UEA rises into world’s top 40 sustainable universities

Published by  Communications

On 1st Jun 2023

UEA campus

The University of East Anglia (UEA) has climbed into the top 40 universities in the world for sustainability, according to a leading international league table.  

The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings are the first and only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to provide a blueprint for future peace and prosperity for people and the planet across all UN Member States.

UEA placed joint 36th globally out of nearly 1,600 (1,591) institutions in THE’s global rankings, having risen 11 places from its previous position of joint 47th last year. 

Each of the SDGs has its own individual ranking table and UEA placed third out of 586 educational institutions worldwide for SDG15: ‘Life on Land’, which measures institutions on their ability to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and halt biodiversity loss”. 

UEA was in the top 20 internationally for three of the ten SDG categories that they entered, including finishing 18th for SDG13: ‘Climate Action’, which measures universities’ ‘research on climate change, their use of energy and their preparations for dealing with the consequences of climate change’.  

The third top 20 ranking for UEA was SDG8: ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, which assesses institutions’ ‘economics research, their employment practices and the share of students taking work placements’, where they placed joint 12th. The impressive rank in this area comes in the same week as the news from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) that 84% of UEA’s 2020/21 graduating cohort had entered the world of professional work or study, within 15 months of graduation. 

UEA’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Prof David Maguire, said: “We are highly conscious of our environmental and social responsibilities as a university; from our ambitions to be 100% net zero by 2045 or earlier, to this week’s impressive news that 84% of our graduates have entered the world of professional work or study. 

“It is therefore extremely heartening to know that we are among the world’s best universities in terms of sustainability, and the fact that we continue to rise up these rankings is down to the continued hard work and commitment from our staff and students, so I thank them.” 

The result highlights UEA’s dedication to sustainable development and research across key areas such as clean energy, responsible consumption and climate action, of which there are a number of recent examples:

The research taking the moisture out of moisturiser 

Researchers at UEA, led by Prof Sheng Qi, Professor of Pharmaceutical Material Science and Technology from the School of Pharmacy, have developed a new technology that turns beauty products like moisturiser into a dry piece of confetti-like ‘paper’ that can be rehydrated instantly with a drop of water: a breakthrough meaning that 98 per cent of the water in products like moisturiser, sun-cream, shampoo and conditioner can be removed. This is hoped to revolutionise the beauty industry by dramatically reducing both its carbon footprint and packaging waste, in addition to removing the need for preservatives in these products and improving shelf-life, for more responsible consumption. 

Amazonian project named as top solution to planet health 

Prof Carlos Peres, UEA Professor of Conservation Ecology was recently recognised as one of four International Champions in the inaugural Frontiers Planet Prize, a prize that is awarded to recognise and reward scientists working in sustainability science, for his research article: ‘Sustainable-use protected areas catalyze enhanced livelihoods in rural Amazonia’. 

Prof Peres’ work was chosen by a jury of 100 leading sustainability scientists, as a breakthrough with potential to help stabilise the planet’s ecosystem. As part of this award from The Frontiers Research Foundation, an international not-for-profit organisation, he was also named UK National Champion, for the research he has led on communities in protected areas in rural Amazonia. 

The prize fund for this award will be used to support Prof Peres’ ongoing research, including his work with Instituto Juruá, a nonprofit conservation non-governmental organisation (NGO) he co-founded in Brazil, to continue to implement integrated conservation-development programs across the Juruá and other river basins in the Amazon.

An award-winning green campus

UEA’s award-winning and richly diverse campus grounds won the international Green Flag award for the sixth consecutive year in July 2022. This award is the international quality mark for green spaces and publicly signifies how the 360-acre campus – which hosts open parkland, bluebell woods and a broad – maintains the highest possible environmental standards, is beautifully maintained and has excellent visitor facilities. 

The University has also established itself as a pioneer in climate research and action, with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research having made significant contributions to understanding climate change and developing strategies to mitigate its consequential effects.  

The UEA Climatic Research Unit (CRU), one of the world's leading institutions concerned with the study of climate change, also celebrated its golden anniversary in November last year, marking 50 years since CRU was first founded in 1972.

First to address eco-anxiety issues for students 

 An innovative ‘Mindfulness and Active Hope’ course was also launched at UEA in November last year, in partnership with mental health charity Norfolk and Waveney Mind. This free course – the only one of its type in the UK – was designed to help students cope with eco-anxiety, cultivate self-care, and understand how to transform their fear and grief on issues like climate change.

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