Aerial photo of ASU Tempe campus

ASU retains top US spot for efforts toward UN sustainability goals

Sustainable communities, eradicating poverty, clean water among university’s highest scores by Times Higher Education

Arizona State University remains a national leader in addressing sustainability when it comes to research, outreach and stewardship, according to an annual international publication of university rankings announced April 21.

That ranking, published by Times Higher Education magazine, has been driven by the university’s efforts on such issues as poverty and hunger, gender equality, clean water and air, climate change and providing quality education.

For the second year in a row, the university retained the top national spot when it comes to impacts made addressing 17 specific goals aimed at achieving a better world for 2030, known as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Adopted by all 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.

For 2021, ASU’s score of 95.8 out of 100 points put it at No. 1 in the U.S., coming in ahead of Purdue University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the global rankings, ASU is tied for ninth in the world out of 1,115 institutions from more than a dozen different countries, ahead of King’s College London, the University of British Columbia and Western Sydney University. The global ranking included nearly 350 more institutions this year, compared with 2020. The next highest U.S. institution on the global list is Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at No. 28.

ASU’s SDG & Beyond Task Force, co-chaired by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the Thunderbird School of Global Management, seeks to improve these goals each year on behalf of the university. The two co-chairs reflected on their global leadership journey to ASU.

“As former New Zealand ambassador to the United Nations in 2015, we negotiated the Sustainable Development Goals, and I could not be more impressed with ASU’s contributions and ability to rapidly innovate, replicate and scale meaningful solutions,” said Amanda Ellis, director of global partnerships in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

Sanjeev Khagram, the CEO, director general and dean of Thunderbird, said he “had the privilege of leading the establishment of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the largest multistakeholder initiative launched to achieve the global goals. It is that level of ambition with what we at Thunderbird joined with the Global Futures Lab to make ASU the No. 1 university for SDGs. We must make this the decade of delivery worldwide.”

Among the 17 goals, ASU ranked highest in sustainable cities and communities (93.4, second overall globally); responsible consumption and production (89.7, fourth); eradicating poverty (87.1, third); clean sanitation and water (82.3, fifth); climate action (81.8, fourth); and life below water (89.5, seventh).

Other categories are partnership for the goals (92.3); reduced inequalities (81.4); peace, justice and strong institutions (80.5); life on land (79.2); quality education (75.6); zero hunger (73.7); industry, innovation and infrastructure (73.2); decent work and economic growth (71.8); affordable and clean energy (71.1); good health and well-being (71.0); and gender equality (69.3). 

Rankings and accolades are all well and good, but in tackling these challenges, ASU is demonstrating that it is changing the world through practical global influence for multiplier impact.

Here are a half-dozen of the many ways in which ASU is helping people and the planet prosper:

  • Modular gender education training for parliamentarians and global changemakers: These videos aim to eliminate discriminatory laws against women around the world and are now used by the 179 member countries of the Interparliamentary Union and the United Nations partner agencies.
  • The Global SDG 5 Notification Tool, designed by ASU’s Erin Carr-Jordan and implemented by The Luminosity Lab, which provides users insight into country-level progress on legal gender equality with the ability to compare 190 countries at a granular level. With data on local laws provided by the World Bank, parliamentarians and others, this tool is used by the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review to hold countries accountable to their commitments.
  • The Global Carbon Removal Partnership is a group made up of policymakers, members of the private sector and civic society seeking to influence policy and market environments to support the rapid scale-up of carbon removal actions. ASU’s Klaus Lackner, director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, focuses exactly on that. The center has developed “mechanical trees,” an innovative technology that pulls down carbon emissions from the atmosphere and is approximately 1,000 times more efficient than actual trees. ASU is also home to the international public-private alliance, New Carbon Economy Consortium, focused on harnessing innovation to drive a carbon-neutral to carbon-negative world.
  • The Connective is a consortium that is building a first-of-its-kind “smart region” for the greater Phoenix area with Thunderbird’s Phoenix Global Rising Initiative — a global multi-stakeholder partnership advancing Phoenix’s global capacity. With the support of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, ASU is helping deploy equitable and scalable technology solutions that support the Valley’s goals of sustainability and improving quality of life.
  • The Decision Center for a Desert City is focused on advancing research, education and partnerships for urban water transitions through the power of data. Complementing its work is the Kyl Center for Water Policy, which promotes research, analysis, collaboration and dialogue to build consensus on sound water stewardship for Arizona and the West.
  • The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems provides research and education options to address the integrity of the agriculture systems and the well-being of farmers, producers and providers, and to help drive policy-relevant knowledge to ensure food safety.

In this next decade of action and beyond, ASU will continue to be a global leader and transform society through use-inspired research, said Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

“The Sustainable Development Goals are designed to build a future with improved well-being for all humankind on a healthy planet,” Schlosser said. “Our purpose at ASU is not only to support these goals by aligning our programs and service to local and global communities, but to build upon them beyond 2030 so that we, as a global community, are shaping and creating bold ideas for a planet-positive future through opportunity, not sacrifice.”