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Study abroad : Destination Guides

The world’s most sustainable universities

If you care about protecting the planet, so should your university, right? We find out which universities are the most sustainable and climate-conscious.

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Calls for action against climate change have gained momentum in recent years, with sustainability becoming a priority for many countries around the world. Most notably, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg instigated a school strike outside the Swedish parliament in 2018, which received global recognition and inspired millions to protest for change. With sustainability becoming a growing concern for governments around the world, we consider what universities are doing to improve sustainability. 


If you care about the environment and protecting the planet, this might be an important factor for you to consider when choosing a university. You might also consider which countries are performing well for sustainability as part of your decision-making process when picking a study destination.


To give you the top universities for sustainability we used the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2020, looking specifically at the following categories: climate action, affordable and clean energy, and sustainable cities and communities. These rankings assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


Climate action


This category measures research on climate change conducted by universities, their energy consumption, and strategies to deal with the effects of climate change. Canada comes out on top for climate action with four universities within the top ten for this category.

The University of British Columbia is aiming for a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Similarly, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is aiming to be completely fossil fuel-free by 2035. This Dutch university also encourages less consumption of meat on campus with the introduction of a campaign known as ‘meatless Monday’. The goal is for vegetarian and vegan food to become the standard on campus. These are just a few examples of projects underway at leading institutions acting against climate change. The top institutions in this category are:


  1. University of British Columbia - Canada
  2. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam - Netherlands
  3. University of Tasmania - Australia
  4. University of Victoria - Canada
  5. University of Helsinki - Finland
  6. University of Buffalo - USA
  7. University Laval - Canada
  8. Simon Fraser University - Canada
  9. Pontifical Bolivarian University – Colombia 


Affordable and clean energy


The category related to affordable and clean energy measures research related to energy, policies on energy consumption and the university’s efforts to promote energy efficiency within the local community.


As you can see from the rankings below, Tongji University in China is top for affordable and clean energy while Australia has the highest number of institutions within the top ten for this category. Monash University in particular aims to become Australia’s first 100 per cent renewable energy powered university. The University of Queensland has the largest capacity for solar energy generation out of all Australian universities. Over in New Zealand at the University of Auckland, research into alternative energy is conducted at the university’s very own Energy Centre which is funded by the Energy Education Trust of New Zealand. The top universities in this category are:


  1. Tongji University - China
  2. National Changhua University of Education - Taiwan
  3. University of Sao Paulo - Brazil
  4. UNSW Sydney - Australia
  5. University of Auckland – New Zealand
  6. Monash University – Australia 
  7. The University of Queensland - Australia
  8. University of Newcastle - Australia
  9. Aalborg University - Denmark


Discover what it’s like to study a degree in environmental change.


Sustainable cities and communities


This category measures the university’s research on sustainability including internal strategies for improved sustainability and within the wider community. As you can see, Canada and the UK dominate these rankings, followed by Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the USA. At the University of Sydney, researchers look into methods for managing the rising temperatures in Australia caused by climate change. Other projects include the annual Festival of Urbanism run by staff and students at the University of Sydney. 

Over in Ireland at Trinity College Dublin research is conducted at the Future Cities Research Centre where projects look into sustainability concerns about urban infrastructure such as waste, water, energy, and transportation systems. The university has also been awarded a ‘green flag’ by An Taisce, which is the national trust for Ireland, for efforts made towards a more sustainable college community. This award is based on several factors such as student involvement, biodiversity and trees, waste management, recycling, sustainable food and so on. Universities making the list of the top ten for sustainable cities and communities are:


  1. Simon Fraser University - Canada
  2.  University of Sydney – Australia
  3.  University of Otago - Canada
  4.  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - USA
  5.  Trinity College Dublin - Ireland
  6. Newcastle University - UK
  7.  King’s College London - UK
  8. University of British Columbia - Canada
  9.  University of York - UK
  10.  Massey University – New Zealand 


Study sustainability 


If you are interested in sustainability, why not study a related course at university or college? There are several different routes you could take which incorporate sustainability and environmental protection. For example:



As you can see, various disciplines involve sustainability such as lawgeography, policy, and business. It depends on your interests and aspirations as to which you choose but this should give you an idea of the types of courses involving sustainability. Of course, you could also look for courses in climate change, environmental protection, urban planning, architecture and so on. 


Wondering what your next steps should be? Check out our guide on choosing a country to study abroad in and if you want to read more on sustainability, take a look at studying sustainability in Sweden.


If you’re ready to find a course and university, head over to our course matcher tool. This lets you input your qualifications and preferences to find what’s right for you. 

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