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ASU ranked top in US, 5th in world pursuit of UN sustainability goals

Of 17 goals, the university earned its highest scores in environmental stewardship and education

Maligne Lake, Canada
April 22, 2020

Editor’s note:  This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

In 2015, world leaders agreed to establish 17 objectives aimed at achieving a better world by 2030: among them, an end to poverty and hunger, clean water and energy, gender equality and decent work. Together, they are called the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

It was announced Wednesday that Arizona State University ranks top in the U.S. and fifth in the world out of 766 institutions in achieving those goals, beating out the University of British Columbia in Canada and the United Kingdom's University of Manchester and King's College London. The global ranking is a jump from last year’s 35th place.

In the annual rankings published by Times Higher Education magazine, ASU scored 96.3 out of 100 points. It was the top American university in the rankings. Only three American universities placed in the top 100.  ASU beat the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State.

“This is more than a target to motivate behavior, this is a commitment Arizona State University has made to demonstrate that sustainability is achievable." said ASU President Michael Crow.  “It reflects the focus and dedication of people across the university and we are proud to be leading a new wave in the evolution of higher education. As an emerging service university, we are designed to be adaptive, nimble and skilled in leveraging ideas and technology to create impactful solutions to complex global challenges, and take responsibility for continuing to move this pioneering work further every day.”

Many of the ranked institutions do not participate in all 17 goals. For example, only 372 institutions out of 766 work on eradicating poverty. ASU participates in all 17 categories, pursuing these goals in every aspect of education and operations for almost two decades. Research in each category also is conducted at the university.

"Being ranked as the No. 5 university in the world for impact reflects that Arizona State University, our faculty, staff and students, consider it our fundamental responsibility to inspire positive change and contribute to the overall health of our global community," said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost. "Alongside our charter commitments to excellence and access, making an impact in the world is intrinsic to our organizational DNA."

Research alone is only one component of each ranking. In the first goal — eradicating poverty — ASU conducts research (score of 88), provides financial aid (69.4), and runs antipoverty programs both within the university and in the community (100 each).

Among the 17 goals, ASU ranked highest in eradicating poverty; zero hunger; affordable and clean energy; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; peace, justice and strong institutions; and support of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Graphic courtesy United Nations.

Supporting aquatic ecosystem education and action and water-sensitive waste disposal all earned perfect scores of 100. Maintaining the local aquatic ecosystem earned 86.7 points. Research in the category scored 91.6.

Terrestrial ecosystem education and land-sensitive waste disposal both earned perfect scores. Research earned more than 88 points. Support of land ecosystem action earned 85 points.

In sustainable cities and communities, ASU scored 88.2, with arts and heritage support scoring 100, sustainable practices 92.6, research 90.6, and arts and heritage expenditures 56.6.

ASU’s myriad partnerships supporting the goals scored 89.6, with education about the goals earning a perfect 100. Publication of sustainable development goal reports earned 91.1, relationships supporting the goals earned 86.7, and research 79.6.

In the category of peace, justice and strong institutions, ASU scored 85 points. The university’s work with government won a perfect score of 100. Research and governance measures scored more than 96 each, while the percentage of graduates with degrees in law and civil enforcement scored 43.6.

Top photo: Maligne Lake, Canada by Rich Martello, courtesy of Unsplash.

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