Top universities for environmental and social sustainability 2023 | Top Universities

Top universities for environmental and social sustainability 2023

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated June 2, 2023 Updated June 2, 2023
  • University of California, Berkeley (UCB) tops the first-ever QS Sustainability Rankings
  • Universities ranked according to a series of indicators split into two categories: environmental impact and social impact

The University of California, Berkeley (UCB) has been ranked as the world’s most sustainable university in our brand-new ranking of institutions based on their environmental and social impact. 

The QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2023 have been devised to demonstrate which universities are leading the way in tackling the environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges facing the world today. 

The top 10 universities in the world for sustainability, according to our ranking, are: 

QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2023

Rank University Location
1 University of California, Berkeley (UCB) United States
2 University of Toronto Canada
3 University of British Columbia Canada
4 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
=5 University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia
=5 University of Sydney Australia
7 University of Tokyo Japan
8 University of Pennsylvania United States
9 Yale University United States
10 University of Auckland New Zealand

The methodology for the ranking involves several indicators split into two categories: environmental impact and social impact. Although UCB has achieved the notable feat of ranking first in the world for both of these categories, there are notable differences between the two as the below table demonstrates. 

QS Sustainability Rankings: Environmental impact v social impact

Rank Environmental impact Social impact
1 University of California, Berkeley (UCB) University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
2 University of Tokyo University of British Columbia
3 University of Toronto University of Edinburgh
4 University of British Columbia University of Oxford
5 University of Auckland University of Sydney
6 Yale University University of Cambridge
7 Delft University of Technology University of Toronto
8 University of New South Wales (UNSW) Harvard University
9 Aarhus University UCL
10 University of Edinburgh New York University (NYU)

Why does sustainability matter?

Ranked fourth overall, the University of Edinburgh is the most sustainable university in both Europe and the UK according to this year’s rankings. Matthew Lawson works within the university’s Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability and told us of a growing trend among students actively interested in supporting sustainability: “The last few years have brought into sharp focus the role and responsibilities of universities to support society to build a fairer and more sustainable world. 

“Students want to create a more sustainable future. They want opportunities to develop knowledge, skills and actions to address the climate crisis and the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). They want their university to be a leader on sustainability issues; they want to be actively leading sustainability projects, and develop their own knowledge, skills and leadership on climate and sustainability issues, recognising the climate and environmental emergency will impact their careers and lives.” 

Pratibha Muthukumarasamy studies at the University of Waterloo in Canada (ranked joint 42nd) and says she expects her university to take responsibility when it comes to sustainability and social impact. 

“I was impressed by the social and sustainable initiatives at the University of Waterloo. When I researched the institution, I found comprehensive sustainability reports with clear annual targets and evidence of the progress made so far.” 

Hopefully, this new ranking will make it even easier for students like Pratibha to consider the sustainability of an institution when researching where to study, and for existing students to demand better of their universities. 

“As students, we have the power to hold our educational institutions to account,” said Pratibha. “I think every student, no matter what they study, can put the pressure on while they’re a part of that community.” 

This article was originally published in October 2022 . It was last updated in June 2023

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