Only 7 U.S. universities make THE’s sustainability impact rankings’ top 100 list

U.S. universities performed the best in SDG 14 (Life below water), the focus being to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development."

When it comes to academia, no other country holds a candle to colleges and universities in the U.S. However, one ranking seems to have discovered this country’s weak spot: sustainability.

The 2023 Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings assesses universities worldwide for their commitment to sustainability efforts in research, stewardship, outreach and teaching based on metrics provided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

When evaluating how colleges and universities fare overall by aggregating all 17 SDG categories, only seven U.S. institutions made the top 100 list. Arizona State University (Tempe) ranked highest at 6. Michigan State University tied for 26, Penn State (main campus) tied for 40, Oklahoma State University tied for 72, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University tied for 92, Iowa State University ranked 96 and Florida International University tied for 100.

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THE’s top 10 ranking

Canada had the most institutions to make the top 10 list with four, followed by Australia with three. The U.S. only had one.

#1 Western Sydney University Australia
#2 University of Manchester United Kingdom
#3 Queen’s University Canada
#4 Universiti Sains Malaysia Malaysia
#5 University of Tasmania Australia
#6 Arizona State University (Tempe) United States
#7 (tied) University of Alberta Canada
#7 (tied) RMIT University Australia
#9 (tied) Aalborg University Denmark
#9 (tied) University of Victoria Canada
#9 (tied) Western University Canada


Individual Sustainable Development Goals Rankings

Aside from THE’s overall rankings, the website also ranked colleges and universities across all 17 of the United Nations’ SDGs. The U.S. failed to rank first in any category, but several reached the top 10 in seven categories. U.S. universities performed the best in SDG 14 (Life below water), the focus being to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

“American universities are doing well in a number of key areas,” said Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer for THE. “However, given the breadth and depth of higher education in the country, and global leadership in university research, we expect to see more American institutions come forward and demonstrate their commitment to supporting a sustainable future for all.”

  • SDG 1 – No poverty: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #10
  • SDG 2 – Zero hunger: Iowa State University – 3#
  • SDG 3 – Good health and well-being: University of Colorado Denver (Anschutz Medical Campus) – #35 (tied)
  • SDG 4 – Quality education: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #62 (tied)
  • SDG 5 – Gender equality: Towson University – #26
  • SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation: Arizona State University (Tempe) and Florida International University – #7 (tied)
  • SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy: Iowa State University – #16 (tied)
  • SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #77 (tied)
  • SDG 9 – Industry innovation and infrastructure: University of South Florida – #49 (tied)
  • SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #24 (tied)
  • SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities: Penn State (Main campus) – #11 (tied)
  • SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – #22 (tied)
  • SDG 13 – Climate action: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #6 (tied)
  • SDG 14 – Life below water: Florida International University – #2, Arizona State University (Tempe) – #4 and Penn State (Main campus) – #9
  • SDG 15 – Life on land: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #5 and Michigan State University – #9
  • SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions: Arizona State University (Tempe) – #8
  • SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals: Michigan State University – #34

“We hope this year’s ranking will help showcase and spread good practice and provide the impetus for more American universities to step up next year,” said Baty.

Learn more about THE’s methodology for this ranking here.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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