SFC news published since 2018. See SFC archived content for earlier news articles.

This week (7 – 13 October) is Scotland’s third annual Climate Week.

This year it follows First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s recent declaration of a Climate Emergency, and a new Climate Change Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament, committing Scotland to become a net zero emissions economy by 2045.

So how are Scotland’s higher and further education sectors responding? Below are just some examples of the work underway.

Carbon footprint

Since 2015-16, Scottish colleges and universities have reduced their carbon footprints by 18% and 8.4% respectively. These efforts are being accelerated through the University Carbon Reduction Fund (UCRF) partnership between SFC and Salix Finance.

UCRF forms part of SFC’s Financial Transactions (FT) programme, which provides low interest loan funding for capital upgrades and projects, aimed at improving student experiences or carbon footprint reduction.

The Scottish Government has allocated £60M towards the 2019-20 FT programme. Previous projects include a district energy scheme at the University of Strathclyde that will save 4,500 tCO2e and £2.6m per year.

SFC also part funds the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges (EAUC) Scotland, which supports universities and colleges take action on climate change and sustainability within estates management, learning and teaching, and engagement.

EAUC Scotland has collected case studies from across Scottish universities and colleges that align with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The case studies provide a snapshot of the some of the ways that Scotland’s Further and Higher Education sectors are contributing towards these goals.

Home and Away

Scottish research is also having an international impact on efforts towards a more sustainable world. Through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), Scottish universities have led more than 400 projects, involving over 70 developing countries since 2016-17.

Aimed at progressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, research undertaken through the GCRF includes development of an award-winning, low cost ophthalmology tool for health care workers in under-resourced countries (St Andrews), ongoing research into simple treatment systems to ensure safe drinking water for people and livestock (Robert Gordon University), and assessing the feasibility of ‘micro-grid’ solar power to provide electricity for remote off-grid communities in Rwanda.

This year  by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), up from £2m in 2017-18.

The University of Strathclyde and its Students Union are the latest Scottish signatories to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Accord, an international collective of colleges and universities working towards the UN’s 17 SDGs. Aimed at ending poverty and other deprivations, the SDGs are also focused on improving health and education, reducing inequality and spurring economic growth, whilst also tackling climate change.

However, efforts are not just overseas. In 2015, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland, “The national and international dimensions to poverty and inequality are interlinked. Scotland cannot act with credibility overseas, if we are blind to inequality here at home. And our ambitions for a fairer Scotland are undermined, without global action to tackle poverty, promote prosperity and to tackle climate change.”

One example of this work in practice is Glasgow Kelvin College’s active travel initiatives. Aimed at encouraging students and community members to cycle more, the initiative was recognised with a Green Gown Award for Student Engagement and the college also picked up an award at the Education Buildings Scotland exhibition conference for innovation in delivering a sustainable education facility for its Velocity Cycle Hub.

Constructed with sustainable materials, the hub provides a resource centre for cyclists – a one-stop shop for training, information, repair & maintenance and motivation for an active and healthy lifestyle. The build also provided many of its Construction, Plumbing and Carpentry students with hands-on experience as they were involved in the building and finishing of the structure.

In 2018, the University of Edinburgh was named ‘UK Sustainable Institution of the Year’ in the UK and Ireland Green Gown Awards, with a number of other institutions also picking up awards. This year 13 Scottish colleges and universities have been nominated as finalists.


SFC funding towards a more sustainable world also extends to innovation, where companies like Renewable Parts Ltd are using innovation vouchers through Interface to expand their business and create jobs in the renewable energy industry.

The Scottish Government has committed to tackle climate change and assist Scotland’s transition to net-zero emissions, and students are also gearing up for a more sustainable future, with almost 13,000 studying courses related to renewable energy at Scotland’s universities and colleges, as the country upskills to tackle climate change.

Carbon Capture

A glimpse of that future can also be seen in north east Scotland. Traditionally known for oil and gas, efforts are underway to repurpose existing infrastructure to reduce rather than contribute to climate change.

SFC, Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise have committed £50,000 to support the UK’s largest research, industry and government partnership in carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS).

Established with SFC funding in 2005, Scottish Carbon Capture & Storage (SCCS) is a research and knowledge exchange partnership between Heriot-Watt University, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde, and the British Geological Survey. SCCS also works to develop research and teaching, with engagement at St Andrews, Glasgow, Robert Gordon and other universities across Scotland.

CCUS is a group of technologies that capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at source to prevent them being vented to the atmosphere and escalating climate change. CCUS can decarbonise the power, industry, heat and transport sectors, which account for 83% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

SCCS has assisted in bringing Scottish experts to the EU funded ACT Acorn Project. Led by energy consultants Pale Blue DotEnergy, the Acorn project is working to develop the UK’s first operational carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at the St Fergus Gas Terminal in Aberdeenshire. The project has received funding from the Scottish Government, UK Government, and the European Union.

The project will see existing terminal infrastructure re-purposed to capture around 200,000 tonnes of CO2 per year initially, which will then be transported for storage in depleted North Sea gas fields, using re-conditioned existing pipelines.

CCUS is one of six priorities in the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy and is also a key policy of the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Clean Growth Strategy.

Globally, power and industry account for about 50% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While Scotland’s electricity system is expected to be largely decarbonised by the 2030s, the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan recognises CCS “as the only viable technology capable of mitigating industrial scale CO2 emissions in some of the world’s most carbon intensive industrial processes”.

The UK’s offshore geological storage potential is estimated at over 78 gigatonnes of CO2 (the equivalent of over 200 years of the UK’s 2017 CO2 emissions). One tonne of CO2 gas fills roughly the same space as a small house.


Closer to home, SFC has reduced its own carbon footprint by 70% (from 342 to 101tCO2) since 2008-09 and is taking further steps to improve sustainability with a Cycle to Work scheme, and the introduction of food waste recycling and a reusable coffee cup library.