Sustainability at St Edmund Hall

St Edmund Hall is committed to being recognised as one of the greenest and most environmentally sustainable colleges in Oxford. Our Sustainability Sub-Committee has been working with our 900 students and staff over the past 18 months to greatly reduce our impact on the natural environment, manage resources that we impact in a sustainable way, and conserve and enhance biodiversity across all our sites. We outline below the work we have undertaken to create a baseline of data against which we can now track our progress, set meaningful sustainability targets and record activities and successes that we have achieved to date.

This page was last updated on Thursday 3 November 2022, 12:00

The following response was sent to CLOC by the Conference of Colleges on 14 November 2021:

Oxford Colleges are committed to taking urgent action to combat the climate crisis. We believe that our response is best and strongest when we pool our expertise. We don’t consider that a competitive league table of the sort you propose is a useful tool, or that it provides information that can be relied on. We don’t agree with your methodology. Your assessment of the policies and practices of individual colleges is both inaccurate and incomplete, so that the “scores” you have allocated to colleges are wholly misleading. In any event, individual colleges are not comparable, given the great variety of their resources and buildings. Overall, we consider that your league table gives rise to the risk of box-ticking rather than genuinely effective action.

Oxford Colleges are engaging closely with the University, with experts in the field, and with their undergraduate and graduate communities to set policies on sustainability, including through our Sustainability Working Group.  The Group’s current efforts are focussed on agreeing a common way to measure and report on our energy and water use and our biodiversity, and we plan to report on these using an agreed common approach early next year.  Meanwhile, there is information about what we have already done in our report from last May, at Sustainability work group report_Existing intiatives_May2021.pdf ( and on the University’s policy, at Environmental Sustainability Strategy | Sustainability (

Sustainability Dashboard
The below data summarises St Edmund Hall’s energy and commodity consumption across all College owned sites over the past three years.

CO2e Emissions at St Edmund Hall
Refuse at St Edmund Hall
Electricity at St Edmund Hall
Gas at St Edmund Hall
Water at St Edmund Hall
Plastic Bottle and Aluminium Use at St Edmund Hall

Please note that College was only minimally populated from end of March 2020 to end Sept 2020 due to the nationwide lockdown, which led to a significant reduction in the need for heating on site.

The Hall also has a publicly available Utility Readings Dashboard website where further data can be viewed.

Our CO2e Emissions

CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, is a standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of warming (Global Warming Potential, GWP). The lower the CO2e, the lower the impact the activity has on the environment.

‘Year’ in the table below refers to the academic year (1 October – 30 September).

Year KGs
2018-19 595,488
2019-20 538,428
2020-21 611,012


The College’s refuse company has only recently started providing data on the weight of waste and the split between categories of waste, so the data below represent the period 1 April 2021 to 30 September 2021. Data will be collected and presented on an annual basis in the future. All food waste is sent to a local biodigester.

Refuse Type KGs %
General Waste 16,364 28.04
Mixed Recyling 40,443 69.31
Food Waste 1,545 2.65
TOTAL 58,352 100.00

Other Commodity Use

The College is monitoring some key commodities to evaluate progress towards becoming one of the greenest colleges in Oxford. Gas and electricity usage data are available from the start of our monitoring period in 2018-19. Water usage data have only become available since 2019-20. The use of single use plastic bottles and drinks in aluminium cans has been reduced in the past three years and they are no longer used in College.

Year Electricity (kWh) Gas (m3) Water (m3) Plastic Bottle/Aluminium Use (items)
2018-19 206,777 292,662 Not Recorded 15,635
2019-20 219,408 264,619 4,129 4,789
2020-21 302,551 301,474 9,761 121

Biodiversity Baseline

The image below shows the results of a baseline audit of the Hall’s biodiversity across Queen’s Lane and NSE sites. Find out more about the College’s biodiversity results in our ‘Current Activities’ section below.

Our Sustainable Aims

Over the past year we have been devising St Edmund Hall’s Sustainability Strategy, which will be published by the end of 2021. Below is a summary of our key strategic aims.


We aim to greatly reduce our energy use through upgraded heating and lighting systems, improved building insulation and a move towards more self-generated energy so that by 2030 we become as close as possible to net zero energy.


We aim to reduce the amount of waste (food, plastics, paper, water, green waste, electrical items, and white goods), including the elimination of single-use plastics, and a move to a paperless system where possible.


We aim to reduce the amount of water usage through improved water management, installing waterless systems and the recycling of water where possible.

Greenness & Biodiversity

We will increase the greenness and overall biodiversity of College sites, through measures including green walls and rooftop gardens, pollination friendly planting and tree planting, in order to achieve net biodiversity gain.

Carbon Footprint

We aim to greatly reduce our carbon footprint associated with transport to and from College (both locally and internationally), including use of electric vehicles and enhanced support for using sustainable transport options and carbon offsets.

Climate Conscious Investment and ESG Principles

The College’s investments are made according to Martin School Principles and with regard to strict environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies. The Hall’s ‘St Edmund Hall Endowment – Investment Policy‘ is available to read on our website. This policy outlines our ESG Investment criteria.

Current Activities

photo (c) John Cairns

St Edmund Hall is proud to be the first Oxford college to install a Living Wall in May 2019. The wall, which measures 39m2, includes over a dozen plant varieties: ferns, grasses and hostas are interplanted with flowering evergreen perennials to give year-round interest and colour.

Evidence suggests that green spaces are beneficial for our health and wellbeing. The rear section of our main site on Queen’s Lane, where most students are accommodated, currently has very little green space. We’re looking at how our concrete areas can be transformed into a dynamic environment that inspires students. Find out more about the Living Wall installation and benefits on our website.

New Besse student bedroom
Photography by Dan Paton of the refurbished Besse Building at St. Edmunds Hall, University of Oxford by architects Original Field. The Besse building is located on the High Street and provides student accommodation across 3 floors.

The Hall has recently completed the refurbishment of 49-56 High Street (Besse Building), which is one of the main student accommodation blocks at the College. We have made significant efforts to improve the sustainable credentials of the building including installing double glazing to the rear and substantially increasing the amounts of insulation in the building. New technology has also been installed that recovers heat from the wastewater produced by the en-suite showers and this reduces the hot water demand by approximately 25%.

From February 2022, St Edmund Hall started a ‘Low Carbon Monday’ as a new initiative to reduce the Hall’s food carbon footprint.

We now offer two vegetarian and one meat option every Monday for lunch and dinner. The vegetarian options are also listed first on the weekly menu and displayed first at the servery counter to encourage take up of a low carbon meal.

We are using the Our World Data website to guide which ingredients we use to ensure that we are offering low carbon meals.

The Besse building now has a new interactive heating control system in every room called EcoSync. Students and guests can scan a QR code to alter the temperature on their smart radiator valve to alter the temperature which feeds back to the EcoSync’s cloud-based management platform.

You can see how much energy is being saved in a real-time ‘leader board’ for each cluster of the Besse building on their smart phone.

The system is also being linked to the Hall’s accommodation booking systems which will enable the proactive ‘switching-off’ of heating to empty rooms, greatly improving the Hall’s energy efficiency.

All of our electricity is sourced from renewable energy.

2 Graduates taking part in St Edmund Hall biodiversity audit
Two St Edmund Hall Graduates taking part in the Biodiversity Audit in Trinity term 2021

The Hall took part in a baseline audit of its biodiversity on the Queen’s Lane and NSE sites over 9th & 10th week of Trinity term 2021. Students, staff and Fellows participated in the audit which involved measuring the different landcover types, trees, birds, insects and earthworms. Full results from the audit can be found at the following link but headline features include: i) vegetation in the college grounds currently stores ~25 tonnes of carbon (which equates to around 92.4 tonnes CO2e); ii) the QL and NSE sites support 58 trees (30 different species); iii) the College grounds provide habitat for 18 different species of bird, of which 15 are classified as of conservation concern; iv) over 500 insects were captured during a 3-day interval including 126 bees and insects known to be important for pollination and pest control; v) Sadly we appear to have only one earthworm in the College grounds!

In total 18 colleges took part in this biodiversity audit exercise and there are plans to repeat this on an annual basis to enable us to record trends in biodiversity, and the success of any actions that we implement to increase overall biodiversity on college sites.

View a Slideshow Summary of SEH’s Biodiversity Audit

We send our food waste to be recycled at Cassington. This facility has a long term contract with Oxfordshire County Council and processes over 50,000 tonnes of solid and liquid wastes a year collected across Oxfordshire, generating 2.1MW of electricity and producing an excellent bio-fertiliser.

  • St Edmund Hall no longer sells plastic water bottles in the Servery or bar.
  • Fresher students receive reusable water bottles on their arrival in College, provided by the St Edmund Hall Association (SEHA).
  • Two water fountains were installed at the Queen’s Lane site in 2019.
  • Refillable glass bottles and a water filtration machine were purchased to meet conferencing, dining and meeting needs in 2019.

We actively encourage staff to travel on public transport to the Hall and have introduced a salary-sacrifice cycle purchase scheme to encourage cycling to work. We also have schemes for interest-free loans on season tickets for buses and trains.

Future Projects

Norham St Edmund is the student accommodation site for postgraduates at Norham Gardens, Oxford. We are planning to expand the number of student bedrooms on this site by building approximately 70 additional new bedrooms to Passivhaus standards, whilst EnerPHit guidelines will govern a low energy retrofit of an existing Victorian villa at the site. This project will be an exemplar for environmentally sustainable design. We are aiming to bring this project to completion in 2024.

We are currently auditing our gas central heating system to assess which green systems can replace our gas boilers in the future.

Hall Statements on Sustainability

  • St Edmund Hall has assessed its carbon baseline and published it on this webpage in accordance with our Environmental and Sustainability Strategy 2022.
  • We have commissioned a decarbonisation plan for the College from Max Fordham and Original Field Architecture. This has been funded by the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.
  • We have set out our public milestones for our sustainability aims in the Hall’s 10 year strategy on page 27. Notably, we aim by 2030 to become as close as possible to zero net energy use, e.g. implementing energy production through open-loop geothermal energy, solar panels, biodigesters and/or other means.
  • We are working on a policy that will recognise Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations when accepting grants and donations.
  • When St Edmund Hall receives a gift, donation, grant or scholarship it is rigorously debated and scrutinised through the College’s governance system.
  • We are looking into a policy which explicitly recognises Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations with respect to the Hall’s banking relationships.
  • The College’s Investment Policy is specific in its ESG principles, including being subject to Oxford Martin Principles. The College’s portfolio is managed on our behalf either by Oxford University Endowment Management (OUEM) or Rathbone Greenbank, the latter is subject to the specific investment criteria as per the ‘St Edmund Hall Endowment – Investment Policy‘. This policy is published on the College’s website under policies.
  • St Edmund Hall established the Sustainability Sub-Committee in 2020. It brings together a core group of people across the College to develop and monitor the success of our College Sustainability Strategy. This Committee reports to the General Purposes and Bursarial Committee (GPBC) on a termly basis. Actions agreed by GPBC are signed off at Governing Body Meetings. If you have any questions for the Sustainability Sub-Committee, please contact the Committee Chair via the following email address:

Where Next?


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10 Year Strategic Plan

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Support the Hall's Priorities

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History of the Hall

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