Interim Sustainability Strategy

Researchers in forest

Our Approach To Sustainability – A Strategic Perspective

There is a strong body of scientific evidence that links the level of atmospheric concentration of a number of greenhouse gasses with changes in global climate patterns. These effects, coupled with a range of other direct impacts of industrial, agricultural and urban activities, carry very substantial risks to the ecological, social and economic fabric of the globe. This calls for concerted leadership and action.

As creators and disseminators of knowledge, universities such as Southern Cross University play a pivotal role in creating a more just, equitable and sustainable world for future generations.

We are engaging with the First Nations’ perspectives on climate change with the view to building theoretical and practical capability in areas including cultural protocols and Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being. We are engaging with communities and working towards better environmental, social and economic outcomes.

In line with the view of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (to which our research contributes) and the United Nations Production Gap Report, Southern Cross University recognises the need for urgent and decisive action to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

“As a regional university we are uniquely positioned to contribute to both local and global communities. Through our Research Impact Clusters, we are actively engaging to move the dial on a broad range of related grand challenges. To date our research has shown that coastal ecosystems globally are a net greenhouse gas sink, which adds critical knowledge about the earth’s greenhouse gas budget to what is already known.”

In a world first, we have unearthed methane-consuming microbial communities living in paperbark trees, helping us to better understand how trees influence methane in the atmosphere. In another global study we demonstrated how ocean acidification is causing the framework of coral reefs to dissolve. We have determined that ocean acidification and a warmer ocean could enhance carbon burial in coastal sediments, helping to mitigate climate change, and may increase rates of sediment nitrogen processing. And we have supported the restoration of damaged reef systems from heat stress events through cutting-edge techniques such as coral in vitro fertilisation.

We have gained important information from studying the biochemical processes within salt-tolerant plants (which can guide changes to crop plants to improve yield on degraded land), with the aim of bolstering food security to meet the demands of a growing global population. We have already demonstrated that we can improve soil quality and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through the transformation of red meat residue from processing facilities. Our work on natural plant products and functional foods also aims to ensure maximum health benefits from the plants we use as medicine, and the foods we eat.

We are currently working with industry partners to assess carbon intensity in supply chains to help reduce the emissions embedded in products and to meet net zero objectives. This includes establishing sustainability credentials for emerging industries such as hemp food and fibre processing that have the potential to displace conventional, carbon-intensive products. We are also exploring ways organisations can report natural capital in their financial statements, as a means to institutionalise investment in nature and grow carbon sequestration opportunities.

We must also look inward, ensuring that our operations remain consistent with global sustainable best practices, along with the values enshrined in our 2030 Strategic Plan. We are dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint, and to reaching net zero emissions for internal University operations (scope 1 and 2) by 2035 and operations external to the University in our value chains (scope 3) as quickly as possible. We will actively work to minimise our emissions by implementing innovative technologies and practices while offsetting our remaining emissions through verified and effective methods.

We will also prioritise becoming a zero-waste institution and effectively translating into practice our existing research strengths in the circular economy. We are identifying opportunities to minimise waste generation, transforming refuse into valuable resources through recycling and composting programs, and engaging our community in the shared responsibility of waste management. Through interdisciplinary partnerships we are facilitating the development, prototyping, adoption and scaling up of circular business models, creating new economic opportunities in our region.

We are committed to sourcing 100% of our energy from renewable sources. Investing in renewable energy infrastructure – including the installation of solar panels across our campuses, which serves the dual purpose of reducing our carbon footprint and supporting the growth of Australia’s renewable energy sector. Through energy conservation initiatives and by adopting energy-efficient practices, we will optimise our energy use and reduce our overall demand.

Where possible, we will ensure that all new building and major renovations are designed and constructed to achieve Green Star ratings or an equivalent internationally-recognised certification for sustainable building practices. We will create environmentally responsible spaces that enhance the wellbeing and enrich the experience of our university community, including the schools and businesses that that have joined us on campus as a result of successive catastrophic flooding events in Lismore in 2022. Our campus master planning will continue to reflect our commitment to environmental stewardship.

We will engage students, staff, alumni, collaborating universities, industry partners and the local communities we serve in development of a comprehensive strategic plan for sustainability, encompassing all aspects of our operations, academic programs and external engagements.

“This plan will set out initiatives across the environmental, social and governance pillars that span the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It will also serve as a roadmap to guide our sustainability initiatives, setting ambitious targets and outlining the actions necessary to achieve them.”

Transparency and accountability are integral to our sustainability efforts. We will collectively own our commitments and hold ourselves to the highest standards in our pursuit of excellence. To be exemplars of the change we want to see in the world, we will regularly measure, monitor and report our progress toward our initiatives, driven by continuous improvement in our sustainability praxis.

With our responsibility to equip the next generation of leaders to shape our future being at the heart of everything we do, we will embed opportunities for students and staff to learn about sustainable best practices into all areas of our work. In this way, they will become drivers of positive change towards a more equitable, resilient society.

At Southern Cross University we understand that confronting climate change requires bold action and unwavering commitment – and, to that end, our goal is to become a world leader in sustainable practices and a shaper of global discourse. Join us as we transform tomorrow and continue to evolve and develop our approach to delivering educational transformation and research impact sustainably.