International sustainability institution of the year named

University College Cork in Ireland was last week named Sustainability Institution of the Year in an International Green Gown Awards ceremony at the United Nations Sustainable Development Forum in New York. This year the finalists included 93 universities and colleges from 25 countries around the world.

There were 12 winners across eight categories from nine countries – Brazil, Colombia, India, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru and the United Kingdom – and 14 universities and colleges were highly commended. The shortlist of 93 finalists was 64% up on the previous year.

The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2023 was held in New York from 10 to 19 July, to support the mid-term review of implementation of the SDGs and the 2023 SDG Summit in September.

The 2023 International Green Gown Awards were announced on 17 July as part of an array of events attached to the UN forum. The awards secretariat is run by the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education (EAUC) in partnership with the global asset management company Allianz Global Investors.

They are endorsed by the UN Environment Programme and supported by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, L’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, the International Association of Universities, and the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative.

Sustainability Institution of the Year

The judges said University College Cork, home to 24,000 students, provided strong evidence of leadership and institution-wide sustainability practices, further evidenced by certifications, rankings and improvements in key performance indicators. “There is clear commitment that has been sustained over a long period of time.”

They noted that students led the initial drive to sustainability. Cork’s President, Professor John O’Halloran, said: “The award recognises the ambitious path we set over a decade ago to ensure our learning and teaching, research and operations were focused on actions to protect our environment.” It was a testament to the dedication and work of students and staff.

Earlier this year, the university went plastic free on campus. It has established Irish higher education’s first Sustainability and Climate Action office, and recently launched an ambitious sustainability and climate action plan – including 62 concrete actions – which outlines the aim to become a zero-waste campus by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2040.

The highly commended runner-up Sustainability Institution of the Year was UniLaSalle, a grande ecole that is one of France’s leading knowledge hubs in applied sustainable development. Its long-standing Uni4change strategy was formalised last year to better structure the university’s sustainability commitment and enable scaling up of its actions.

The judges rated UniLaSalle’s strategic whole-institutional approach, overhaul of curricula and research to align with the Sustainable Development Goals, its senior leadership commitment and good engagement with surrounding businesses and the community.

The other winners

The Climate Action category was won by Borders College in the United Kingdom. Some categories were split into two winner awards, one for small and the other for big institutions. The Benefitting Society had two winners: Centro Universitario Facens in Brazil (small) and International Islamic University Malaysia (large).

Creating Impact was won by Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Peru, while Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Sustainability was won by Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in India (small) and the University of West of England in the United Kingdom. Nature Positive was won by Universidad del Norte in Colombia.

The busy Next Generation Learning and Skills category had two winners and four highly commended institutions: the winners were St Teresa’s College in India (small) and Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Peru (large). Student Engagement was won by the University of Otago in New Zealand (large) and the University of Faisalabad in Pakistan.

The awards

The Green Gown Awards “recognise and celebrate the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges across the world” and strive to encourage the next generation to take action on sustainability, the organisers said in a statement on Tuesday.

Charlotte Bonner, CEO of EAUC and the Green Gown Awards Secretariat, said the winners demonstrated considerable – and inspiring – impact through their sustainability actions, “equipping learners for their futures and shaping society for the better”. They provided honest narratives about what worked well, the “bumps in the road” and lessons learned.

Established in 2004, the Green Gown Awards are delivered on a regional basis in Australasia, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and French speaking countries as well as the International Green Gown Awards.

Matt Christensen, global head of sustainable and impact investing at Allianz Global Investors, said participating universities and colleges had provided very clear examples of good ideas and projects. “We will continue to support and encourage more brilliant minds to innovate ground-breaking ideas, inspire each other, and motivate others to focus efforts on a more sustainable future.”

The International Green Gown Awards Ceremony and the winners’ projects can be found here. The awards ceremony, including videos of the winners, can be found here. Previous winners can be found here.