The UK is committed in law to meet Net Zero by 2050. This ambitious climate action is vital to ensure that we limit the average global temperature rise to well below 2⁰C, thereby preventing the most dangerous impacts of climate change. The government is requesting all businesses regardless of size commit to meet Net Zero by 2050 or sooner. An increasing number of organisations are asking bidders for their carbon reduction plans, and the government has gone further in stating that businesses (with a £5M+ turnover) can only bid for government contracts if they have one.


In 2022 Nottingham Trent University started to explore how it could reduce its carbon emissions from the goods and services it purchases. A key consideration was how the university could accurately calculate the supply chain carbon footprint, as well as track the positive sustainable supply chain interventions that it implements. It was clear that the university needed to move away from spend-based carbon calculations to a methodology that could provide a higher level of specificity and focus.  .

Nottingham Trent University approached NETpositive Futures to collaborate in designing and implementing a platform to engage with suppliers on net zero, support the development of supplier bespoke carbon reduction plans and gather data to enable the calculation of scope 3 supply chain emissions. Steps included.

  • NTU piloted a tool with suppliers to begin the data* collection process (* actual supplier scope 1+2 emissions data, and their commitment and progress towards Net Zero).
  • This pilot was reviewed, and changes were made to the system which included embedding a scope 1+2 carbon calculator
  • A further 5 universities were invited to undertake a second pilot phase (Anglia Ruskin University, The University of Manchester, the University of Birmingham, The University of Bath, Lancaster University)

After a successful 2nd pilot phase, NTU and NETpositive Futures launched a one-year action research project to reflect, learn and test the tools that had been developed and the validity of the approach.

Following an open invitation to the Higher Education Sector a total of 32 universities are now engaged in the action research project running from 1st November 2023 – 31st October 2024. A full list of universities involved can be found here.

Net Zero Carbon Supplier Tool – Action Research Project:

This project supports universities to utilise the Net Zero Carbon Supplier Tool, developed by NTU and NETpositive Futures, to engage supply chains on Net Zero. This innovative platform supports suppliers with calculating their carbon footprint and helps them develop bespoke carbon reduction plans. The participating universities use the information captured by the tool to accurately measure the carbon impact of the goods and services it purchases and realise the positive impact of its sustainable procurement initiatives.

The Tool has been specifically designed as a collaborative platform for the HE sector and is currently bringing together procurement and sustainability professionals from over 30 HE institutions to tackle supply chain emissions. By engaging across our shared supply chains, the Tool enables the sector to build more sustainable supply chains and support businesses to become more sustainable.

The tool is free and simple to use for suppliers, and, by working through each stage suppliers receive a carbon reduction action plan which includes your businesses carbon footprint. If they have already calculated their carbon footprint and committed to take action, they simply provide their carbon footprint and a link to their action plan as a way to demonstrate their sustainability credentials to the sector.

What is the project trying to achieve?

There are number of objectives for the project and the intangible value of over 30 universities is hard to calculate.  Regular project meetings and focus groups are tackling a range of the more challenging issues around carbon reduction in a HE context. The learning will be shared with the sector and in its truest sense this action research project is exploring the ‘art of the possible’. Project objectives include:

  • Improve the quality and increase the quantity of supplier data
  • Increase the number of universities circulating to the tool (communicating to suppliers that this is important)
  • Develop further peer to peer learning from the process
  • Identify and fund further updates to the system (to improve the supplier experience and improve the access to the data)
  • Refine the data assurance process and identify assurance efficiencies.

What are the benefits of this approach?

Some of the identified benefits of this collaborative approach and the tool include:

Benefits for suppliers

  • A simple yet effective sustainability tool that avoids complex jargon.
  • The Tool be used by suppliers regardless of where they are on their sustainability journey.
  • The approach offers suppliers the ability to create bespoke carbon reduction plans which suppliers can use to demonstrate their commitment to Net Zero.
  • Suppliers are provided with the opportunity to demonstrate their sustainability credentials to the HE Sector.
  • The Tool offers suppliers the ability to create one single account which shares data across all HE institutions that they supply.

Benefits for the HE Sector

  • Provides a universal mechanism to engage across your supply chain on sustainability.
  • It provides the universities with supplier’s actual carbon emissions.
  • It helps the universities understand supplier commitment to sustainability.
  • Provides universities with knowledge for informed sustainability decision making on future procurement activity.
  • The collaboration HEs commitments to civic responsibility, social value, supporting local supply chains as well as demonstrating action across multiple SDGs

About the Net Zero Carbon Supplier Tool

The tool acknowledges the differing maturity of suppliers on the journey to net zero – some will have already calculated their carbon footprint and created a Carbon Action Plan, whilst others will not have.

For those that have calculated their carbon emissions the tool asks for some primary information including size of business, provision of goods/services that they supply, business turnover and carbon footprint reporting year before then going on to requesting their carbon footprint and a weblink to their plan.

For those that haven’t calculated their carbon emissions, by working through the three sections (see table), they receive their carbon footprint and a Carbon Action Plan as a PDF which they can upload to their website as their public declaration to net zero. They are prompted to log in and update their actions

Whilst the data is changing every day here is where we are now

  • 331 suppliers signed up to the net zero tool.
  • 46% have used the tool to calculate their carbon footprint data
  • 54% have provided their own calculation.
  • 227 users of the tool are SMEs
  • We have supported 240 businesses to create Carbon Reduction Action Plans of which 166 are SMEs
  • Suppliers have committed to over 8415 carbon reduction actions

Interested in seeing what suppliers are asked to do and how they are supported, watch this short video.