University students have high expectations for the institutions they attend when it comes to sustainability: 87% want to see it actively promoted; while just over half believe that sustainability should be included in their coursework.

Times Higher Education has ranked universities around the world on how they are committing to some of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG No 12 looks at responsible consumption and production.

The rankings considered research, operations, sustainability reporting and recycling programmes.

Image: World Economic Forum

Based on that analysis, here are the top five universities for recycling and sustainability.

1) University College Cork

In 2007, students at University College Cork (UCC), in the Republic of Ireland, set up a Green Campus programme to improve recycling facilities and address waste management around the grounds.

Since then, UCC has cut its carbon emissions by 36%, planted 2,500 trees on campus, and increased the number of people cycling by 90%. Its library, one of the most energy-intensive buildings on campus, has seen a 9% reduction in energy use and a 700% increase in recycling through its own sustainability programme.

The university was the first in the world to be awarded a Green Flag from the Foundation for Environmental Education – a global organization that embeds sustainability throughout the education process.

2) Newcastle University

Newcastle University has a Sustainability Team sitting within its estates department. It’s responsible for environmental management across the campus – helping to reduce energy use and emissions and promoting sustainable travel options.

Newcastle is one of 20 UK universities that has recently signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) to collectively buy $64 million of renewable wind energy.

In April 2019, the university issued a climate emergency statement committing to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, promising to work towards achieving net zero emissions by 2040.

3) University of Dundee

Through its environmental and sustainability policy, the University of Dundee has committed to less waste, more recycling, and better use of recycled and recovered materials.

An example of this is its use of the Warp-it platform, which finds homes for used furniture from the estate, reducing waste and landfill.

The university also sells recycled goods in its campus shops and offers students recycling points to spend for every plastic bottle they return

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

4) University of Eastern Finland

The University of Eastern Finland is aiming to be a paperless campus; using only electronic internal communication and avoiding printing wherever possible.

Its administration offices have been granted a Green Office label by the WWF for a commitment to the promotion of sustainable development.

Staff and students are encouraged to reuse as much as possible, including ink cartridges and furniture.

The university is also committed to increasing recycling and minimizing landfill waste.

5) University of Aberdeen

At the University of Aberdeen, students, staff and local residents are encouraged to donate damaged electrical items for recycling. The university also follows Scotland's Zero Waste Plan, which, by 2025, wants to reduce total waste in Scotland by 15% against 2011 levels.

It has reduced its water usage by more than 100,000 tonnes a year thanks to refitted plumbing systems. And it has a five-year carbon management plan that it projects will reduce emissions by over 8,500 tonnes and save nearly $2.2 million by the end of 2021.

The World Economic Forum is helping to tackle environmental issues due to overconsumption through its Shaping the Future of Consumption platform.