Rating universities on environmental impact: QS Stars | Top Universities

Rating universities on environmental impact: QS Stars

By Staff Writer

Updated August 5, 2022 Updated August 5, 2022

In 2019, the QS Environmental Concerns Survey found that while up to 49% of students considered their university to be ‘somewhat environmentally friendly’, 94% thought that universities should be doing more to be environmentally sustainable.

The world’s awareness of sustainability and the climate emergency has risen dramatically in recent years. Universities have a responsibility to lead by example and an increasing number are rolling out key sustainability and environmental initiatives. To help students make informed decisions about the best place for them to study, we have developed a new category as part of the QS Stars methodology called Environmental Impact.


Environmental sustainability policies for investment, procurement and funding or donations

This indicator looks at public policy statements related to the institution’s goals and criteria for investing, procurement or sources of funding and donations.

Sustainable investing policies can include commitment to divesting from fossil fuels investments, plans to phase out unsustainable investments, initiatives for investing in local communities and environmentally sustainable enterprises.

Sustainable procurement policies include criteria for the environmental impact of their acquisitions (such as recyclability, energy conservation, sustainability of the raw materials, avoidance or proper handling of hazardous substances for example).

Sustainable donations or funding policies look at acceptance criteria for funds, for example based on the environmental impact of the industry in which the donor is involved.

Carbon neutral certification


Carbon neutrality is a zero net balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and activities to reduce emissions (such as carbon offsets).

This is granted by an independent certification body based on verifying the requirements for carbon neutral status against recognised standards. It is a rigorous process, and it is not easy for the institutions to get a certified carbon neutral badge, they must have a strategic plan to obtain it.





If institutions do not have the carbon neutral certification, they can achieve full points by other indicators:



Environmental sustainability or climate change employees

The sustainability office should ideally run programmes and activities dedicated to sustainability or climate change. Such activities include developing strategic plans for environmental sustainability, measuring and reporting environmental sustainability indicators to name a few.



Climate action plan

Full points will be awarded for institutions that has a climate action plan or an environmental sustainability report with Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound (SMART) objectives in each of the following areas: Operations, Education and Research.



Energy and resource consumption

Full points will be awarded for institutions that have the three measures below:

  • Energy consumption (at least 50% from renewable sources)
  • Water consumption (limited to at least 20 to 100 litres per person)
  • Carbon footprint (limited to at least 1000 to 4000 kg per person)



QS Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Environmental Impact rating

Full points will be awarded based on the SDG section of the QS World University Rankings, which incorporate Elsevier SciVal’s SDG research insights (for six sustainable development goals related to the environment) to assign institutions as Gold, Silver, Bronze or Candidate. Where data has not been sufficient, institutions will be unrated.

You can find more details about how the medals are awarded in the Sustainable Methodology.

Sustainability research centre

Maximum points will be awarded for institutions that have centres with regular research activities related to environmental sustainability.


Environmental sustainability networks

Networks that are not exclusively for higher education institutions can be accepted if they have environmental sustainability objectives. There are two types of networks; national and international. A ‘national’ network is defined as a consortium where all institutions are in the same country or in two very closely related countries (such as the United Kingdom and Ireland). ‘International’ networks should include members from institutions across at least three countries.

Public education and outreach

This indicator looks at information sharing plus educational and awareness initiatives organised by the institution and related to environmental sustainability topics.

Environmental sustainability student organisations

An institution should have at least one dedicated student organisation focusing on environmental sustainability issues. This can include educational societies or hobby clubs with an environmental focus operated by and having members that are students at the university.

QS Stars does the evaluating for you, so you can easily see where a university’s strengths are in order to find a programme that suits your priorities.

This article was originally published in August 2022 .

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