On this page
The RCA recognises its responsibilities to reduce the environmental impact of its activities, and constantly improve its sustainability performance. As an organisation, we contribute to global challenges of sustainability and climate change through our behaviour and activities and via the work of our staff, students, researchers, alumni and innovation start ups.
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 its new 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.
The College’s Estates & Campus Operations team is pulling together a range of initiatives to identify specific areas of improvement of 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.
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 the reduction of 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
The RCA’s staff, students and alumni regularly take part in challenges designed 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 – a New Economic Model for the Ocean (NEMO) – 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 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.
Currently, SSIs are a component exclusive to the School of Arts and Humanities.
SustainLab is a collaborative platform for all RCA students wanting to explore issues of sustainability and discuss how it can be progressed. It is a social and productive forum in which ideas can be challenged, investigated, experimented on and shared. SustainLab organises events, workshops and biweekly open crits for students interested in developing their knowledge of sustainability and its incorporation into their creative processes.
Responsibility for sustainability and the RCA’s environmental performance
Two members of the RCA’s Senior Management Team have specific responsibility for sustainability and the RCA’s environmental performance - the Executive Director of Operations and the Director of Estates & Campus Operations. Their performance is overseen by the Vice-Chancellor. The RCA is also setting up a Sustainability Committee, with broad staff, trade union and student representation, who will monitor and oversee delivery of the RCA’s work in this area, as well as contribute new ideas for improvement. This group will be in place in time for the 2022/23 Academic Year.
The Green Futures Group
A new informal collective was established in 2022 to gather information and swap ideas on sustainability across the RCA at all levels, and in all departments.
The Green Futures Group meets several times a term and welcomes input from everyone across the College: students, academic staff, trade union representatives, facilities and administration staff, estates and campus operations managers, external contractors, technicians and members of SMT.
The group collects and passes on information, identifies problems and canvases for solutions regarding anything to do with sustainability and the environment. It is constantly reappraising the performance of the College, devising procedures by which improvements can be made and making connections between people working towards the same goal. It is also working to plan a symposium event in Autumn 2022.
All are welcome to contact the Green Futures Group. To make suggestions, raise concerns or join a particular conversation, please contact us directly on [email protected]
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.