Accommodation provider is aiming to achieve net zero across its own operations and its new building developments over the next decade

Leading provider of student accommodation Unite Students has committed to achieving net zero emissions across its operations and developments by 2030.

The company today released its new Sustainability Strategy outlining its pathway for achieving net zero emissions backed by around £100m of new investment.

The company confirmed that its carbon reduction targets have been validated by the UN-backed Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which provides a framework for businesses to implement climate targets in line with a 1.5C warming trajectory.

Any residual operational or development emissions will be removed by certified carbon offsets, the company added.

“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,” said Richard Smith, chief executive of Unite Students. “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”.

Key to achieving Unite’s overarching net zero goals is a target to slash operational energy intensity by 28 per cent over the next decade, in line with the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) 1.5C energy reduction pathway.

As such, the accommodation provider expects to invest around £10m in energy initiatives a year, having identified £100m of investment opportunities to help achieve its net zero goals.

Unite has also committed to sourcing 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 under the RE100 programme and has said it will invest in new renewable energy generation in the future by purchasing more energy via corporate power purchase agreements.

In addition the new strategy details how Unite aims to nearly halve its embodied carbon by 2030, in line with the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Climate Challenge programme, which requires a 48 per cent reduction.

A new modelling tool, developed by Unite’s energy and environment team, will help the company track the decarbonisation progress of its 173 existing student properties.

Unite is also developing a Sustainable Construction Framework to support the decarbonisation of its new developments, and is currently focussing on material selection, design, and construction impacts to achieve its goals.

James Tiernan, head of Energy and Environment at Unite Students, said: “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.”

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