U of A ranks among world’s top universities striving for a sustainable world

University places 64th in latest global ranking of schools making an impact toward achieving UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

THE impacts

On World Creativity and Innovation Day, a new ranking places the U of A 64th in the world among universities making an impact toward achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. (Photo: NASA)

The University of Alberta has been named one of the world’s top 100 most sustainable post-secondary institutions for its ongoing efforts creating sustainability on campus and in the local and global community.

According to the third annual Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Ranking, which lists participating universities by their contribution to a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030 as outlined by the United Nations, the U of A is the world’s 64th most sustainable university.

The U of A placed in all 17 SDGs, ranking highest in the global goals of Life on Land and Zero Hunger, finishing 14th and 16th, respectively.

Initiatives that helped drive the rank in Life on Land—a promise to protect and restore natural habitats—include the U of A Botanic Garden’s Green School, the North Saskatchewan River Valley Forest Reserve, Augustana’s Miquelon Lake Research Station and plastic waste reduction through the Zero Waste system and in labs.

The U of A’s work related to the UN’s goal of ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture include the Diary Research and Technology Centre, LeanPath food waste tracking, the Campus Food Bank and Fresh Routes, and the Sustainable Food Working Group.

“The University of Alberta is working to solve the greatest problems that we face as a global society, and then we're making contributions locally and globally in addressing these big issues that have been identified by not just the UN but have been ratified by every country in the world,” said Bob Summers, academic director for the U of A’s Sustainability Council. “The rankings reflect our strong research and publishing record, our institutional operations and our engagement both locally and globally on the SDGs” 

The U of A also finished 30th in the world for the goal of promoting Life Below Water thanks to research programs like Tracking Change that engage with Northern and Indigenous communities.

Other SDGs where the U of A shone were Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (42nd), which revolves around the creation of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and Sustainable Cities and Communities (tied for 47th).

For the rankings, THE used carefully calibrated indicators to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons across three broad areas—outreach, stewardship and research—broken down into a further four to six general thematic areas, with academic output worth up to one-third of every SDG ranking

Themes where the U of A scored the maximum of 100 points included

  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG 9): Patents
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG 9): University Spinoffs
  • Sustainable Cities & Communities (SDG 11): Arts & Heritage Support
  • Life Below Water (SDG 14): Support Aquatic Ecosystems - Action
  • Life on the Land (SDG 15): Support Land Ecosystems - Education
  • Partnership for the Goals (SDG 17): Education for the SDGs

U of A president Bill Flanagan said he was delighted by the U of A's high achievement in our inaugural participation in the 2021 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. 

“Perfect scores in six diverse thematic indicators, from arts and heritage support to support for land ecosystems, reflect a dedication across our campuses to incorporating sustainability into everything we do,” said Flanagan.

The new ranking follows on a joint statement signed in March by Flanagan, alongside the leaders of 56 global universities, in favour of taking active steps to address the SDGs as a collective. This is the first time so many leading universities—representing 30 countries and regions over six continents—have come together to jointly commit to the achievement of the UN goals.

For its part, the U of A’s formal commitment to sustainability dates back to 2008 with the creation of what would eventually become the Sustainability Council, an academic leadership unit that works with all faculties to co-ordinate and expand sustainability efforts across campus and into the community.

The U of A’s submission for the ranking was the university’s first and was amassed jointly by the Sustainability Council and U of A International with data contributions from over 90 content experts across all campuses.

Cen Huang, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), said in undertaking this audit of the U of A’s sustainability track record, she was pleasantly surprised by just how many problems were being addressed by so many people.

“I think that it acknowledges what the university has been doing and how its community has been contributing to these sustainability goals, on the local and global scales,” said Huang. “It was nice to use the ranking submission to discover what we have been doing right, and how sustainability is uniting the campus so that we can work together to provide solutions to major global issues.”

How the U of A ranked in each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 1 - No Poverty: 201-300
SDG 2 - Zero Hunger: 16
SDG 3 - Good Health & Well-Being: 101-200
SDG 4 - Quality Education: 101-200
SDG 5 - Gender Equality: 101-200
SDG 6 - Clean Water & Sanitation: 79
SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy: 101-200
SDG 8 - Decent Work & Economic Growth: 201-300
SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: 101-200
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities: 101-200
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities & Communities: 47 (tie)
SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production: 98 (tie)
SDG 13 - Climate Action: 201-300
SDG 14 - Life Below Water: 30
SDG 15 - Life on Land: 14
SDG 16 - Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions: 42
SDG 17 - Partnership for the Goals: 72