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ASU retains No. 1 in US and top 10 spot globally in UN Sustainable Development Goals ranking

Times Higher Education's Impact Rankings recognize university's work across variety of initiatives

Hand grabbing water sample from lake
June 01, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2023 year in review.

As a demonstration of Arizona State University’s continued investment in high-impact research that tackles our global needs and challenges, the internationally respected Times Higher Education Impact Rankings recognized the university as the No. 1 institution in the United States and sixth in the world for addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The annual publication of university rankings looks at impacts made addressing 17 specific goals aimed at achieving a better world by 2030. Adopted by all 193 United Nations member states in 2015, these goals provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

“In a world of exponential change, unparalleled technological advancement and persistent inequality, institutions dedicated to knowledge creation have a critical responsibility to help forge a better future,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “ASU’s design and priorities demonstrate our determination to master global challenges, and the Impact Rankings serve as an important gauge of our progress — and a fuel for our aspirations.”

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For 2023, ASU’s score of 96.5 out of 100 points put it at No. 1 in the U.S., coming ahead of Michigan State University, Penn State and MIT. It’s the fourth year in a row that ASU has held the top national spot. ASU also placed No. 6 in the world out of 1,600 institutions, coming in ahead of Monash University in Australia, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of Toronto.

The ranking was driven by the university’s efforts on issues surrounding poverty and hunger, clean water and air, gender equality and climate change. ASU also made huge strides in water issues ranging from water security to marine biodiversity. The university ranked highest worldwide in the following areas: Life Below Water (No. 4 globally), Life on Land (No. 5 globally), Climate Action (No. 6 globally) and Clean Water and Sanitation (No. 7 globally).

ASU is No. 1 in the U.S for eight of the 17 SDGs:

  • SDG 1: No Poverty, ahead of the University of South Florida, Michigan State and American University.
  • SDG 4: Quality Education, ahead of the University of Georgia, American University and Michigan State University.
  • SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, ahead of Iowa State University, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech.
  • SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, ahead of American University and Virginia Tech.
  • SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, ahead of MIT, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State.
  • SDG 13: Climate Action, ahead of the University at Buffalo, New York University and Virginia Tech.
  • SDG 15: Life on Land, ahead of Michigan State University, Penn State and Virginia Tech.
  • SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, ahead of American University, Michigan State University and Indiana University.

“This recognition reflects ASU’s commitment to impact by engaging in discovery, learning and problem-solving to advance evidence-based decision-making,” said Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of Global Futures at ASU. “To illustrate this, consider the breadth of ASU’s commitment to addressing issues around oceans and their future, the availability and quality of water on land, and justice and peace among others as we confront an ever more divided world.”

While the ranking continues to shine a bright spotlight on the university, it is partnerships across the university and beyond that influences ASU’s position at the top national spot four years in a row.

“Simply put, ASU cannot do this work alone,” said Amanda Ellis, former UN Ambassador and co-chair of ASU’s SDG & Beyond Task Force. “As the lead for Global Partnerships and Networks in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, we know that climate change and its impacts create 'problems without passports' that fundamentally require multi-institutional partnerships to reach the speed and scale necessary for solutions. I am proud to see ASU’s transformative work once again reflected in the Times Higher Education’s Impact Ranking.”

Here's a look at some of those partnerships, programs and collaborations:

Global Futures Conference: The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, in partnership with the Earth League, hosted the inaugural Global Futures Conference on Sept. 20–22, 2022, in New York City. Each day included presentations, working sessions and forums for participants to engage in rigorous and lively discussions on "must-have" outcomes and "must-do" actions so life may thrive on a healthy planet. A comprehensive report outlining the must-haves and must-do's is now available for public review.

Arizona Water Innovation Initiative: The state of Arizona tapped ASU to lead the multiyear Arizona Water Innovation Initiative to provide solutions to ensure that the state will continue to thrive with a secure and resilient future water supply. The university is working with industrial, municipal, agricultural, tribal and international partners to accelerate and deploy new approaches and technology for water conservation, augmentation, desalination, efficiency, infrastructure and reuse.

ASU Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet: The center led the Borrow A Cup program, part of the Starbucks 100% reusables test, launched at ASU stores in summer 2023. The program replaces the single-use cups sold in store with reusable cups that customers will be encouraged to return. Rooted in shared aspirational commitments to the betterment of people, the planet and our global communities, the center continues to advance the Starbucks transformative agenda and 2030 targets by leveraging ASU’s applied research, networks and expert faculty.

Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS): Located in St. George’s on the islands of Bermuda, BIOS is the premier deep-ocean observatory in the Western Hemisphere. BIOS anchors a unique part of the global ocean-observing system designed to monitor the real-time physical state of the Atlantic Ocean. This institute has several long-running, ship-based monitoring programs and employs a fleet of gliders, or underwater “drones,” that are capable of continuously monitoring changes in the surrounding ocean. BIOS-based researchers and students are advancing the understanding of the ocean’s contributions to Earth’s overall health and are exploring what is needed to secure these services into the future.

ASU California Center: This university location pulls together impact research that tie into multiple SDGs. It also convenes solution-finders at a variety of events. In October 2022, ASU marked its expansion in California with a weeklong series of events at the ASU California Center, located at the historic Herald Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles. It was an opportune time for the university to discuss its sustainability goals. In an Oct. 7 panel discussion titled “Global and Local Sustainability: SDGs, ESG and Climate Action and Beyond,” the Thunderbird School of Global Management led a dialogue on how cities can align to develop policies that ensure sustainable and equitable futures for their communities. 

Planet: Since 2016, ASU has collaborated with Planet, a team of rocket scientists, software engineers, creatives, business strategists and researchers. Together they have worked on significant sustainability programs including the Planet Incubator Program within ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, the development of the Allen Coral Atlas, as well as being two of the founding partners in the creation of the Carbon Mapper mission. In early 2019, ASU became Planet’s first campuswide university partner, and since then, over 30 peer-reviewed journal articles have been published by ASU using Planet’s data products.

Jane Goodall Institute: In 2021, the Jane Goodall Institute forged a new partnership with the Institute of Human Origins at ASU. The partnership included the physical archive of over 60 years of observations of wild chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, initiated by Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and U.N. messenger of peace. The archive — which is providing new comparative data with individual primates still alive today — is composed of hundreds of thousands of handwritten notes by hundreds of researchers. Its new home is ASU’s state-of-the-art research building, the Walton Center for Planetary Health, which Goodall visited in 2023.

Mayo Clinic: The 150,000-square-foot Health Futures Center, which opened in May 2021 next to Mayo Clinic's Phoenix campus, houses researchers from several ASU schools and colleges, including researchers and faculty members of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Researchers there collaborate on the some of the latest health and well-being work. 

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