Economic Growth

These are the world’s most sustainable universities

The University of Manchester has been listed among the most sustainable universities.

The University of Manchester has been listed among the most sustainable universities. Image: Unsplash/ Zhanhui Li

Stephen Hall
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The Times Higher Education’s Impact Rankings 2022 is the world’s only list measuring universities’ contributions against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • This year, Western Sydney University in Australia topped the list of the most sustainable universities, with Hokkaido University in Japan coming tenth.
  • Overall, the UK has the most universities in the top 100 at 20.

From the Paris revolt in 1968 to the anti-Vietnam war student strikes, academic establishments have long been instigators of societal change.

And, as the climate crisis intensifies, the need for large-scale transformation has never been more urgent. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, aims to accelerate this change.

The Times Higher Education’s (THE) Impact Rankings 2022 is the world’s only list measuring universities’ contributions against these goals. Globally, 1,400 universities from 106 countries or regions were assessed in terms of research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.

Here are the institutions - and countries - making the most impact right now.

Impact Rankings 2022: Top 10 most sustainable universities.
Impact Rankings 2022: Top 10 most sustainable universities. Image: Times Higher Education.

The world’s most sustainable universities

This year, Western Sydney University, an institution in Penrith, Australia leads the pack in meeting criteria related to the SDGs.

THE found the institution was:

  • 1st worldwide for SDG6: Clean water and sanitation.
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG12: Responsible consumption and production.
  • 3rd worldwide for SDG5: Gender equality.
  • 4th worldwide for SDG10: Reduced inequalities.
  • 5th worldwide for SDG17: Partnership for the goals

Following its 1st place ranking, the university’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Barney Glover said, “we are particularly proud of our work to drive important social change and transformation with and for our local communities, as well as our role to help produce the next generation of innovators, thought leaders and civic-minded citizens.”

Second place went to Arizona State University in the US. It ranked 1st in the world in three SDG categories: Sustainable cities and communities; Life below water; and Life on land.

"Our planet is pushing back on us. We are learning that our planet is not limitless; it’s trying to tell us something through droughts, wildfires, viruses and more," said Peter Schlosser, Vice President of the university. The institution has partnered with or instigated a number of sustainability initiatives, including the Allen Coral Atlas, the first global habitat tool to map the world’s tropical, shallow coral reefs.

Canada’s Western University also scored highly, achieving third place. Western placed in the top five in the world for four SDGs: No poverty, Zero hunger, Life below water and Peace, justice and strong institutions, and improved its global ranking in 13 of the 17 SDGs.

World's most sustainable universities: This year, Western Sydney University, an institution in Penrith, Australia leads the pack in meeting criteria related to the SDGs.
World's most sustainable universities: This year, Western Sydney University, an institution in Penrith, Australia leads the pack in meeting criteria related to the SDGs. Image: Times Higher Education.

Universities at emerging economies score highly

In joint fourth position were two universities from emerging economies, King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia’s Universiti Sains. King Abdulaziz University achieved a top score for SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure. Meanwhile, Universiti Sains Malaysia achieved 1st place for SDG 17: Partnership for the goals.

The University of Auckland, New Zealand placed 6th globally. In 2020, the institution was appointed as the official centre for SDG 4: Quality Education, by the United Nations Academic Impact.

Queen’s University in Canada achieved 7th place. It scored highly on SDG 1: combating poverty and SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities.

UK achieves most universities in the top 100

The highest ranked UK institution was Newcastle University in eighth place, followed by the University of Manchester in ninth. Newcastle University has an SDG Committee which steers action at the university, and its Global Challenges Academy brings together research that supports the SDGs. Meanwhile, the University of Manchester has made a commitment to zero carbon in-line with the City of Manchester’s 2038 goal. Overall, the UK has the most universities in the top 100 at 20.

Hokkaido University, in Japan, rounded out the top 10 with a first place score on SDG 2: Combating hunger, and a high score for SDG 15: Protecting life on land.

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Economic GrowthEducation and SkillsClimate Action
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