The Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings measure the progress of universities working to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

UNSW Sydney has ranked first in the world in the 2020 Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings for its work toward efficient use of resources and the minimisation of waste. 

UNSW ranked 66 in the world overall out of 766 institutions from more than 75 countries. The rankings were released overnight.

Along with the top ranking in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, UNSW placed fourth in the world for SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy. In total, UNSW was placed in the top 100 for four SDGs, with equality and gender equity accounting for the University’s two other highly-ranked areas.

The Impact Rankings are the first global attempt to measure university progress specifically around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all United Nations States in 2015. The SDGs provide an outline for improving outcomes for people and the planet by working together in a global partnership. The rankings are also the first to focus on universities’ activities and priorities not assessed in other league tables. 

The University’s high rankings in SDG 7 and SDG 12 reflect UNSW’s contributions to clean energy and resource efficiency through campus operations, research and outreach and strengthened through the launch of the Environmental Sustainability Plan 2019-21.

The Environmental Sustainability Plan, led by Will Syddall, Head of Environmental Sustainability, and Arifa Sarfraz, Sustainability Manager in Estate Management, sets out a vision for UNSW as a catalyst for an environmentally sustainable future through excellence in research, teaching and campus operations. It measures UNSW’s impact across 10 focus areas, including climate action, waste and recycling, learning and teaching, and investments.

In 2019, UNSW expanded onsite solar photovoltaic (PV) energy capacity and in 2020 will become the first university in Australia to have 100 per cent of its electricity supplied by solar PV power through a landmark 15-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The University also recently announced it would divest from fossil fuel assets by 2025.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said the results were recognition of the University’s mission to provide world-class teaching and cutting-edge research, as well as its commitment to advancing a just society.

“I am enormously proud of the contributions from every part of the University in helping UNSW realise its goals for sustainability and equality, while also advancing its mission of being a positive global influence,” Professor Jacobs said. “The Impact Rankings reflect our commitment to issues which we know are important to our students, staff and communities – and vital for our environment.” 

More than 750 universities from across the globe submitted data supporting activities around the mandatory field of SDG 17, Partnerships – which looks at ways universities support the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, the promotion of best practices and the publication of data and evidence – plus at least three of the remaining 16 SDGs.

Universities receive a score and ranking for each submitted SDG. The overall score is generated from the score for SDG 17 plus the three strongest of the other SDGs for which they provided data. UNSW’s two other strongest areas were SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities (=78th) and SDG 5, Gender Equality (=81st).

“The significant lift in UNSW’s position is testament to the energy and commitment staff and students have devoted to sustainable and equitable development,” said Professor Eileen Baldry, UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “Our UNSW community has embedded the SDG values in our strategic goals, and we are working enthusiastically to bring them to life in our policies and practices.”

UNSW submitted data for the following SDGs (ranking):

  • Responsible Consumption and Production (1) explores how universities are working towards efficient use of resources and the minimisation of waste, including demonstrating actions towards responsible consumption and production.
  • Affordable and Clean Energy (4) explores how universities promote and support clean energy, both through research, outreach, and in their own behaviour and usage.
  • Reduced Inequalities (=78) looks at how universities are tackling inequalities: economic, health-based and international inequalities.
  • Gender Equality (=81) assesses how universities are providing access for and then supporting the academic progression of women.
  • Good Health and Wellbeing (101-200) measures how the University deals with specific conditions and diseases and supports its community.
  • Partnerships (201-300) looks at ways in which universities support the SDGs through collaboration with other countries, the promotion of best practices and the publication of data and evidence.