How the University of Auckland is creating a sustainable future | Top Universities

How the University of Auckland is creating a sustainable future

By Aisha K

Updated December 22, 2022 Updated December 22, 2022

The first edition of the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2023 assesses the social and environmental sustainability performance of 700 higher education institutions around the world.  

The University of Auckland is ranked as the tenth best university in the world for sustainability, in addition to scoring within the top 10 for two other performance indicators: environmental impact and sustainable education.  

We spoke to Dr Jingwen Mu, Strategic Planning Manager at the university, to learn how they’re embedding sustainability into their research, teaching and graduate outcomes.  

Can you tell me more about the university’s SDG 4 Hub and its contributions? 

The University of Auckland was appointed as the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) SDG 4 Hub in 2020. We see this as a reaffirmation of the university’s long-standing commitment to deliver inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.  

Through the Hub, the university’s staff have been able to share our educational practices, research projects, and student work at various UNAI workshops, especially capacity-building workshops for universities and colleges around the world.  

Earlier this year, the university hosted a SDG 4 Hub event focusing on how institutions can ensure that they meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Quality Education – by 2030.  

The event enabled global higher education practitioners, influencers, and leaders to better understand challenges and opportunities around SDG 4, and prompted them to think differently about the roles of technology, collaboration and sustainability in providing education for all. 

What is the University of Auckland doing to support and facilitate career outcomes for students and graduates interested in sustainable careers? 

This year, the University of Auckland refreshed its Graduate Profile, which is a critical foundational statement that captures the university’s aspirations for its students. Sustainability is one of the key capabilities that the university seeks to foster in the refreshed Graduate Profile.  

We want our graduates to appreciate that they are interdependent with the natural world, and to recognise their responsibilities to contribute to the protection, conservation, and regeneration of regional and global ecosystems, communities, and economies.  

To support this aspiration, a Curriculum Framework Transformation Programme is underway. One of its key objectives is to integrate sustainability as a key component and principle across the university’s programme offerings and maximise the curriculum’s capacity to contribute to social betterment, in particular to forging just and sustainable societies.  

The university has also been actively involved in initiatives that enhance students’ sustainability awareness and skills. One such initiative is Future17, a global collaborative programme that brings together students and industry partners from around the world to work on interdisciplinary projects related to the 17 SDGs.  

Another example is the university’s Climate Action Virtual Internship (CAVI) programme which matches students for internships with NGOs working to respond to climate change. 

What challenges has the University of Auckland faced in trying to drive meaningful change for both environmental and social sustainability?  

The most effective way to understand the challenges we face is to think in terms of systems and connections.  

Embedding the principles of sustainability and net zero carbon in a way that aligns with limiting global warming to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels means that every part of the organisation needs to look at their instruments, processes, mechanisms, and connections and identify how changes that happen in one place will result in something happening elsewhere.  

While organisations are experienced in applying systems thinking in several areas, such as finance or production lines, systems thinking for sustainability is not so common.  

If we consider how our external partners and suppliers are also part of the journey, this adds another level of complexity to the systems approach. It is a laborious but rewarding task that is full of opportunities.  

Sustainability is about people and place. We need to enable a community of people with a strong sense of place who are empowered to work cleverly by making the ‘nodes’ of the system visible and fostering collective action and creative changes.  

How do you celebrate your contributions towards building a sustainable future? 

The university celebrates every contribution its students and staff make towards making the world a better place. Our SDG Report series is an important vehicle for such celebration and recognition. It provides an overview and a reflection on what the university has collectively achieved as a community, where the sum is greater than the parts. 

This article was originally published in December 2022 .

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Written by

Aisha is Content Editor for and, creating and publishing a wide range of articles for an international student audience. A native Londoner, Aisha graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in Philosophy and has previously worked in the civil service. 

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