Leeds is top three in the UK for sustainable impact

The global Times Higher Education Impact Rankings have today recognised Leeds as one of the top three universities in the UK and 11th worldwide.

Great Hall on a sunny day

The rankings measure university impact across the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), covering everything from reducing inequalities and making cities safe, resilient spaces to sustainable procurement.  

Of 766 educational institutions worldwide, we placed joint 11th with Newcastle internationally and joint third in the UK.

This year is the first time we've submitted evidence to the rankings. This result is recognition of the positive actions of the whole Leeds community working together, leading by example to achieve a sustainable future, not only for the University but also globally.  

Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, said: “I am proud that the University of Leeds has been recognised as contributing in such a profound way to the vital challenges encapsulated in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Achieving 11th place in the global rankings is a truly remarkable achievement, and is testament to the commitment, creativity and sheer hard work of our staff and students in every aspect of sustainability. 

“Working together across continents has never been more important as we address the devastating effects of a global health pandemic and tackle the climate crisis. The University is unfailing in its commitment to creating a sustainable future, and our education and research will continue to be sharpened through the lens of social, economic and environmental impact on a global scale.”

Sustainability is one of our strategic foundations, and this result is testament to its approach and commitment. Led by the Sustainability Service but realised by all at Leeds, sustainable practice is integrated not only through research and teaching, but also in how we operate as an institution and work with the city and wider community.  

The UN SDGs are a global framework to achieve a more sustainable future for all. In 2018Sir Alan Langlands signed the UN SDG Accord, a global commitment to embrace the critical role the education sector has in delivering the SDGs and share learnings and best practice, both nationally and internationally, through the annual UN High Level Political Forum.  

The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings grade universities against their contribution towards each of the 17 SDGs. Leeds scored particularly highly in Partnerships for the Goals, Reducing Inequalities, Climate Action and Sustainable Cities and Communities.   

Partnerships for the Goals involves implementing local and global partnerships for sustainable development and encompasses elements of all 17 SDGs. We came second globally in this area, which reflects the holistic and collaborative approach we take towards sustainability.

Leeds supports more than 70 research projects through the Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton Fund, investigating the key issues facing the world, such as climate change and resilience, sustainable agriculture, pollution and environmental degradation, clean water supply and improved health. 

Collaboration on a local and campus scale is vital to our goal to embed sustainability in all aspects of our curriculum and operations, such as through our pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic by 2023 and our award-winning Leeds Sustainable Curriculum programme, working to incorporate sustainability into every taught module offered at Leeds.

Positive Impact Partners (PIP) is a city-wide programme that allows staff the opportunity to work alongside local organisations to share knowledge, skills and resources, forming new collaborative partnerships. Leeds has partnered with organisations such as the William Merritt Disabled Living Centre, Leeds Older Peoples Forum and Leeds Children's Circus. 

Working with these organisations through workshops, facility access, consultancy and academic research, the programme is mutually beneficial and allows Leeds to contribute to the local community and support initiatives that work towards reducing inequalities.

To ensure we are reflective of a diverse demographic, there's an access and participation plan that details the strategic approach to our admissions policy, which is led by the Educational Engagement Service. This approach to staff and student recruitment ensures Leeds remains accessible to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Alongside this, the Equality Policy Unit developed an Equality and Inclusion Framework, which demonstrates how our community aspires to go beyond legal duties and translate the value of inclusiveness throughout University culture, business and day-to-day organisational practice.  

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability, said: "Our approach to sustainability is a whole institutional approach, and this is reflected in our success in this ranking. Thank you to everyone who is doing amazing work to address the social challenges we face, from social and educational inequality to climate change and cities. 

“This ranges from what and how we teach, the solutions we find through our research and the way we work. I am so proud of the Leeds staff and student community and know that we have got even more to give than is reflected in this ranking. I'm excited about continuing this work and the newly revised sustainability strategy, reinforcing our commitment to environmental, economic, social and cultural impacts."

Our revised sustainability strategy will be launched later this year, detailing how we will continue to drive change and achieve our vision for a sustainable university by 2050.  

Visit the Sustainability Service website for further information about sustainability.

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