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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Developing a carbon calculator for research


We will a) develop guidance on options on how to reduce the environmental impact of health and social care research; b) develop and test a prototype calculator for measuring carbon emissions as a result of health and social care research.

Our focus is on health and social care, in the first instance, but the intention is, at a later stage, to adapt it so that it is applicable across other disciplines. NB we are aware that carbon emissions are not the only environmental impact. Our guidance will cover environmental impacts more broadly (potentially framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals), while the calculator will focus on carbon emissions.

The commitment to net zero means all industries and types of work are having to consider how to assess and reduce their environmental impact. The UK Research and Innovation, for example, have launched an Environmental Sustainability Strategy (UKRI 2020) in which they aspire to be net zero for their entire research by 2040. The University of Southampton has its own targets outlined in its Sustainability strategy 2020-2025, in which greenhouse gas emissions are grouped into three ‘scopes’, with a commitment to net zero emissions by 2030 for scopes 1 (direct emissions which the University controls) and 2 (indirect emissions from electricity purchased and used by the University) as well as have sustainability embedded in our learning, teaching, research and professional services operations. This is in line with the advice from the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education Students and Leaders. This issue is also gaining traction in health and social care research. Indeed, the National Institute for Health and Care Research – the largest funder of health and social care research in the UK – has developed carbon reduction guidelines and are appointing to Head of Sustainability who will be tasked with addressing these issues.

Our project will develop nascent guidance on how to reduce the environmental impact (from health and social care research) and a prototype for calculating carbon emissions. Our intention is to use this prototype as a springboard for further investment to develop into a calculator that can be used across the health and social care research landscape and beyond.

Also, we intend for this carbon emissions calculator to become the norm in the development of all research proposals. It will provide researchers with an easy-to-use mechanism for assessing their options and funders with a means for assessing and providing feedback on the appropriateness of a particular approach.


This work will contribute both specifically to the University of Southampton’s commitment to work sustainably and more generally to the research world. Research funders and researchers are becoming increasingly aware that they must consider the environmental impact of their research. However, there is not currently any substantive guidance on how to assess what researchers could do or have done to address the environmental impact of their research nor a means of calculating this environmental impact. This work will be of value to both researchers and research funders. The guidance will provide a framework for enabling both researchers and research funders to consider the extent to which a research proposal has addressed environmental impact. The carbon emissions calculator will enable researchers and research funders to measure carbon emissions and compare different approaches to research.

Specific Outputs

The intention is that this work will provide a basis for applying for further funding to develop an online, user-friendly carbon calculator that can be used by researchers and research funders to assess carbon emissions of approaches to research.

We are well-placed through our global networks in the School of Healthcare Enterprise & Innovation to disseminate and advocate for the use of the carbon calculator tool amongst global health research funders. This could have a huge impact on an international scale in reducing the carbon footprint of health research. The implementation of the tool could help pharma partners to maintain their social license to operate if they are known for being heavy carbon emitters. The tool will also enable funders to quantify the carbon footprint of the research that they fund, which can be monitored and offset accordingly to help governments and private funders meet global net zero targets.

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG12 - Responsible Consumption and Production;SDG9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

Project Members

Project Lead: Gary Hickey

Katie Porter

Alice Brock

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