Unite Students launch pathway to net zero

Unite Students launch its pathway to net zero, setting two key overarching targets to be met by 2030.

Built environment to meet net zero - Unite Students | PBSA News

Student accommodation provider – Unite Students – releases a new document outlining its pathway to net zero by 2030, including targets for carbon reduction now formally validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

As part of its Sustainability Strategy, Unite Students set two key overarching targets: net zero carbon operations and net zero carbon development – both by 2030. The new pathway brings together areas of focus, further targets and planned investment covering both elements.

The pathway outlines four key steps:

  1. Reduce operational energy consumption: Based on a target of 28% reduction in energy intensity by 2030 against a baseline set in 2019. This target is in line with the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) 1.5°C energy reduction pathway.
  2. Invest in renewable energy: Under the RE100 programme, Unite Students has made a commitment to source 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and will seek to purchase more energy in the future via corporate power purchase agreements that support the development of new renewable energy generation capacity.
  3. Reduce embodied carbon: Based on targets in line with the RIBA Climate Challenge programme, which require a 48% reduction in embodied carbon by 2030.
  4. Mitigate residual carbon: Unite Students will offset any residual operational or development emissions that cannot be removed completely using certified carbon offsets, aiming to prioritise measures that actively remove atmospheric carbon.

“Our overarching business strategy sets out our commitment to ensure Unite Students makes a positive social contribution and reduces its environmental impact. This is reflected through our commitment to become a net zero carbon business by 2030. 

“As the UK’s largest provider of purpose-built student accommodation, we believe our net zero carbon ambition also offers a unique opportunity to help generations of students living with us to adopt responsible living habits. We understand the scale of the challenge, but believe this is the right thing to do, and that the change needed will make us a stronger and more resilient business.”

Richard Smith, Chief Executive, Unite Students

Since 2014, Unite Students have invested over £30m in energy efficiency, identifying a further c.£100m of additional opportunities for capital investment to achieve the carbon reduction targets set out. This represents a £10m annual investment in energy initiatives moving forward – equivalent to £5 to £7m p.a. on a Unite share basis.

To chart each existing building’s journey to net zero, Unite Students’ in-house energy and environment team have developed a new modelling tool. This produces individual plans for each of their 173 student properties – setting out a route to achieve set targets.

To meet targets around new developments, Unite Students will focus on site selection, material selection, design optimisation and cutting construction site impacts. Unite is developing a Sustainable Construction Framework to support this work and help ensure that sustainability considerations are factored into each key stage of a project.

“The release of our pathway document is an important milestone on our journey to net zero. It brings together the tangible targets and more granular detail our stakeholders need to understand where we are currently, as well as the direction of travel. 

“We have set ambitious targets and developed a detailed plan to get there, including substantial investment in our existing buildings. Our new modelling tool has helped us create tailored plans for each individual building – identifying how different initiatives change energy consumption, carbon emissions, operating costs and EPC rating – and is directly informing our asset management and capital planning.

“For new builds, we are focusing on reducing whole life carbon emissions, meaning we will cut embodied carbon while ensuring buildings are low carbon in operation and at end of life.”

James Tiernan, Head of Energy & Environment, Unite Students