Imperial College London

Imperial to lead transition to zero pollution

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Imperial's Queen's  Tower

Imperial has announced a set of major initiatives in the fight against climate change.

A new research and education programme, Transition to Zero Pollution, is being launched alongside new investment and sustainability policies to find meaningful solutions to climate change.

Transition to Zero Pollution

Plastic fibres have also been found at the deepest reaches of the Pacific Ocean
Plastic fibres have also been found at the deepest reaches of the Pacific Ocean

Transition to Zero Pollution is a pioneering programme in research, education and innovation to help society ‘transition to zero pollution’.

The project will inspire fundamental changes in areas such as the way materials are used in manufacturing, how we produce food and energy, and will help mitigate the impact of air pollution on people's health. 

"It’s really about an entire system. Thinking about how to address pollution at source and understanding the impact of it in the whole life cycle" Professor Mary Ryan Vice-Dean (Reseach)

Led by materials scientist Professor Mary Ryan, the initiative will bring together researchers across Imperial and will build new partnerships that converge disciplines, from fundamental science and engineering, systems thinking, human health, new business models and policymaking, to realise a new zero pollution future.

The ‘Transition to Zero Pollution’ initiative is one of the first bold actions to come out of the Academic Strategy demonstrating our commitment to build a ‘sustainable society’.

The project will tackle global pollution through major new research programmes in:

  • Fundamental engineering and physical sciences research to underpin the transition
  • The water-food-energy-production nexus
  • Environmental and human health
  • Innovative economic and business models

Professor Ryan’s project team will include epidemiologist Professor Paul Elliot, process systems engineer Professor Nilay Shah, water management engineer Dr Ana Mijic, Grantham Institute innovation lead Professor Richard Templer, among others.

Professor Ryan
Professor Mary Ryan will lead the programme

Professor Mary Ryan, Vice-Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Engineering, said: “Addressing the challenge of global pollution will require a radical shift in industrial systems, technologies, and business models, underpinned by the development of innovative policies and governance structures – all of which will require integrated research across many disciplines.”

Professor Ryan added: “We see CO2 as a pollutant, a major and urgent pollutant, but not the only thing we should be thinking of.

"It’s really about an entire system. Thinking about how to address pollution at source and understanding the impact of it in the whole life cycle.”

Imperial is collaborating with startup Arborea (founded by an alumnus) to develop pioneering ‘BioSolar Leaf’ technology to improve air quality at the White City Campus in west London.

Socially responsible investment

The news comes as Imperial announces a new socially responsible investment policy, including divesting from companies that are not demonstrably working towards meeting the Paris Agreement targets.

The College will pursue an active approach to investments in all asset classes, considering social, environmental and governance concerns.

Provost Ian Walmsley recently launched a new Academic Strategy with a commitment to build a ‘sustainable society’.

Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost of Imperial College London, said: “Imperial is driving change towards a sustainable society.

"We do this both through our research, education and innovation and how we act as an institution.

"Our community of academics, professional staff and students make this happen through our academic strategy initiatives, such as the Transition to Zero-Pollution project, and the community-led development of a new Sustainability Strategy.

"And our Socially Responsible Investment Policy outlines how we will also use our position and influence as a high-visibility investor to support this engagement and help realise a sustainable world for ourselves and for future generations."

All investments in Imperial’s endowment will align with major international accords, including the UN Principles of Responsible Investment. Active ownership and engagement will be at the heart of the Endowment Board’s approach. Where Imperial’s investments are too small to be effective, Imperial will collaborate or combine resources with like-minded investors.

Where engagement as an investor proves ineffective, the College will seek other means of influence for corporate partners, including leveraging relationships based on research funding, collaboration or employment of graduates.

Where companies’ current activities and future plans are not aligned with Imperial’s policies and efforts at influence do not work, the Endowment Board will divest.

Imperial will not invest directly or indirectly in the tobacco industry or any arms manufacturers that breach Arms Control Treaties signed by the UK.

Creating a sustainable campus

A pilot project is helping improve the sustainability of laboratories

In the Autumn Term, Imperial will publish a Sustainability Strategy that will set a carbon neutral target for the College and recommend policies to make our campuses as sustainable as possible.

Our new Academic Leader in Sustainability, Professor Paul Lickiss is leading a College-wide conversation on making our campuses more environmentally friendly.

Professor Lickiss
Professor Lickiss is leading conversations about making College campuses more sustainable 

Professor Lickiss said: “Sustainability should run through the whole of College thinking and activity across all campuses. Initiatives like Greening Imperial have already made real progress on this front.

“Our new Sustainability Strategy will set a carbon neutral target for the College and recommend policies that marshal our convening power, our research and our educational expertise to put us at the forefront of positive change for the sector."

Imperial has already stopped using plastic glasses and cutlery, and made the switch to a sustainable energy supplier on all our campuses.

The Laboratory Environmental Assessment Framework (LEAF) which helps improve the sustainability of laboratories now has 35 labs participating.


Andrew Scheuber

Andrew Scheuber
Communications Division

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Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns
Communications Division

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Comms-strategy-Real-world-benefits, Global-challenges-Engineering, International, Global-challenges-Natural-world, Strategy-collaboration, Sustainability, Global-challenges-Health-and-wellbeing, Climate-change
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