Many of the world’s top companies are committed to reducing their carbon footprint. The Corporate Knight’s 2021 Global 100 ranking lists companies like Schneider Electric and the Canadian National Railway among the world’s most sustainable corporations. Rather than treating sustainability as a trend that will abate soon, these companies have embedded sustainability practices into their business model and strategy to reshape the industries they operate in. The University of Plymouth, too, is playing its part, and has long been a champion of sustainability.
“Climate change is a global situation, and global cooperation is needed to make a real and lasting difference,” says Dr Samantha Davies, Head of Sustainability. “We pride ourselves on having staff and students who include environmental practices in their professional and personal lives. But our innovation and research, and the changes on campus, are also having positive effects in the local community and globally.”
The University of Plymouth ranks 23rd globally on the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021 for its contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. “This ranking celebrates decades of building on our core strengths, investing in research teams and facilities and, in particular, it reinforces our leadership in all things marine and rightfully positions us at the global forefront of this field,” says Professor Judith Petts, university Vice-Chancellor.
Therefore, sustainability is at the heart of the University of Plymouth’s ethos both in research and in education. Academic and research staff at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences work with partners locally and abroad to help understand, communicate and solve fundamental and pressing sustainability challenges — from sustainable cities, affordable and clean energy to climate policy, biodiversity, and geological hazards. Here, students and staff engage in a first-class research environment in their research centres and groups, which include the Biogeochemistry Research Centre; Centre for Research in Earth Sciences (CRES); Centre for Research in Environment and Society (CeRES); Environmental and Fluid Modelling Group; Sustainable Earth Institute; and Marine Institute.
For example, the FABSOIL (Fabricated Soils) project aims to develop sustainable soils manufactured from recycled and waste materials that are fertile and resilient and that can perform as well as natural topsoil, while acting as a sustainable substrate in any environment to which it is deployed. This includes the production of specialist crops, urban development or even increasing soil coverage in private residences.
Meanwhile, the University of Plymouth’s Sustainable Earth Institute is conducting independent research into perceptions and attitudes about the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project in Cornwall. This project will explore if geothermal technology can produce commercial geothermal energy in the UK, which would be an exciting part of the low carbon economy.
This international expertise shapes and informs the taught programmes on offer ensuring that the University of Plymouth’s students fulfil their potential to be pioneers of a better and more sustainable future. This is achieved through opportunities for hands-on laboratory and fieldwork, and faculty expertise to ensure students learn the latest techniques and understand global challenges and developments in their respective fields.
Their multidisciplinary programmes are geared to help students tackle real-world issues, including climate change, urbanisation, population growth, conservation, sustainability, and energy and natural resources management. Undergraduate students, for instance, can choose from programmes such as the BSc (Hons) Environmental Science; BSc (Hons) Environmental Geoscience; BSc (Hons) Geology; BSc (Hons) Chemistry; BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology, and BSc/Ba (Hons) Geography.
All of the available courses are regularly updated to ensure that the curriculum reflects the current and future challenges. Dr Matthew Watkinson, Associate Professor in Energy Transition Geoscience says: “Through lectures, hands-on practicals and an extensive national and international fieldwork programme, our degrees develop your expert knowledge of the forces that have shaped our planet. Our new modules explore critical relationships between earth processes and society: how to reduce risks from natural hazards; understanding environmental change over time, and how we transition to cleaner energy sources.”
Graduates who want to deepen their knowledge, advance their careers, or prepare themselves for a career change can choose from variety of sustainability-focused postgraduate programmes such as the MSc Environmental Geochemistry; MSc Environmental and Engineering Geology; MSc Environmental Consultancy; MSc Sustainable Environmental Management; and MSc Planning.
Learning at the University of Plymouth isn’t all about academics. Fieldwork is an essential element of their degree programmes, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. The school has an outstanding reputation for providing students in Environmental Science, Geography and Geology degrees with high-quality field training. “The highlight of my time at the university is the field trips. We got to go to Sicily and see volcanoes erupting,” says Sophie Diver, BSc (Hons) Geology graduate. “It was a great bonding trip and I made such amazing friends.”
Ultimately, with its strong research environment, academics who are at the forefront of their fields, diverse course offerings, and opportunities for students to put theory into practice, the University of Plymouth has something for every aspiring changemaker.