Sustainability at ACU

At ACU, we’re committed to social justice, human dignity and the common good – and our sustainability as a university is integral.

In 2020 ACU developed a sustainability framework built upon two transformative prescriptions for a better world: Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Our framework encompasses care for the environment, the fight against poverty and hunger, education for all and the promotion of equality, peace and justice.

Our actions

Here are some of the steps we are taking to ensure our current and future sustainability.

Carbon and energy

Most of ACU’s carbon emissions have come from its use of electricity and gas, its air travel, and its disposal of waste to landfill. We are implementing a plan to eliminate, minimise or offset those emissions.

Electricity: From 1 July 2021, ACU campuses became powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity. This electricity is supplied by wind and solar farms throughout Australia and has eliminated about 85 per cent – or 16,000 tonnes – of ACU’s carbon footprint.

Energy efficiency: We strive to constantly increase our energy efficiency, which we measure by how much energy is used per square meter of the floor space of campus buildings. Using this measure, ACU is Australia's most energy efficient university.

Air travel: From 01 January 2021, ACU implemented a policy to buy carbon offsets for every tonne of greenhouse gas emitted by staff air travel. The carbon offsets will be purchased at the end of every year from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities engaged in traditional land management activities such as savannah burning.

Food waste: In late 2021, ACU will introduce food waste collection into its campuses. Our food waste will be composted and returned to gardens and farms to support healthier soils instead of ending up in landfill where it breaks down into methane, a greenhouse gas.

Carbon neutrality: ACU is assessing ways that it can become a carbon-neutral university in the shortest possible timeframe. We’ve already cut over 90 per cent of our usual quantity of carbon emissions, but there is still plenty of work to do.

Waste reduction

ACU aims to minimise the amount of waste that it sends to landfill. This requires ACU to reduce and to recycle as much of its waste as possible.

Waste reduction: Since 2012, ACU has reduced the amount of waste it generates by 70 per cent. In 2012, ACU generated 1,170 tonnes of rubbish; in 2020, it generated just 340 tonnes.

There are two main reasons for this reduction: staff and students use much less paper, and ACU's cafeterias produce much less food waste.

Recycling: ACU's recycling rate is consistently around 60 per cent. ACU recycles paper, cardboard, plastic, electronic waste, garden waste and, starting in late 2021, food waste too.

Plastic waste: ACU has a special focus on reducing plastic waste because plastic waste has a heavy impact on our rivers and oceans.

In 2020, ACU adopted a plan to cut its use of plastic during Orientation. This plan eliminated the distribution of 10,000 water bottles, eliminated the use of plastic wrapping for promotional items, and banned the use of balloons.

In 2022, ACU aims to reduce the amount of plastic food containers sold in its campus cafes and replace them with compostable containers. This will help to reduce the single biggest source of plastic waste at ACU.

Water

ACU has water tanks with a combined capacity of 660,000 litres. Most of this water is used to water campus grounds and to flush toilets.

ACU has also installed water efficient taps, toilets and showers throughout its campuses, and landscapes its campuses with drought-tolerant plants.

These measures mean that ACU uses a small amount of water compared to most universities. The amount of water used per student at ACU is 3.7 kilolitres; the average for all universities is two and half times that amount.

Sustainable buildings

Most of ACU’s environmental impacts arise from the energy and water used in its buildings as well as the waste generated in them. For this reason, ACU now builds and renovates its campus buildings to a high standard of sustainability.

For example, ACU now has three buildings certified by the Green Building Council of Australia, verifying the exceptional sustainability of their design and construction. These buildings are the Daniel Mannix Building at the Melbourne Campus, the Veritas Building at the Canberra Campus, and the St Brigid’s Building at the Ballarat Campus.

ACU is also constructing the 13-storey Saint Teresa of Kolkata building at ACU’s Melbourne Campus, which is expected to achieve a 5-Star Green Star rating, indicating Australian excellence in sustainable design.

Modern slavery

ACU is committed to preventing and ultimately eliminating the impact of modern slavery in its operations, business partnerships and supply chain.

ACU has established a Modern Slavery Action Plan that includes:

  • Working with over 30 other Catholic entities as part of the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network to identify slavery risks, meet legal reporting standards, and train staff.
  • Establishing an ACU Eradicating Modern Slavery Working Group to ensure practical action in every ACU Faculty and Directorate.
  • Learning and research into the causes of and solutions to modern slavery.
  • Naming ACU’s Blacktown Campus in honour of St Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of Sudan and victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

You can read more about ACU’s commitment to combat modern slavery online as well as in its annual Modern Slavery statement.

Research

ACU’s research contributes to the common good and many research projects that aim to solve the problems that hinder sustainable development worldwide. Examples of this research includes:

  • The application of organisational ethics to the Paris Climate Agreement, by Associate Professor Stephanie Collins, which aligns to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption) and 13 (Climate Action).
  • Investigations by the Institute of Positive Psychology and Education into the impact of Indigenous education programs. This research aligns to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and 4 (Quality Education).
  • Studies by the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research into the link between urban pollution and academic performance, advancing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 15 (Life on Land).

Learning

ACU students engage directly with the major questions about the common good and sustainable development. They do this in their coursework as well as in the university’s core curriculum subjects, which develop students’ ability to examine the world with empathy and to imagine it transformed for the better.

As part of the Core Curriculum, each student partakes in a discipline-specific community engagement unit of study, working with communities that experience disadvantage and marginalisation. Approximately 3,500 students undertake a community engagement placement each year.

Sustainable finance

 ACU was the first organisation in Australia and the first university in the world to issue a sustainability bond, which offered investors the opportunity to participate in the financing of ACU projects that deliver positive social and/or environmental results.

The value of the bond is $200 million, and those funds have been allocated to invest in sustainable buildings and in research that delivers a positive impact in the areas of education, health care and gender equality.

Keen to learn more?

View our Annual Sustainability Report which showcases the actions ACU staff and students take to care for our common home, as well as plans for further action. 

You can also check out a snapshot of our impact, download our Sustainability by the numbers infographic.

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