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U of T named most sustainable university in the world

Photo by David Lee

The QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024 placed U of T first out of more than 1,400 institutions across 95 countries (photo by David Lee)

The University of Toronto has been named the most sustainable university in the world by the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024, which evaluates post-secondary institutions for their environmental impact, social impact and governance.

The ranking, released today by London-based Quacquarelli Symonds, placed U of T first overall out of more than 1,400 institutions across 95 countries – up one place from the inaugural edition of the ranking last year.

U of T did particularly well in two of the three main areas comprising the overall ranking: environmental impact, where it moved up one spot to second globally; and social impact, where it ranked fourth in the world – up three spots. The university also tied for 15th place in the newly added category of governance.

“The University of Toronto community is absolutely delighted by this recognition of our global leadership in sustainability,” said U of T President Meric Gertler. “It is a wonderful tribute to the innovation and commitment of the many U of T faculty, students, staff and alumni who are dedicated to meeting every aspect of this great challenge of the 21st century.

“They are demonstrating that effective action is possible on our campuses, in our communities and around the world.”

The QS sustainability ranking evaluates universities based on data used in the QS World University Rankings. That includes information from reputation surveys and research output related to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. It also considers the availability of institutional policies, operational data, alumni impact and national data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and World Bank.

The ranking uses more than 75 data points, grouped into nine lenses, to rank institutions in its three main categories. For environmental impact, the ranking examines environmental education, research and sustainability. For social impact, it looks at employability and outcomes, equality, health and well-being, impact of education and knowledge exchange. And for governance, the ranking evaluates indicators of good governance such as student representation and transparent financial reporting.

New data points introduced this year include net-zero commitments, renewable energy generation and citations of scholarly research in policy documents.

U of T’s exceptional global performance headlined a strong showing by Canada, which had two universities in the top five and three in the top 10 – more than any other country (the University of British Columbia ranked fourth and Western University ranked 10th).

The QS sustainability ranking comes amid several high-profile sustainability initiatives across U of T’s three campuses in recent years.

On the St. George campus, U of T has implemented a number of infrastructure projects aimed at achieving the goal of becoming climate-positive by 2050 – a goal it now expects to reach well ahead of schedule and has since been expanded to U of T Mississauga and U of T Scarborough. These include the construction of Canada’s largest urban geoexchange field beneath Front Campus, set to be operational in spring 2024, and plans for a significant retrofit of its district energy systems via Project LEAP, an effort supported by the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

At U of T Mississauga, sustainability is embedded into academic programs, research and campus operations per the Sustainability Strategic Plan. The campus has a high-tech geothermal system beside the Instructional Centre and is actively expanding the use of solar energy across its buildings. U of T Mississauga also launched Project SHIFT, an initiative to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to electricity.

U of T Scarborough, too, has placed sustainability at the forefront of curricula, partnerships and planning through initiatives supported by its Sustainability Office. This fall, U of T Scarborough opened a new student residence that meets Passive House standards for energy-efficient construction and is also proceeding with new climate-responsible constructions including the Scarborough Academy of Medicine and Integrated Health (SAMIH) and the EaRTH (Phase 2) complex, part of the collaborative EaRTH District initiative that includes plans for a net-zero vertical farm. It’s also the host of SDGs @ U of T, an institutional strategic initiative working to advance the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Nearly 30 per cent of all undergraduate courses at U of T in 2023-24 have a sustainability orientation, up from 25 per cent the previous year, and there are more than 100 graduate and PhD programs with sustainability-related content. Undergraduate students in all programs can participate in the Sustainability Pathways program, which allows them to explore sustainability from various disciplinary lenses and perspectives. Undergraduate and graduate students alike can also contribute to real-world sustainability initiatives on- and off-campus via the Campus as a Living Lab and Community-Engaged Learning initiatives.

The university is also making significant progress toward its 2021 commitment to divest from fossil fuel investments in its endowment fund and now collects a fee on all university-funded air travel to fund decarbonization and biodiversity projects on campus.

In a press release announcing the ranking, QS noted universities’ sustainability credentials play an increasingly important role in students’ decisions on where they want to study.

“Our 2023 Sustainability Survey revealed a striking trend: 79 per cent of prospective international students view an institution’s sustainability practices as extremely or very important. Additionally, 82 per cent actively seek information on these practices while researching universities,” wrote QS’s CEO Jessica Turner.

“This demonstrates a clear shift in priorities among today’s students – they are increasingly weighing the social and environmental impact of their future alma mater alongside academic excellence.” 

Overall, U of T is ranked first in Canada and among the top 25 universities globally in the five most closely watched international rankings: QS World University Rankings, U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities, Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, ShanghaiRanking Consultancy’s Academic Ranking of World Universities and National Taiwan University World University Rankings.

Courtesy of UofT News