U of A ranks among top 30 worldwide in latest QS Sustainability Rankings

Leadership and partnerships boost university to a remarkable rise in the second release of the new rankings.


The U of A ranks 28th in the world for its ability to help bring about a more sustainable world, according to the second edition of the new QS Sustainability Rankings. (Photo: Alex Pugliese)

The University of Alberta ranks among the world’s top 30 universities for its ability to help bring about a more sustainable world, according to the 2024 QS Sustainability Rankings released today.

The U of A came in at 28th place worldwide — moving up 90 places from its rank of 118th last year in the inaugural release of the new QS rankings — and fifth in Canada, up from 10th last year. The university also ranked ahead of several Ivy League institutions including Yale University, Harvard University and Cornell University.

“These impressive results affirm the U of A’s leadership and excellence as we work collaboratively on a global scale to advance a more sustainable world,” says Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor. “The U of A’s strategic priorities include tackling the world’s most pressing challenges to the benefit of all. You can expect our contributions to have an even greater impact in the future.”

Sustainability is a priority

Among those priorities are building on the U of A’s proven strength in research on energy and the environment — something Flanagan is highlighting on the international stage at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) this week along with Aminah Robinson Fayek, vice-president of research and innovation. 

Recent examples of that research include combining carbon capture and storage with geothermal energy, analyzing the economic and environmental potential of blending hydrogen and natural gas to heat homes, testing a way to improve mining yields while capturing CO2 from the atmosphere, and converting biowaste to jet fuel.

The university has “a large number of researchers who have chosen to focus their efforts on overcoming specific challenges we face in achieving the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030,” says Robert Summers, academic director of the U of A’s Sustainability Council.

“The emphasis on pragmatic, problem-focused research is one of the reasons we are being recognized as a leading institution in sustainability,” he explains.

One area in which the U of A is emerging as a leader is tackling global challenges in agriculture and food. Experts are looking at inventive ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while benefiting soil, examining how protecting natural areas could help capture carbon and growing greens under solar panels to assess the potential of producing renewable energy and food at the same time.

Other researchers are looking at how to mitigate the widespread social consequences of climate change, including helping vulnerable populations cope with the adverse effects, helping cities improve their planning for natural disasters and undertaking Indigenous-led research projects in more than 24 countries to examine links between biodiversity loss and Indigenous health.

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Summers points to the SDGs Info Hub, which the Sustainability Council created to highlight those and other collective efforts across the university.

“Our institution is building on this success with expanded offerings in sustainability learning, with new courses that are highly sought after by students and a new proposal coming forward soon for a course-based sustainability master’s degree,” he notes.

Partnerships build on mutual strengths

“Our performance on the QS Sustainability Rankings is another important demonstration of the U of A’s leadership in creating a more sustainable future for all,” says Cen Huang, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), adding that achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires collaborative efforts with partners around the globe.

“As a university dedicated to cultivating global citizens, we foster collaborations with hundreds of partners across six continents on a wide range of initiatives that support the objectives laid out in the UN 2030 Agenda,” Huang says.

Earlier this year, the U of A renewed its partnerships with several of India’s top academic institutes and explored further opportunities for building on their mutual strengths in energy and climate change mitigation.

“Through our extensive network of international partnerships, we are grateful for the dedicated faculty, staff and students who are working together with their counterparts worldwide to tackle our most urgent global challenges,” says Huang.

Canada’s major universities had an impressive showing this year, with the University of Toronto ranking first overall. Joining the U of A in the world’s top 30 were UBC (fourth), Western University (10th), and McGill University (13th). Queen’s University placed in a tie for 64th, and the University of Calgary and Waterloo University tied for 68th place worldwide.

The U of A’s upward trajectory in these rankings follows a similar pattern to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings released earlier this year, which saw the university place seventh in the world among more than 1,700 institutions included in the rankings — up from 11th last year and 64th in 2021.

For its 2024 sustainability rankings, QS updated its methodology to rate 1,397 universities in 95 countries. The overall rankings are based on nine key indicators grouped into three areas: environmental impact, worth 45 per cent of the total ranking score; social impact, accounting for 45 per cent; and governance, a new measure this year worth 10 per cent of the total score. QS also incorporated data submissions from universities for the first time this year, along with publicly available data.