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Professor Karen O'Brien, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, stood smiling with arms folded, in front of bookshelves

Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen O'Brien, explores how we are putting sustainability at the heart of our operations.

September is a month of many university league tables – not surprising, as the new academic year begins, new students arrive to begin their university studies, and next year’s applicants are considering their options.

One of Europe's top universities for sustainability

Wednesday 20 September brought the inaugural QS World University Rankings – Europe, and we were very pleased to be ranked 27th out of the 690 universities right across Europe that were considered.

In particular, I was pleased that we ranked 15th for sustainability. We know this is important both for our students and staff and local communities.

We are committed to delivering excellence across research, education and student experience in the most sustainable way possible, as well as producing academic research that contributes to understanding, tackling and mitigating climate change.

Net zero carbon by 2035, biodiversity net gain by 2032

We recently agreed a new Sustainability Ambition Statement, with two important targets: to achieve net zero carbon by 2035 and biodiversity net gain by 2032. We also aim to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 67 per cent.

We have already achieved much in this area: since 2005, we have reduced our carbon dioxide footprint by almost half. And we have plans in place to go further: we expect that by 2035, 100 per cent of our electricity will come from renewable sources.

Last year we launched our Biodiversity Strategy: a plan to enhance our campus as a place where wildlife can prosper and our staff, students, neighbours and visitors can enjoy a healthy environment. It was important for us to have Durham Wildlife Trust and Durham County Council working with us on this.

We also became a founding member of the Nature Positive Universities Alliance, a network of universities committed to restoring and preserving nature.

Join the Greenspace Movement

We’re committed to working with local communities to preserve and enhance Durham’s very special environment. For more on our environmental initiatives and activities, please visit

It was also pleasing that we ranked 16th in Europe for employer reputation: again showing how sought-after our graduates are with leading employers. If you or a loved one is considering university study, find out more about what Durham can offer at

Our Welcome and Orientation Week begins this weekend (September 23-24) and undergraduate teaching from October 2. We look forward to a successful year ahead.

Find out more

- About our performance in the QS World University Rankings - Europe
- About our commitment to sustainability