Which Universities are Tackling Climate Change? | Top Universities

Which Universities are Tackling Climate Change?

By Sabrina Collier

Updated March 24, 2021 Updated March 24, 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware of the worldwide concerns facing us all when it comes to climate change, including how shocking plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is, and how temperatures have risen at an alarming rate overall in recent years. Extreme weather is becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, and sea levels are also on the up. But what can we do about it?

Read on to discover which universities are doing their bit to prevent climate change, many of which have been featured among the greenest and most sustainable universities in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2018, as well as some tips on simple but effective ways you can make a difference.

Wageningen University & Research (WUR), The Netherlands

Wageningen University & Research

Ranked number one in UI Greenmetric’s ranking in both 2017 and 2018, with perfect scores for the sustainable education, waste treatment and water use indicators, Wageningen University & Research (WUR) cites its mission as ‘to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’. WUR conducts many projects and activities in energy, waste and mobility to aim to reduce its climate impact, and measures its carbon footprint every year (with recent figures indicating the university halved its carbon footprint between 2010 and 2017). WUR also produces its own renewable energy through windmills, solar panels and other methods, meaning that in 2017 104 percent of the energy consumed on campus was through sustainable methods.

The University of Nottingham, UK

University of Nottingham

Just one place behind WUR in the GreenMetric ranking of green universities is the University of Nottingham, which has recently used drones to survey climbing plants and better understand how they may affect the carbon balance of tropical rainforests. The university also encourages students to get involved with sustainability in various ways, from Student SwitchOffs (with the student hall of residence that saves the most energy winning a party and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream), to the campus-wide ‘WasteNott’ campaign which aims to halve the amount of hot drink single-use cups used on campus by August 2020, in response to a student survey which found that 94 percent of students would commit to using reusable cups. The university is also installing more water fountains, replacing plastic straws with paper ones and offering a discount on hot drinks when people bring their own cup.

Also worth a mention is fellow Notts uni, Nottingham Trent University, which also earned a spot in the top 10 of the GreenMetric ranking, in fifth place. The city of Nottingham itself has an award-winning and environmentally friendly public transport system.

Shandong Normal University - Lishan College, China

Shandong Normal University

Not only is it the first zero-emission campus in China, but Shandong Normal University – Lishan College is also the highest ranked Asian entrant in the GreenMetric ranking, at 17th overall. Like the University of Nottingham, Shandong Normal University has made great strides in creating a greener and more energy efficient campus, with initiatives such as double-sided printing (with no printing unless necessary), no plastic bags, and no disposable cups. The university is also working to reduce its carbon footprint with the use of solar panels, motion-sensored lighting, and recycling, including the recycling of students and staff’s old clothes and second-hand books.

University College Cork (UCC), Ireland

University College Cork

As mentioned earlier, one of the most pressing issues affecting us today is the sheer scale of plastic waste we produce, and University College Cork (UCC) is working to alleviate this by opening Ireland’s first plastic-free café, which stopped more than 20,000 disposable items going to waste in just three months between September and December 2018. Featured at ninth in the UI Greenmetric ranking, UCC was also the first university in Europe to be awarded a Gold Star from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, having made significant strides in cutting down plastic waste, carbon emissions and student printing.

Colorado State University, US

Colorado State University

Also included in our list of the greenest universities in the US, Colorado State University has a serious and impressive commitment to sustainability, earning it Platinum in The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS, not to be confused with QS Stars!), a voluntary framework for universities to measure their sustainability performance. It’s also been named the number one greenest college in the US by BestColleges.com, with campus-wide single stream recycling, 26 LEED-certified buildings, electric car charging points and more. One of the few high-altitude mountain campuses in the US, sustainability also plays a part in academics at Colorado State University, with 962 of 2,633 courses sustainability-related.

Université de Sherbrooke, Canada

Université de Sherbrooke

Placed 22nd in the UI Greenmetric ranking, the French-speaking Université de Sherbrooke is the greenest university in Canada, setting an example for both Quebec and the country as a whole with a reputation of over 40 years of sustainable development, and a current plan to continue and expand on their success with the 2018-2022 Sustainable Development Plan. The Université de Sherbrooke gained its best score in the Greenmetric ranking for its energy and climate change management, which is likely to continue, as it recently announced its intention a new solar park, which will be the largest dedicated to applied research in Canada. On campus, the university has shown a commitment to making on-campus events eco-friendly, and has encouraged the use of sustainable transport options with electric car charging points and discounts for staff and students on public transport.

Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil

Universidade de São Paulo

And finally, heading across to Latin America, Brazil’s Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP) is currently placed 23rd in the UI Greenmetric university ranking, making it the greenest university in the region. It achieved a particularly high score for the ‘location and infrastructure’ indicator of the ranking, which measures the green open spaces and vegetation a university has, showing that there’s no shortage of these on campus at USP. The university created an Environmental Management Superintendent position in 2012, who works to define and launch various sustainability initiatives, such as USP Recicla, which seeks to transform the university into a good example of responsible consumption and proper waste disposal.

What can you do to help

  • Make using reusable plastic bottles and coffee cups a habit – single-use coffee cups are very difficult to recycle, and we all need to try and cut down our plastic consumption, so make grabbing your reusable bottle as normal as grabbing your keys before you leave home each morning.
  • Make your commute to uni greener by making use of public transport, or riding a bike
  • Unplug your devices when you’re not using them
  • Eat less meat, buy organic and local food when you can, and try not to waste food
  • Simply try to consume less – as much as we love a good shopping splurge, fast fashion is having a huge negative impact on the environment. Consider shopping at charity shops instead, and recycle old clothes rather than throwing them in the bin.
  • Reuse and recycle wherever possible – use strong, durable shopping bags instead of plastic bags

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This article was originally published in May 2019 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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