U of A ranked 11th in global list of top universities making an impact on sustainability

Expertise in biodiversity, agriculture and urban planning shows in latest ranking of institutions advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.


The U of A ranked 11th out of more than 1,400 universities worldwide in the latest Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, based on its leadership toward achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. (Photo: Getty Images)

The University of Alberta has been named one of the world’s top 15 most sustainable post-secondary institutions for its ongoing efforts creating sustainability on campus and in the local and global community, notably rising from last year’s ranking of 64th in the world.

According to the fourth annual Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which lists more than 1,400 participating universities by their contribution to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030 as outlined by the United Nations, the U of A is the world’s 11th most sustainable university, and third in Canada.

Bob Summers, academic director for the U of A’s Sustainability Council, said the institution’s significant rise in the rankings is largely due to the fact that last year was the first time it submitted for the THE Impact Rankings, and this year there was opportunity to better showcase and celebrate the U of A’s work.

Leading the way toward a more sustainable world

“These submissions are a learning process for us,” said Summers. “Our faculty, staff and students have been doing great work for years. But we are increasingly doing a better job of tracking that work and sharing it.”

U of A president Bill Flanagan said the improved rankings are a testament to the creativity, talent and determination of the people behind the projects — people who have dedicated their lives to tackling the world’s biggest problems.

“Placing 11th in the THE Impact Rankings is a tremendous achievement,” said Flanagan. “It highlights that the U of A is one of very few universities in the world with the excellence and range to play a lead role in solving the full range of global challenges and help to create a more sustainable, just and equitable world.”

This year’s submission was made with help from the U of A SDG working group, led by the Sustainability Council and U of A International in partnership with Energy & Climate Action. The submission included data contributions from more than 90 content experts and units across all campuses.

Cen Huang, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), said the U of A’s high ranking reflects the level of interest and commitment in the university community to working toward a more sustainable world for all.

“These rankings make it clear to the global community that the U of A is an international leader in education and innovation that is fully invested in contributing towards a sustainable global future,” Huang noted. “They show the world that the U of A has tremendous expertise and experience to share across a broad range of academic fields, and that we are ready to collaborate with domestic and international partners to support the SDGs.”

Improvement in all 17 goals

The U of A’s scores improved in all 17 SDGs this year, ranking highest in the global goals of Life on Land, Zero Hunger and Sustainable Cities and Communities, finishing 5th, 9th (tie) and 11th in the world, respectively.

“Canada’s university system as a whole shines out in this ranking as a true global beacon of excellence in driving public good, with many Canadian institutions showing leadership across different Sustainable Development Goals,” said Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer with Times Higher Education.

“The University of Alberta leads Canada as the nation’s number one university for SDG 4, Quality Education. Alberta also shows global leadership in SDG 15, Life on Land, where it is ranked fifth in the world, and for its overall strength in depth across the goals. Congratulations, and indeed thanks, are due to Alberta for its contributions here.”

Initiatives that contributed to the Life on Land ranking — the goal to protect, restore and promote sustainable land use and reverse biodiversity loss — include the new Renewable Energy Technologies (RET) Certificate program, the U of A Botanic Garden’s Green School, Resilient Forests and the North Saskatchewan River Valley Forest Reserve, and Augustana’s Miquelon Lake Research Station

The U of A’s work to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture include programs like the LeanPath food waste tracking system, the Sustainable Food Working Group and the Bentley Lectures in Sustainable Agriculture.

The university also placed highly in the Sustainable Cities and Community ranking — a goal to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable — thanks to initiatives like the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab, the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute and the redevelopment of the historic Dentistry/Pharmacy building.

Other SDGs that earned high rankings include Life Below Water, Gender Equality, and Clean Water and Sanitation.

To calculate the rankings, THE compares universities across three areas in each category — outreach, stewardship and research — then looks closer at a few thematic areas for each, with special emphasis on academic output.

“I'm thrilled about this outcome because it recognizes the huge contribution that our institution is making,” said Summers. “It sets us up to build upon that as we move forward with our sustainability-focused initiatives.”

Summers and Huang agreed the rankings should also serve as a reminder that there is always more to be done.

“The Sustainability Council's recently launched SUST (sustainability) courses are a great example of how we are working to build programming that is rooted in addressing the SDGs through exploring complex societal systems using an interdisciplinary approach,” said Summers.

“The next phase of our efforts towards addressing the SDGs will be in these types of efforts that integrate our research and teaching across the institution.”

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

SDG 1 - No Poverty: 101-200
SDG 2 - Zero Hunger: 9 (tie)
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being: 71
SDG 4 - Quality Education: 101-200
SDG 5 - Gender Equality: 32
SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation: 38 (tie)
SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy: 71 (tie)
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth: 201-300
SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: 100 (tie)
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities: 89 (tie)
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities: 11
SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production: 94 (tie)
SDG 13 - Climate Action: 101-200
SDG 14 - Life Below Water: 18
SDG 15 - Life on Land: 5
SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: 63
SDG 17 - Partnership for the Goals: 23 (tie)