How to encourage your university to have a better sustainable and social impact | Top Universities

How to encourage your university to have a better sustainable and social impact

By Pratibha M

Updated October 24, 2022 Updated October 24, 2022

Finding a sustainable and socially-just university was key to my decision-making when choosing where to study. As an environment and business student, it was important to surround myself with people who want to make an impact on the world and society, and to know that my university is doing everything it can to make positive change.

We’re facing a series of unprecedented world events: climate change, poverty, inequality, food shortages and a water crisis, to name a few. It’s becoming clear to all generations that we need to find sustainable solutions to these global issues. I think I have a part to play in that as a student, and I believe my university does too.

I was impressed by the social and sustainable initiatives at the University of Waterloo in Canada, where I study. When I researched the institution, I found comprehensive sustainability reports, sustainable and accessible architecture on campus, and initiatives like a social incubator for students to develop entrepreneurial solutions to social and environmental problems.

Now I’m a student, I still expect my university to continue setting a high bar with its social impact and sustainability efforts each academic year, and I want to be a part of that story.

As students, we have the power to hold our educational institutions to account. It doesn’t matter what degree you study, or what level you study at.

Here are my tips on how to encourage your university to have a better sustainable and social impact:

Read the university’s sustainability and social impact reports

Educating yourself on how the university is committed to creating a more equal, just and sustainable world is a great place to start. Reports should be publicly available on the university website and include clear yearly targets and details of the progress already made.

Understanding the university’s plans to tackle various global issues can help you to see where changes are/aren’t being implemented and to come up with your own ideas.

Join sustainability or social justice student clubs

Student clubs and societies are a great way to work with other students to challenge global issues and find solutions. Having a dedicated club or initiative that is led by students and actively working for positive change is one of the best ways to work directly with the university and encourage further impact.

If there isn’t already a student club at your university that’s focused on sustainability and social impact, you can set one up.

Attend talks and panels

Universities committed to making real world change will usually host talks and panels throughout the year to discuss important issues around environment and social impact. Some universities have dedicated research centres and teams to investigate and implement solutions.

Attending talks and panels can help you to understand the big questions facing our world today. You can also ask questions at the end and share your opinions, letting the university know that these issues are important to you and you’re looking for action.

Follow other universities making change

You can do your own research into other universities working hard to create change by looking at their websites and following them on social media. You can start this research by using the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability to find the world’s most sustainable institutions.

Share the great examples with your own university to show how it can be done even better.

Challenge the curriculum

Can all students learn about sustainability and social justice, no matter what degree they study? It’s not just environmental science and human rights students who need to understand the challenges that face our world. Everyone can incorporate sustainable and social impact into their work.

Speak to your course leaders, sign a petition or team up with your course mates to create a demand for more sustainable education for all.

Join research projects

Reach out to professors and PhD students who work on environmental and social issues to see if you can get involved. Researchers often recruit students to help run projects. It’s a great way to input your ideas and add value to the work being done to solve global issues.

Start a food bank

Our world is becoming more polarised. While the rich get richer, every day people are struggling to stay afloat. Starting a food bank is a direct way to help society and to show your university that students have real impact.

It’s not just about encouraging the university leaders to have a better environmental and social impact. There are often thousands of students and staff members ready to help. Setting up projects like food banks and second-hand clothes swaps can influence many people directly without change from the top.


I believe we have power to change ideas into action and leverage our voices to save the planet and create a more equal and just world.

This article was originally published in October 2022 .

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