Study ‘Green’: Top Universities That Teach Sustainability and Do Something about It

Sustainable Development, Environmental Studies and Earth-Sciences have become more popular among students looking for an international Master’s or Bachelor’s experience. There are countless programmes to choose from, but some stand out by putting theory into practice. Here is a list.

Sustainability is key to a better future, and ‘green’ skills are a great asset to enhance your career perspectives, as more companies embed sustainable practices into their policies. Virtually all future-oriented universities offer sustainability related Bachelor’s or Master’s programmes in their curriculum. 

…but some lead by example.

Universities have become essential players in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal call to action for a better future. Future-focused universities make sustainability and environmental impact a part of their curriculum, but some also incorporate sustainability and environmental goals into their strategy. 

Earth sciences students

Such initiatives help students develop the skills they need in the modern business world, increase their employability chances, but also shape them as responsible individuals. According to Global Green Skills Report (2022), around 10% of job postings in the past year required at least one green skill, such as sustainable business strategies, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable fashion. 

See Environmental Studies and Earth-Sciences Bachelor's

Since 2010, each year, UI Green Metrics Ranking measures participating universities' commitment to developing an environmentally friendly infrastructure.  The ranking looks at six leading indicators:

  • setting and infrastructure,
  • energy and climate change,
  • water,
  • waste,
  • education,
  • transportation.
Sustainable campus

The universities that rank highest in the list provide students with additional perks, besides just courses on ecology and sustainability. For example, you can get free bike maintenance checks at the University of Nottingham and you can win prizes for sustainable actions you take in your daily life at Nottingham Trent University.

1. Wageningen University & Research (The Netherlands)

Wageningen University has consistently ranked as the most environment196134y-friendly university since 2017 with its green campus and innovative study programmes. WUR produces energy using only sustainable methods, meaning they produce more energy than they consume. In 2019, they reached their goal and generated 109% renewable energy. 

Moreover, they use heat and cold storage (ATES)- a sustainable energy supply to warm up and cool down their buildings. In summer, the building is cooled with water pumped up from the ground; in winter, water is pumped up and used to heat the ventilation air. This method leads to significant energy savings and reduces CO2 emissions. At WUR, most of the new buildings exceed sustainable building targets, and all study programmes revolve around healthy food and a living environment.

2. University of Nottingham (United Kingdom)

The University of Nottingham is taking sustainability very seriously and was ranked 2nd in a list of most sustainable universities. Nottingham University is famous for its award-winning green campuses that are focused on biodiversity and wildlife. Because of the green roofs and lakes, swans, herons, and other species are often seen on campus. 

According to their website, following their success in 2021, this year, more spaces on campus are being left unmown to benefit wildlife and attract insects. Moreover, they compost around 500 tons of garden waste each year, which is later used as soil improver on the campus grounds. 

To encourage staff and students to choose healthy and low-carbon transport options, the university offers free bike maintenance checks, discounted or free bus travel, and even a long-term bike hire scheme for a reasonable price. Sustainability is at the heart of what they do and covers all aspects of their lives, including research, teaching, campus activities, and investments.

3. University of Groningen (The Netherlands)

The University of Groningen has a strong, sustainable focused policy. At its core lies the “Green Office”, a community of students and staff members. With the help of this community, by the end of 2026, 95% of the total waste (hazardous and non-hazardous) will be separated within the campus. People from “The Green Office” connect, inspire university members to live greener and show them why this is important. 

Everyone can be an ambassador and make the university more sustainable by joining the programme. As a green office ambassador, you will promote a healthy study and work environment, raise awareness about reducing waste, and help reduce daily energy consumption. The university organises training sessions, workshops, and social gatherings which make the Ambassador role be a lot of fun.

4. University of California, Davis (United States)

The University of California offers many surprising unique experiences. The Student farm on campus is a place where environmental responsibility students learn sustainable growing practices in certified organic fields, and Olive Center produces and sells oil from olives grown by UC Davis. All fruits and vegetables grown by the students are sold through campus eateries or to customers at the farmer’s market. 

To reduce food waste, many campus retail dining establishments offer discounts to customers who bring their food or beverage containers, and all dining halls are now tray-less. The Davis campus has two on-campus reuse stores to encourage students to throw away as little trash as possible. It holds two bike auctions yearly to encourage students to recycle and reuse items instead of throwing them away.

5. Nottingham Trent University (United Kingdom)

Nottingham Trent University is one of the first universities to integrate United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its curriculum and is recognised as a leading example of an environmentally responsible and sustainable organisation. 

NTU students and staff are encouraged to use the NTU Green Rewards app to participate in sustainable challenges and earn points to win prizes. So far, over 3,491 people at NTU have taken part in Green Rewards and have completed 205,243 sustainability actions. To encourage students to make more sustainable choices, the university created a unique bike lending scheme, where everyone can lend a bike for only £49 per year.

View Sustainable Development Bachelor's Programmes

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