Sustainability at Magdalen

Magdalen is taking steps to improve its sustainability. This website contains information for College members on all aspects of sustainability, ranging from updates on new initiatives to suggestions for how you can take part.  

What is sustainability?

Sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainability covers our impact on climate, biodiversity, and ecosystems, resources, waste, human wellbeing, and sustainable economies”, as embodied by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

College recognises several areas for action, including carbon and climate, biodiversity, food, resources and waste, people, and scholarship. Our guiding principles are outlined in our sustainability policy and more detailed objectives in our sustainability strategy.

What are we doing? 

The College comprises an array of heritage buildings of high architectural value but low carbon efficiency. Decarbonising these buildings is a complex and multi-step project, but the investment will improve comfort and functionality, as well as our aspirations for net zero. We have started the first steps.

The College Strategy aims to improve accommodation and facilities, which includes plans for new buildings. The College is instructing architects and builders to adopt best-in-class standards of sustainability for all new buildings. We will appoint sustainability consultants on each design team to advise on appropriate ways to adopt these standards. Planning will consider impacts on energy, waste and biodiversity during construction and through the building’s lifetime.  

Magdalen has adopted Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles for managing its endowment. We have made ESG an explicit part of our external managers’ selection process and will regularly evaluate compliance to our ESG principles and enact changes when required. 

Magdalen occupies a special site on the River Cherwell green corridor and is home to many charismatic species such as snake’s head fritillaries, kingfishers, badgers, otters and over 1000 trees. We are auditing our biodiversity as a baseline for judging progress towards the goal of increasing biodiversity by 2030. For example, 100 species of plant were recorded in the water meadow in 2022. Several species typical of this rare and declining habitat type were present but others were missing. We are refining management practices to increase biodiversity on the meadow, as well as providing better quality hay for the deer. 

Food was identified as an early priority issue by staff and students, and a report was commissioned into the carbon and biodiversity footprints of food consumed in hall during 2019 and Hilary Term 2020. The food choice with the largest impact is the amount of red meat. A vegetarian-speciality chef was hired in 2022 leading to expansion in the range of plant-based options available. Single-use sachets are no longer used, green kitchen waste is composted in College and use of takeaway containers has been reduced.  

Magdalen’s Calleva Research Centre funds research by College members into areas including food security and sustainable control of crop disease, improved decision making in climate change, and ways to limit the evolution of antibiotic resistance.   

How can I help?

During term, take part in our 8-step path to self sustainability.

Explore resources and opportunities available across the University, see Further Information below.

Got you own ideas for a new initiative? Get in touch with your Common Room environmental reps or College’s Sustainability Forum

Further information

University resources on sustainability including 5 first steps for environmental sustainability and the University’s strategy for reaching net zero and biodiversity gain by 2035.

Useful student guide for living sustainably in Oxford.

The Oxford Climate Society, dedicated to connecting and developing informed climate leaders.

Guide for businesses and policymakers.

College governance

Formed in 2020, the sustainability forum meets once per term, and additionally as required, to provide advice and propose actions to College committees. The forum provides a point of contact with initiatives across the Colleges, University and beyond. It monitors progress towards the sustainability goals and reports to College once per year. The forum comprises undergraduates, graduate students, Fellows, and staff to represent all College members.

Yearly report of the Sustainability Forum (to be updated soon)