Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Monday 24 January 2022 3:25pm

rayportraitSustainability Office Head Ray O'Brien

The University of Otago aims to slash carbon emissions by 54 per cent across six areas by 2029, as the most critical step to achieving net carbon zero by 2030, Sustainability Office Head Ray O'Brien says.

Sending emissions plummeting by about 27,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent compared to the 2019 baseline is the cornerstone to reaching the target, which the University of Otago Council recently recommitted to achieving. This should send annual gross greenhouse gas emissions below 22,000 tonnes before the end of the decade.


The University will focus on six areas for emissions cuts:
• Buildings – e.g. increasing their efficiency, minimising construction and demolition waste.
• Energy – e.g. not using coal and gas, using renewables like electricity and biomass (e.g. wood chips).
• Supply chain – e.g. food purchases, focussing on low emissions ingredients and further reducing food waste.
• Travel, air – e.g. ensuring emissions from staff flights stay low post-pandemic and reducing emissions from student flights.
• Travel, other – e.g. commuting to and from our campuses, our land and marine fleet, and business travel and accommodation.
• Waste – e.g. reducing waste to landfill, wastewater, and refrigerant emissions.

Collection of emissions data will also be improved, departments and teams will know their emissions, and behaviour changes will be supported e.g. sustainable product buying decisions, Mr O'Brien says.


New Zealand has declared a climate emergency and pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This pledge will drastically reduce New Zealand's emissions and balance the remaining emissions through the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere e.g. by planting forests

The Government expects the public service to lead by zero carbon example and acting early lets the University play an active part in building that capability.

Both staff and students also want the University to tackle climate change, including 76 academics who requested Otago buy carbon credits to offset travel, he says.

Progress already

The Net Carbon Zero target introduces a University-wide approach, but emissions have been reducing, which has included:
• Continuously decreasing waste that goes to landfill.
• Eliminating coal from a system that heats many Dunedin campus buildings.
• Buying a new energy analytics platform to help provide real-time feedback on opportunities to increase energy efficiency in our buildings that use the most energy.
• Introducing Mindful Mondays (meat-free meals) at residential colleges.
• Significantly reducing air travel emissions from March 2020, because of COVID-19.

Offsetting hard-to-abate emissions

The University will only use carbon credits to offset emissions after doing the mahi to reduce emissions as much as possible, Mr O'Brien says.

Otago is drawing on existing research relationships to create native forest regeneration projects that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also delivering huge biodiversity and water quality benefits.

By using a range of planting and management approaches, the University will provide many research, teaching and learning opportunities and produce knowledge that can help others taking nature-based solutions. Details of our first project should be available early next year.

Otago academics are also involved in researching the roles that soil, tussock, wetlands, fiords, kelp, and certain types of minerals can play in removing carbon to help New Zealand and the international community reach net zero by the middle of this century, Mr O'Brien says.

What next?

A road map to achieving net carbon zero by 2030 is being created now so more detail will follow.

Back to top