Cambridge University ranked 82nd in UK for environmental and ethical performance

The 2021 People & Planet University League placed Oxford, LSE, and Anglia Ruskin higher than Cambridge

The University of Cambridge was placed 82nd in the 2021 People & Planet University League, which ranks 154 universities in the UK according to environmental and ethical performance. The University “dropped 15 places to 82nd” compared to 2020, even though overall “Russell Group universities have shown improvement this year.”

How Cambridge did

To rank the universities, the League uses 13 different criteria shown in the image below:

The University of Cambridge’s performance in each of the 13 criteria, in per cent terms. Image credits: author’s screenshot from People & Planet


2021 saw several Cambridge colleges make public commitments to more sustainable policies. For instance, Trinity College announced in February its intent to divest 95 per cent of its fossil fuel investments by the end of 2021. Among other colleges, Selwyn College, Fitzwilliam College, and Pembroke College made similar public commitments in 2021.

However, the University’s lowest-scoring criterion was Ethical Investment & Banking, wherein the League subtracted points for not including students on its investment committees or publicly listing its investments annually.

The University received 5/50 per cent from the League for its commitment to “screen out specific sectors, such as fossil fuel companies, arms companies, and companies in violation of international law,”  and scored similarly in terms of ethical banking (0/10 per cent) and transparency & accountability (1/5 per cent).

In a press release, the People & Planet University League noted that “the Ethical Investment and Banking section had one of the lowest average scores, at only 31 per cent, indicating that there remains room for improvement. Not a single university holds an Ethical Banking Policy that excludes banks that invest in fossil fuels companies and projects.”

The University’s highest-scoring criterion was Staff, where it received a perfect score for senior staff responsibility, the number of staff working on sustainability-related issues, its sustainability budget, and staff participation.

Read more about the 2021 University and College Union (UCU) strikes at Cambridge here.


At present, 46 per cent of the higher education sector is set to meet the “emissions reduction target set by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), up from one third in 2019.” However, this has “undoubtedly been boosted by the lack of activity on university campuses during the pandemic.”

The Climate League of Oxford and Cambridge, which released its own rankings of Oxbridge colleges earlier this year, criticized the University and its colleges as “not only [failing] to take action but [continuing] to actively contribute to the problem.” They demand that the University “must urgently stop this greenwashing of companies like Shell and BP’s reputation.”

CLOC added, “This is evident through their poor emissions reductions, continuing investments in fossil fuel companies (up until 2030), and lack of green energy providers. This is not only hypocritical but a stunning betrayal of their responsibility to act.”

The organization also noted that “since the publication of this league table, it has been revealed that Cambridge University accepted more than £14m from oil giants in the last 4 years.” This information comes from an investigation by OpenDemocracy, which reported on the financial links between major oil companies and British universities.

In an earlier news piece by The Tab on the OpenDemocracy report, a University spokesman asserted that “less than half a per cent of the annual research and philanthropic funding provided to Cambridge comes from the traditional energy sector and no donor directs the research that they fund.”

“The University of Cambridge published its relationships with energy companies in November at the start of the COP26 global climate change talks in Glasgow to show how we are working with partners to accelerate progress to renewable or decarbonised energy.”

The University of Cambridge Press Office was contacted for comment.

Feature image credits: Gleb Vinnychenko