On campus electric vehicle charging and pioneering wireless charging.