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The universities leading in building sustainable cities and communities

Universities are key drivers of growth in their cities and communities. In this article, we explore which universities lead the pack on SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), according to the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2022.

In short

The power of communities: Driving change on a university level

Prospective master’s students seeking universities committed to sustainability can use the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings as a guide. This ranking provides helpful insights into which universities “walk the talk” when it comes to sustainability. 

“We have obviously a ranking on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, so if your specialist interest is perhaps, you know, how cities work, smart cities, future cities, we have data there for you as well,” adds Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer at THE. (15:16)

SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) is all about making cities sustainable, resilient, safe, and inclusive. Its focus areas include energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, green public spaces, reducing negative environmental impact, and access to basic services.

Universities can play an important role in achieving SDG 11. For example, they conduct research and offer courses on sustainable urban planning and renewable energy. They can collaborate with local governments and businesses to create and promote sustainable solutions. Universities can also implement sustainable practices on their campuses.

Research shows that universities are one of the main drivers of their cities’ growth, development, and revitalization. In addition, the presence of university campuses in cities are linked with a higher potential for achieving low-carbon solutions. This is because universities and cities can work together to promote sustainability locally and globally.

Measuring impact: Top universities building sustainable cities and communities

Because universities play such a crucial role in their communities (and vice versa), it is useful to know which universities stand out from the rest – and how they are doing it.

“I think there’s no doubt that there are risks across society that a lot of organizations like to claim they’re green and make all sorts of claims to being green,” Phil shares. “I think this ranking is incredibly important in the sense that it holds them to account. It tests their commitments.” (10:23)

According to the THE Impact Rankings 2022, these universities score highest on SDG 11:

  1. Arizona State University (Tempe) (United States)
  2. University of Glasgow (United Kingdom)
  3. Queen’s University (Canada)
  4. University of Manchester (United Kingdom)
  5. Concordia University (Canada)
  6. Khungpook National University (South Korea)
  7. Massey University (New Zealand)
  8. New Castle University (United Kingdom)
  9. Simon Fraser University (Canada)
  10. York University (Canada)

To rank these universities on SDG 11, THE used the following metrics:

  • Sustainable practices (35.1%)
  • Research on sustainable cities and communities (27%)
  • Support of arts and heritage (22.6%)
  • Expenditure on arts and heritage (15.3%)

Sustainable practices at universities include sustainable commuting, providing affordable housing, prioritizing pedestrian access on campus, and adhering to sustainability standards in building projects. 

“Arts and heritage” refers to university libraries, museums, galleries, or works of art, open and green spaces on campus, artistic events, local heritage, and natural heritage landscapes.

Exploring the #1 university for SDG 11: ASU

Arizona State University (ASU) ranks #1 in the United States for advancing the SDGs, according to THE. It also ranks #1 on SDG 11 – and when you dive into the university’s research and initiatives on SDG 11, it’s not hard to understand why.

Research is one of the major ways universities contribute to generating impact and change within their communities and beyond. 

“Of course, universities are creating new knowledge. They’re developing new technologies that might help us move towards climate goals, for example, reducing carbon,” Phil tells us. “So, we look at their new knowledge creation, and we have a bibliometric database we draw on that allows us to extract research papers that are directly related to each of the 17 SDGs. … The key to solving some of our biggest challenges will come through university research.” (02:18)

ASU has published hundreds of publications covering all of the SDGs. On SDG 11, specifically, ASU’s expert academics have researched topics such as urban green space design. They have also studied renewable electricity policies in American cities.

ASU also offers courses related to SDG 11, including Environmental Management, The Modern City, and the Theory of Urban Design. Furthermore, ASU offers affordable housing for employees and students; student housing is lower than off-campus market-rate housing. For transparency, the university has provided a comprehensive overview of all its work around SDGs. 

With most of the global population residing in cities, making them sustainable is key for a future where everyone can thrive. As the world faces increasing environmental challenges, the importance of universities and their communities working together toward sustainability cannot be overstated. By choosing a university that is committed to SDG 11, master’s students can contribute to creating a more sustainable future.

Want to study at a university that invests in building sustainable cities and communities? Reach out directly to master’s ambassadors to hear about their experiences.

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