Environmental campaigner Jonathon Porritt has called on the higher education sector to lead the way on sustainability as he was installed as Keele University’s new chancellor.

Mr Porritt, former co-chair of the Green Party, is a writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development.

He will be the Staffordshire university’s fourth chancellor and succeeds Professor Sir David Weatherall, who has retired after nine years.

“Universities are not just big businesses that should be making their estate more sustainable, but are in the unique position of being able to educate future generations and drive research into the sustainability and environmental agenda,” said Mr Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth.

“If universities don’t lead the way, there is a risk that less independent voices fill the vacuum with their own agenda on the subject of sustainability, rather than insight based on robust research.

“With the financial future set to remain bleak for some time, this is a gritty and challenging context that we are faced with, but it is essential that universities like Keele stay focused and thrive through these difficult times.”

Professor Nick Foskett, vice-chancellor of Keele University, said: “The challenging context of HE is ensuring that all universities look closely at their plans for the future.

“Mr Porritt will advise, support and motivate us in the difficult and uncertain times ahead.”

Mr Porritt is the co-founder of Forum for the Future, established in 1996, as a sustainable development charity.

He is also co-director of The Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme which runs seminars for senior executives around the world.

He is a non-executive director of Wessex Water and of Willmott Dixon Holdings, a trustee of the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, and is involved in the work of NGOs and charities as patron, chair or special adviser.

Mr Porritt was chairman of UNED-UK, Sustainability South West, the South West Round Table for Sustainable Development, a trustee of WWF UK and a member of the board of the South West Regional Development Agency

He stood down as chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in July 2009 after nine years of advice to Government Ministers.

Mr Porritt received a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection.

His latest books are Capitalism As If The World Matters, Globalism & Regionalism and Living Within Our Means.

Rosie Weatherley, President of Keele University’s Student Union, added: “Keele students have for generations stood up for what they believe to be right and Jonathon’s uncompromising commitment to this idea makes him a worthy new figurehead for the institution and a great ambassador for Keele.”

The installation of a new chancellor is the first official event in Keele’s 50th Anniversary year.