Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

AU adopts ambitious new climate strategy

Aarhus University has approved its first climate strategy. The overall goal of this ambitious strategy, which covers the period up to and including 2025, is a significant reduction in the university’s carbon emissions. This will take structural changes and more climate-friendly choices on the part of employees and students, as well as close follow-up.

2020.04.02 | Signe Opstrup

Photo: Aarhus University's new climate strategy focuses on four focus areas: Campus, transport, procurement and waste.

At the board meeting on 1 April, the university's first climate strategy was adopted. The board, has been following the process since they asked the senior management team to initiate work on a strategy for sustainability and climate for the university in December 2018, is satisfied with the result.

"Aarhus University's biggest contribution to the fight against climate change is, of course, generating knowledge and creating the foundation for new solutions through our degree programmes and research," says Connie Hedegaard, chair of the board.

But the university also has an independent responsibility as a large institution and a daily workplace for thousands of students and employees, she emphasises:

"With the ambitious goals and sub-goals of this strategy, a framework has now been created which must now be filled out and put into practice through an action plan. And make no mistake. On paper, the goals look simple, but it will require deep changes in practices and habits throughout the organisation to achieve them. But on the other hand, if a university like AU can’t do it, who can?”

Setting ambitious goals was an important priority for the university’s senior management team: so the strategy’s goals include achieving carbon neutrality in 2040, reducing the climate footprint from air travel by 30 per cent, and reductions in carbon emissions associated with the goods the university purchases.

The board discussed air travel in particular. In this respect, the board noted that the coronavirus crisis may contribute to a permanent change in our travel habits, because it’s shown us how online platforms can be used to a greater extent.

Support from staff and students 

Before the climate strategy was formally adopted by the university’s board, there was an internal consultation process to gather input from staff and students. This resulted in a lot of valuable contributions. Input was reviewed and discussed by the senior management team, which led to a number of adjustments and clarifications, explains Rector Brian Bech Nielsen:

"The consultation responses showed that there is broad support for the level of ambition in the strategy as well as a very high level of interest in Aarhus University's efforts to reduce its carbon emissions. I am very satisfied with this strong result, both in terms of the level of ambition and the constructive process leading up to it. Work on the climate strategy has been characterised by a high level of engagement from the very beginning, and maintaining that engagement will be crucial if we are to reach our goals.”

Follow-up is crucial

The importance of reaching goals was also discussed at the board meeting. It was emphasised that it is not enough to have an ambitious climate strategy. There is a need for behavioural changes both among students and employees, as well as focused follow-up.

Because now that the strategy has been approved, Aarhus University is poised to take the next step: translating words into concrete actions. As University Director Arnold Boon stresses, students, employees and managers will all be important players in this process. He spearheaded the process of developing the climate strategy – and along with the rest of the management, must now ensure that it takes root in the rest of the organisation:

“We have a number of ideas about how to reach our goals, but we don’t have all of the solutions yet – we will find them together with our employees and students. And we can only do so if all of us – managers, employees and students – help each other. We will all have to change our habits and behaviour, and we will all have to keep in mind that there is often a more sustainable alternative to the way we choose do things today.”

Creative solutions are welcome

In addition, the faculties and the administration must develop concrete action plans for how to achieve the goals and sub-goals of the strategy. And everyone is encouraged to think creatively, says the university director.

“We are more than willing to try out new solutions. Because it’s necessary. And we also need to select the first initiatives so that we can start making an impact in the short term. And I’ve witnessed a lot of engagement and willingness to work on this throughout the organisation. We need to look at both what structural changes we need to make centrally, such as sorting waste into more fractions and purchasing less carbon-heavy products, and at what local initiatives we can start to support employees and students in making climate-friendly choices.”

Regular monitoring of progress on achieving the goals in the strategy and on the concrete action plans has also been included.

Facts about Aarhus University’s climate strategy

  • Approved by the university Board on 1 April 2020 and runs until 2025 to begin with.
  • Includes a goal to reduce carbon emissions from the university's operations by 35% over 2018 in the five-year period covered by the strategy and by 57% in 2030. With this goal, Aarhus University is in line with the government's 70% carbon emission reduction target and the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Is divided into four focus areas – campus, procurement, transport and waste – each with specific goals and initiatives.
  • To supplement the strategy, action plans will be developed detailing how goals and sub-goals will be reached.

Additional information

Administrative, Administration (Academic), All groups, All AU units, Aarhus University, Policy and strategy, Research, Technical / administrative staff, Health