Consider This: University partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals

Paying greater attention to the Sustainable Development Goals at the university will help remind us of the value of ensuring that our research and teaching more directly work to advance these important goals.


The modern era has brought tremendous prosperity to much of the world. Its benefits, however, have been tremendously uneven among the world’s population, and our economic processes are putting significant strain on ecosystems. Recognizing this, in 2015 the United Nations General Assembly set a blueprint for the transition to a new human era of sustainability in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs for short). The SDGs and sustainable development, more generally speaking, call for a prosperity that is broad-based and holistic.

It’s not only the United Nations that is acting to advance the SDGs. Since taking on leadership of the Sustainability Council in 2018, I’ve been learning about all of the SDG-related research taking place here at the University of Alberta — and it’s a lot! Enough that the University of Alberta was recently ranked in the top 6 for sustainability research by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. And increasingly, we are offering undergraduate and graduate courses that focus directly on the SDGs and global challenges.

The seventeenth SDG is “Partnerships for the Goals.” Unlike the other goals, which are normative in nature, this one is operational. It’s a recognition that we won’t achieve the SDGs working in isolation — partnerships are key — and universities and researchers are a critical part of that. When I think about the University of Alberta, two forms of partnerships come to me immediately when I think about this.

First are partnerships across the university. Interdisciplinary research and teaching collaborations are critical to addressing complex challenges. Such partnerships within the University of Alberta help to amplify the strengths of disciplinary research while exploring and addressing the complexities of these often systemic challenges that the SDGs put to us.

Second is the role that universities play in creating and disseminating knowledge as key partners in local and global networks addressing the SDGs. Recently, the University of Alberta became a member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). This partnership means any member of the university can connect with academics and practitioners around the world on issues of sustainable development. The SDSN platform facilitates sharing publications and research findings, accessing funding and resources, and simply finding knowledgeable colleagues across the globe.

Paying greater attention to the SDGs at the University of Alberta will help to remind us of the value of ensuring that our research and our teaching more directly work to advance these important goals.

Learn more about the University of Alberta’s work advancing the Sustainable Development Goals during International Week (I-Week) February 1–7, 2022. There are more than a dozen free virtual events open to all; registration is required. Find additional resources and opportunities on the SDG Info Hub.

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About Robert

Robert Summers is Academic Director of the Sustainability Council. He is also Associate Director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning, a program which he helped establish in 2012. His research focuses on roadblocks to systemic change, which he has studied by looking at water supplies in Malawian villages and at neighbourhood revitalization efforts in Edmonton. He tweets @RJSCity where he was briefly famous as “Bob from Calgary.”