The College is establishing new systems for assessing, monitoring and curbing its emissions to land, air and water and reducing waste arisings, energy use and carbon intensity of all aspects of its operations. We actively encourage awareness of the environment and climate change, and we support the practices and initiatives of our students, staff, researchers, alumni and innovation start-ups where these contribute to sustainability goals.
The RCA's Environmental Policy reflects reflects its sustainability strategies and its commitment to achieving ISO 14001 accreditation, the recognised international standard in environment management and a globally recognised mark of excellence.
Working towards ISO 14001 is now a strategic priority for the College’s Schools and professional and technical services teams, and is already reflected in ambitious sustainability performance targets captured within the College’s new Strategic Plan 2022–27.
Responsibility for sustainability and the RCA’s environmental performance
The RCA’s Environmental Sustainability Steering Group launched in 2022 and is tasked with developing the College’s sustainability strategy. The College has additionally established an Environmental Sustainability Committee, which will first meet in the 2023/24 Academic Year. The committee oversees the College's environmental performance and the sustainability strategy's development and implementation. Membership includes broad staff, trade union and student representation.
Meet the team:
- Heather Akif, Chief Operating Officer & Paul Draper, Director of Estates & Campus Operations: members of the RCA’s Senior Management Team with specific responsibility for sustainability and the RCA’s environmental performance, overseen by the Vice-Chancellor. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Megan Jones, Environmental Sustainability Manager: develops and coordinates environmental sustainability activities and projects.
- Indu Silva, Contracts Operations Manager: oversees soft facilities management contracts and is responsible for waste management. Contact: email@example.com
To find out more about environmental sustainability at the RCA, please contact Megan Jones.
The Terms of Reference for the Environmental Sustainability Committee are:
- Oversee the development and implementation of the College’s environmental sustainability strategy, carbon management plan, and staff and student engagement plan.
- Review and approve the Environmental Policy on an annual basis.
- Review associated policies, including but not limited to Sustainable Food Policy and Responsible Investment Policy.
- Oversee the budget for environmental sustainability.
- Monitor the College’s progress against objectives, targets and compliance obligations, and produce an annual report on progress.
- Review and report on progress of key environmental performance indicators, including greenhouse gas emissions, energy, waste and water.
- Ensure implementation of recommendations from BDO’s Internal Audit Advisory Report (September 2022) ahead of the 2024/25 internal audit.
- Drive engagement and behaviour change with staff and students to support the College’s objectives through communication and training relating to environmental sustainability.
- Ensure contractors and subcontractors support the achievement of the College’s environmental objectives and their practices align with the Environmental Policy.
- Support Programmes and Schools in incorporating environmental sustainability into all aspects of teaching and learning.
- Ensure resources are available for the continual improvement of environmental performance.
- Draw together subcommittees and working groups (for example EDI Committee, Estates Management Committee, and Health, Safety and Wellbeing Committee) as and when needed to deliver the environmental sustainability strategy, policy and action plans, and progress commitments and targets.
The College’s Estates & Campus Operations team delivers a range of initiatives to identify specific areas of improvement in our environmental performance. Examples are:
- Food waste: The RCA is committing to the London Higher Operations Network’s Circular Food Sprint, run in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Mayor of London’s Food Flagship Initiative, which aims to create a circular food economy for London HE campuses
- Energy use: The College is reviewing its current metering and procurement contracts for supply of utilities (electricity, gas and water) to identify opportunities to improve energy efficiency and improve our use of energy from renewable and sustainable sources, rather than from fossil fuels.
- The Sustainable Food Policy covers all food outlets and food served by the College.
- Finance: The Responsible Investment Policy sets out how the College expects its investment managers to manage its portfolio, with specified exclusions including fossil fuel holdings. The Responsible Investment Policy is signed off by the Planning and Resources Committee. Staff and students are given an opportunity to engage with this policy via staff and student representatives at appropriate College committees.
- BREEAM: the College’s new flagship Battersea campus has achieved BREEAM “Excellent” rating.
- Electronics Watch is an independent monitoring organisation working to achieve respect for labour rights in the global electronics industry through socially responsible public purchasing in Europe. It combines its affiliates' collective ITC purchasing power to reform public sector supply chains. The RCA is a member of the London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC), which is affiliated with Electronics Watch.
In 2022/23, the College has implemented a more rigorous data collection process to ensure our reporting and planning are underpinned by high quality data. In June 2023, the College audited three key areas of its environmental impact: energy, waste management, and water. This exercise will be repeated on a regular basis, including following the close of the academic year. This year’s performance has been heavily impacted by the launch of a new academic model, extended campus opening hours and the opening of our new flagship building on the Battersea campus.
Sustainability research and innovation
The RCA nurtures an environment where research and innovation flourish. Increasingly, these supported projects and start-ups focus on sustainability and reducing environmental impact. The College is engaged across all programmes, at all levels, in rethinking how societies, industries and individuals can pursue their aims while reducing emissions and waste, eradicating pollution and maintaining biodiversity.
Examples of recent projects and initiatives include:
- Exploring how green social prescribing can improve health and wellbeing in the UK
- Designing an iconic chargepoint for electric vehicles
- An innovative art exhibition at COP 26
- Conducting ocean research with Extreme E
- Supporting textiles sustainability through our new materials science research centre
- Exploring how RCA research and design can support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
- Enabling communities to catalyse sustainable change through Ecological Citizens
- Turning post-consumer textiles, crop residues and household waste into renewable material in the Textiles Circularity Centre
- Working with UNESCO as part of a ten-year partnership using design and innovation to help deliver the sustainable future ocean we all want.
- Reimagining foodways for drylands and wetlands in the climate crisis (Climavore x Jameel)
- Reviewing the use of carbon footprint measurement tools in creative industries
Many projects at the RCA function as Living Labs where students are able to contribute to environmental and social issues with local communities, such as the immersive exhibition Polar Zero, engaging local schools with the Terra Carta Design Lab exhibition and in the climate emergency art project A Greener Picture, and the research project Citizen Naturewatch.
Student and staff engagement
The RCA’s staff, students and alumni regularly participate in challenges to tackle sustainability and climate change issues. Recent examples include:
- Terra Carta Design Lab, launched in July 2021 by HRH The Prince of Wales and Sir Jony Ive. The initiative forms an integral part of His Royal Highness’s wider Sustainable Markets Initiative – in partnership with the RCA – and brings together staff, students and alumni to develop solutions to the climate crisis.
- The RCA Grand Challenge – the biggest single-institution postgraduate design project in the world, bringing together multidisciplinary teams of students across the School of Design to address some of the world’s most pressing problems through a marriage of design and science. The theme of this year’s Grand Challenge – Engaging Communities for Generating Marine Sustainable Economies – explores how design can leverage and stimulate citizen science-led practices for increasing the health and productivity of the world’s oceans. investigates global topics including environmental sustainability, plastic pollution, loss of marine habitat and new ocean economies. You can find out more about the winning teams and their projects in this news article.
Sustainability forms a crucial element of students’ induction to life at the RCA. Students are invited to learn more about sustainability at the College, including the environmental policy, before arrival on the FAQ page. A more detailed induction will take place during Welcome Week, with further information to be publicised over summer.
Staff are informed about the College’s Environmental Policy via the induction materials on the intranet. New staff are invited to a Staff Induction Day in their first six months which will cover the College’s Environmental Policy, strategy and highlights ways for staff to engage from July 2023 onwards.
Student representation on committees
Committees with student representation for 2023/24 include: Environmental Sustainability Committee; EDI Committee; Learning Teaching and Student Experience; Academic Standards Committee; Senate; and Council. Each of these committees has responsibilities for planning and strategic decision making in their respective areas.
SustainLab RCA is a collaborative and cross-disciplinary platform for all RCA students to engage with, exploring what sustainability is and how it can be progressed. It is a knowledge exchange and forum for ideas to be investigated, challenged, and shared with the intention of facilitating experimentation and critical knowledge building within our creative practices.
SustainLab organises events, workshops, and a yearly exhibition for students to develop their knowledge of sustainability and how to incorporate it into their creative practices. Some of these events will also be open to the public. This year’s events included the exhibition LEGACY which took place in May 2023.
The society was founded in September 2017 by students studying at the Royal College of Art in London. The intention is to support and inspire the work of fellow students who have an interest in sustainability, adding a critical dimensionality to our work as artists and designers within a world-class postgraduate university.
Looking at our current environmental and social crisis, SustainLab recognizes the need to embed a sustainability mindset in the next generation of artists and designers, and we believe in the power and agency of our creative practices to be transformative in meeting these challenges.
The Green Futures Group
The Green Futures Group is an informal cross-union collective, established in 2022 by RCA academic staff to gather information and swap ideas on environmental sustainability throughout the RCA community.
In the face of the climate crisis, it has become imperative to make profound changes to how we each conduct our working practices, and so the group welcomes input from everyone: students, academic staff, union representatives, facilities and administration staff, estates and campus operations managers, external contractors, technicians, members of SMT, and local organisations.
The group meets several times a term and is constantly collecting and passing on information, identifying problems, canvassing for solutions and connecting people working towards the same goal. Green Futures members are also part of the RCA’s Environmental Sustainability Steering Group, working with the operations and communications teams on a coherent strategy that is inclusive and positively productive within the community.
There is also a rolling programme of Green Futures events and projects which promote awareness and good practice among students and staff: a termly repair café run by student and staff volunteers; a regular clothes swaps, facilitated with the Students Union, and a welcome week Green Futures Symposium, introducing new students to the theories and praxis necessary for an equitable transition to a decarbonised and sustainable society.
All are welcome to contact the Green Futures Group. To make suggestions, raise concerns or join a particular conversation, please contact us directly on firstname.lastname@example.org
Great Big Green Week
The SU, Green Futures Group and SustainLab combined forces to mark Great Big Green Week in June 2023. Various events were held to engage students and staff including a Clothes Swap, Repair Cafe, biodiversity workshops and film screening (funded by FuelRCA). During the week, Green Futures Group announced the design brief for a project to develop an app to reduce waste and encourage greener working practices among students. The project was initiated by Green Futures Group and is funded jointly by the RCA and the Green Futures Group. The College provides funding for staff and student engagement activity. Students are invited to contact Environmental Sustainability Manager Megan Jones for information regarding funding for student-led projects.
Education for sustainable development
Environmental sustainability is a core component of the College’s Strategic Plan 2022-27. The RCA aims to make global contributions to sustainability, climate change and the circular economy through research, knowledge exchange and the circular economy.
AcrossRCA is a college-wide unit which is compulsory for all courses. This unit aims to support students to meet the challenges of a complex, uncertain and changing world by bringing them together to work collaboratively on a series of themed projects informed by expertise within and beyond the College. This year’s themes were the climate crisis, justice equality and misinformation, caring society and being digital. More information can be found here.
In addition to AcrossRCA, many of the programmes at the College have a specific focus on sustainable development, including:
- MA Environmental Architecture: a 1 year design-led and field-focused course that emphasises a transdisciplinary approach to design research, bringing together architectural and ethnographic research methods.
- MArch Design Practice: a 1 year programme that supports architects, designers, and spatial practitioners’ creative and critical engagement with the design of the built environment, with climate as a central focus
- MA/MSc Innovation Design Engineering: a double Master’s programme run jointly between the RCA and Imperial College London that promotes innovation through synergy between creativity, science and technology to create value for society.
Access and participation
The College believes it is vital to provide visible pathways of access to study across our programmes for those suffering financial hardship and for those from under-represented groups.
The RCA offers a range of scholarships that are open to students with refugee and asylum seeker status. These scholarships cover the full cost of study at the RCA; some scholarships also offer support towards living expenses. Further information on scholarships can be found here.
As a research-led university, engagement is at the heart of all the College's academic activities. While the College does not have a formal Access and Participation Plan due to being a postgraduate institution, the RCA works closely with a diverse range of community partners and participants to develop collaborative projects and create a positive impact in the social and cultural fabric of our local, national and global communities. Recent activities include Climate Crisis Awareness with Wandsworth Primary Schools, aiming to inspire climate change awareness through creative workshops.
Sustainability statements of intent
A Sustainability Statement of Intent (SSI) is a working manifesto to be discussed and contributed to by technicians, teaching staff and students. The aim is to clarify what sustainability means in the particular practical context of a given programme or medium, acknowledging the responsibility of academics, technicians and students to support and pursue sustainable practices, and to approach each programme’s materials, processes and production with a critical understanding of their impact.
SSIs are a component currently used within the RCA’s School of Arts and Humanities.
InnovationRCA is the Royal College of Art’s centre for entrepreneurship and commercialisation, helping staff, students and alumni transform compelling ideas into successful businesses. Our portfolio of design-led start-up companies and spin-outs includes companies covering many sectors, including agri-tech, med-tech, clean-tech, construction, fashion, interiors and more. More information can be found here.
Start-ups in the environmental sustainability space include:
- Aerseeds: improve soil and support reforestation through aerodynamic nutrient and seed pods made from food waste
- Amphico: fully sustainable and recyclable alternatives to current waterproof fabrics for the outerwear market
- Ananas Anam: a sustainable leather alternative using natural fibres extracted from the waste leaves of pineapple plants
- BlueNose: developing a solution designed to significantly reduce the fuel consumption of containerships through the use of aerodynamics improvements retrofitted on board of container ships
- BuffaloGrid: solar powered hub for rural off-grid African towns that would otherwise be without power for decades
- Episod Studio: developing Race for the Arctic, a videogame using digital storytelling to explore the future of the Arctic
- Orbital Bloom: using data-driven artwork to catalyse the transformation of buildings into sustainable ecosystems
- The Tyre Collective: reducing pollution from tyre wear by capturing particulars at source