Top tips from City’s Sustainability Officer

City, University of London was recently ranked among the top 200 institutions globally for climate action, responsible consumption and production, and reducing inequalities in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Ranking 2021. City’s Sustainability Officer Eleanor Simes talked to us about City, sustainability, and five of her tips on what to read, watch and listen to about sustainability.  

Portrait of Eleanor SimesEleanor, what has City done to be ranked in the top 200 by Times Higher Education?

City has done a lot of work on sustainability over the last few years. Recently we have focussed on how we can support the United Nation’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development and making bold commitments to improve our performance. A key one is our commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. This means that we will reduce our emissions to a minimum and then offset any remaining emissions.
Our performance in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings has been due to the amazing contribution of colleagues from across the institution who are bringing sustainable initiatives to all areas of work. You can read fascinating and innovative case studies in our recently published Global Goals report.  

 In the past year, we have seen a lot of news stories about how our reactions to Covid-19 impacted the environment, which ones have stood out to you?

 The reports about air pollution really struck me. There were so many stories from countries and cities across the world which were seeing huge improvements in air quality as the world slowed down during lockdown. Air pollution has such serious impacts on our health, and it was motivating to see how quickly some of those pollutants could be removed from the air we breathe through changes in our lifestyles.

Do you think some of the positive impacts will become permanent?

Obviously, the pandemic has had some short-term positive impacts on the environment, air pollution, reduction in consumption, etc. but also as we return to ‘normal’ life it is likely emissions and consumption will bounce back, potentially to higher levels than previously as governments look to stimulate the economy.
I hope the positive that will come out of this is an understanding and belief that we as a society can undergo significant, radical, and transformational change. That is what we will need to do to counter climate change. I think before the pandemic some suggested climate actions could seem unattainable or far-fetched to some people, but countries all over the world have demonstrated we can make big changes when we are facing an emergency.

What do we often misunderstand when we think about sustainability?

I think many people view ‘sustainability’ as somehow separate and something that can be dealt with by specialists or experts, but that is not the case. It relates to everyone’s daily lives and work as everything we do is connected and has consequences, whether that’s in our local neighbourhood or on the other side of the world.
For example, Covid-19 and other diseases, like SARS and Ebola, have demonstrated that the way we humans treat the environment has a profound effect on the development and spread of disease. You can read a summary of some recent research here.

The good news is, that you can decide if your impact will be positive or negative. 

Could you give us some of your top tips on what to read, listen to or watch to find out more about sustainability?

There are absolutely loads of great books, shows, and podcasts out there to find out more. Here are a few to get you started:

The heart-shaped leaves of an indoor plant and the number 1 against a green background.Mothers of Invention podcast – Listen to inspiring women from around the world share what they do to carve a path to climate justice. In every episode, you get to meet a new climate leader with views on and potential solutions for the challenges we face. 


The heart-shaped leaves of an indoor plant and the number 2 against a green background.Down to Earth with Zac Effron TV show – Film star Zac Effron travels with Darin Olien to different parts of the world, including Iceland and the UK, to discover healthy and sustainable ways of living. 


The heart-shaped leaves of an indoor plant and the number 3 against a green background.The Independent – Best climate change books– I couldn’t choose just one (and confess to not having read all of the ones here, although they are on my list!) but these titles will give you the knowledge you need to create change. 


The heart-shaped leaves of an indoor plant and the number 4 against a green background.Climate Curious podcast – Climate change can seem difficult to understand, or too scary to engage with. If that’s how you feel, or you’re just curious to know more, give this podcast from TEDxLondon a try. 


The heart-shaped leaves of an indoor plant and the number 5 against a green background.Centre for Alternative Technology webinars – The Centre for Alternative Technology provides webinars and online events which cover a wide selection of topics that are all related to sustainability. Practical tips included!


Thank you for these great suggestions, Eleanor!