Environment and Sustainability
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As a College, we are working towards putting environmental issues at the heart of our strategic and operational decisions. We are proud that Darwin is already recognised as being one of the most green Cambridge Colleges.

We have recently adopted an ambitious new piece of work which will provide the framework for the coming years. Consultation is currently underway to plan the de-gasification of our estate, exploring different technological solutions to heating our properties and making them more energy-efficient. 

Darwin held its inaugural Green week in the Easter Term of 2021, uniting students and Fellows in discussions, presentations and initiatives across a range of subjects, including a presentation on Biodiversity by the Master.

The College Environmental and Sustainability statement reads:

Darwin College takes responsibility for the environmental impact of its activities, and, to reflect our concern for sustainability and our relationship with the environment, has set out a number of principles which will guide our strategy and decision-making:

  1. To protect and enhance the natural environment by reducing our direct environmental impact
  2. To create a culture of awareness, and support the sharing of information to improve the personal and collective practises amongst Fellows, students and staff
  3. To operate a College which supports Green initiatives from its members
  4. To align ourselves with, or exceed where possible, recommended University best practices and comply fully with all environmental legislation.

The College strives to encourage/facilitate the progress of environmental awareness amongst the student body. The following projects are currently running:

  • Student gardens: the area behind one of the student houses on the main College site is used to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Bees: two beehives are located on one of the College islands and are managed by a team of student beekeepers (under the watchful eye of a professional!).
  • Recycling: numerous bins are located throughout the College in offices, student rooms and common rooms, including bins for hard to recycle items such as toothpaste and crisp packets.
  • Composting of kitchen waste: composting caddies are placed in all student kitchens, and the College kitchens compost as much as possible.
  • Sustainable packaging/reducing plastics: all packaging used by the College catering services is eco friendly and recyclable; there are no single use plastic bottles, and keep cups and RE.USE containers are used as standard.
  • The catering department has removed ruminant meats from the Servery menus and provide plant-based options at all occasions.

In the most recent ‘Green Impact’ awards Darwin was one of seven Cambridge Colleges to achieve a Gold level for our efforts. The University’s environmental coordinator wrote:

“It was great to meet some members of the team at Darwin College and see their enthusiasm for the work they have been doing. I was particularly impressed by some of the progress made in the catering department towards plant-based food and sustainably sourced local ingredients, as well as to read about the student garden. The steps taken towards increasing student engagement and awareness were also great to see - they demonstrated a great online network of information sharing with regular and effective communications as well as a board with some great information displayed. I look forward to seeing the progress that the cCollege will continue to make and I hope that they are encouraged to see their hard work paying off.”

Our efforts on moving towards plant-based food and reducing unnecessary plastic packaging were particularly highlighted.

Darwin has a unique location on the river, with two islands accessible by footbridge from the main garden. Each section of the garden has its own horticultural identity - the main lawn, two distinct islands, a rose garden, a woodland garden, a vicarage cottage garden, an orchard and a 'Jurassic park’. Planting reflects these topics and we strive to achieve a very high extent of biodiversity with a varied and prominent display of colours and shapes throughout the year.

Darwin benefits from the expertise of its Master, the Fellowship and the wider Darwin community, such as from our Fellow Dr Emily Shuckburgh (Director of the University of Cambridge Carbon Neutral Futures Initiative and Reader in Environmental Data Science at the Department of Computer Science and Technology) and alumnus Professor Ian Leslie (Director of University Information Services and Chair of the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee) who can help advise and guide our strategy and areas of impact.

Green Week
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Green Week 2021 was put together as a collaboration between Darwin Kitchens and the DCSA Green Society.

Ivan Higney (Darwin Catering Manager) and Meg Groom (DCSA Environmental and Ethical Affairs Officer) collaborated on this initiative as part of the Green Impact awards run by the University Environment Team and the NUS. The aim was to raise awareness within the Darwin College Community of the great practices already in place, bring new and exciting projects to life, and engage in educational and interesting sustainable practices.

Highlights of the week included:

  • Launching the first ever RE.USE reusable takeaway box scheme at Darwin Kitchens
  • Curating the week's menu around produce local to the East of England
  • Talks on a range topics, including biodiversity and the challenges of electrifying the aviation industry, by students, staff and the College Master
  • Donating the week's profits from the Darwin student bar to the refugee charity, SolidariTee.

All of the online talks were recorded, including the Master's talk on biodiversity which you can watch below.

Darwin has now committed to an annual Green Week and collaboration with the Student Association. We hope that Green Week was, and will continue to be, a spring board for Darwinians to help form and maintain our green policies!


Catering Sustainability
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Darwin College recognises its responsibility to provide healthy and sustainable food to our staff, students, and visitors.

This statement sets out the College’s intentions to minimise the impact of its catering operations on the environment, and its approach to promote sustainable and ethical practices and consumption. Our latest Sustainable and ethical statement   was agreed in 2020 and sets out the following:

Summary of Aims 

  • Reduce ruminant meat.  

  • Reduce the consumption of dairy products.   

  • Promote the consumption of more plant-based foods.   

  • Reduce food wastage.   

  • Source food and other products locally where possible.   

  • Ensure that products are traded fairly throughout the supply chain.  

  • Ensure that we provide fish from sustainable sources, limiting the impact on threatened stocks and through the environmental impacts of aquaculture.   

  • Reduce single use plastic and reduce the use of all plastic packaging.   

  • Continue to implement forward-thinking sustainability best practice.   


  • Raise awareness of the benefits to the environment and individuals of the sustainable and ethical statement through communications, training and accreditation applications.   

  • Monitor performance against the statement aims, including setting sustainable food targets, and reporting regularly on performance against these.  

Engage for change
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Darwin College actively supports this engagement initiative run by students with support from the University (https://www.cambridgehub.org/activities/engage-for-change)

Recent campaigns involving Darwin students include RE.USE, a project to remove single-use food containers from the College, and Project Second Life, a scheme for departing students to gift practical belongings to incoming Freshers.

Journey to zero carbon
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In 2019, Darwin began to compile and analyse the data of its Scope 1 and Scope 2 ** carbon emissions.

In February 2020 the College Council created an Environmental Infrastructure Working Group to continue this work, and to report back to the College with a comprehensive analysis of the whole estate.

This report breaks down to a building-by-building level, the different challenges of removing carbon emissions generated by the use of gas to heat and provide hot water.

As we look to setting a target for zero carbon emissions on Scope 1 & 2, the College is working with other parts of the Collegiate University to innovate and collaborate on solutions that will form part of a schedule of works over the coming years


** The GHG Protocol categorizes direct and indirect emissions : Scope 1: All direct GHG emissions. Scope 2: Indirect GHG emissions from consumption of purchased electricity, heat or steam.

Green Impact Awards
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Darwin has been participating in this annual scheme for a number of years and received a Gold Award in 2020 and 2021. Individual projects have been singled out for special recognition by the University. Find out more here.

Heating of College buildings
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In 2022 an extensive consultation was conducted with student representatives of the DCSA.

The practice of how and when to heat College properties has evolved over the years.

In light of the College's sustainability objectives and in the context of a global energy crisis which has driven energy prices to record highs, heating times have been assessed across the estate.

The following strategy has been agreed for 2022:

  • Heating in College buildings will be turned on from 12 October 2022.
  • In October and November, and then again during March and April, all buildings other than the Study Centre will be heated from early to mid-morning and then from late afternoon into the evening.
  • During the coldest months of December, January and February, the heating will be left on longer into the late morning, and will come on earlier in the afternoon.
  • The Study Centre will be heated throughout the day so that students working in College may do so in a warm environment.

These discussions have taken place in the context of the extreme rise in the cost of electricity and gas, but also reflect the need of the College to reduce energy use as part of our sustainability goals.

Darwin is planning an ambitious programme of infrastructure projects, including the possibility of using water source heat pumps to completely remove gas boilers from the main site. Over the summer we have continued the roll-out of secondary glazing across a number of rooms on the main site, and have developed plans to change all the windows and install heat pumps in an off-site hostel next summer.

As energy consumers we need to be as responsible as possible in how we use electricity and gas. Some solutions to reducing demand are technological, while others involve upgrading the building fabric, but behavioural change plays a key part. This strategy is an extremely positive step in the right direction.