SDGs in Universities


Universities have a unique and critical role in helping the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through their research, teaching, operations and community leadership.


This area of work aims to mobilise universities to contribute to the SDGs and highlight the importance of the sector in local, national and international implementation.


Get started with the SDGs in Universities.

Find guide here
Global Goals

We Encourage Universities to Walk the Talk.

Universities and knowledge institutions have a critical role to play in the achievement of the SDGs. Education, research, innovation and leadership will be essential in helping society to transform into pathways of sustainable development. This is why we encourage universities and knowledge institutions to implement sustainability in their core operations.

Get Started! down

Getting Started

“Universities must act on the Sustainable Development Goals now.” *

Given the size of the task of achieving the SDGs, and the key role of universities in this work, there is an urgent need for the sector to pick up the pace.

Accelerating Education for the SDGs in Universities is a new guide from SDSN that aims to help universities, colleges, and tertiary and higher education institutions implement and mainstream education for the SDGs within their institutions. It updates and expands on the Education section of the widely referenced 2017 publication: Getting Started with the SDGs in Universities. The guide is accompanied by a website, Case studies of working with Education for the SDGs, with almost 50 examples of how universities around the world are already accelerating their implementation of Education for the SDGs.


Short Summary

Engaging with the SDGs will greatly benefit universities by helping them demonstrate university impact, capture demand for SDG-related education, build new partnerships, access new funding streams, and define a university that is responsible and globally aware. The contribution of universities to the SDGs is broad. Some of the main areas of contribution are:

Learning and Teaching
Providing students with the knowledge, skills and motivation to understand and address the SDGs (broadly ‘education for sustainable development’); providing in-depth academic or vocational expertise to implement SDG solutions; providing accessible, affordable and inclusive education to all; providing capacity building for students and professionals from developing countries; and empowering and mobilizing young people.

Providing the necessary knowledge, evidence base, solutions, technologies, pathways and innovations to underpin and support the implementation of the SDGs by the global community – through both traditional disciplinary approaches and newer interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and sustainability science approaches; providing capacity-building for developing countries in undertaking and using research; collaborating with and supporting innovative companies to implement SDG solutions; improving diversity in research; and training students for sustainable development research.

Organizational governance, culture and operations of the university
Implementing the principles of the SDGs through governance structures and operational policies and decisions, such as those relating to employment, finance, campus services, support services, facilities, procurement, human resources, and student administration.

External leadership
Strengthening public engagement and participation in addressing the SDGs; initiating and facilitating cross-sectoral dialogue and action; ensuring higher education sector representation in national implementation; helping to design SDG-based policies; and demonstrating sector commitment to the SDGs.

Steps to Start

Through their current actions in these areas, universities already make important contributions to the achievement of the SDGs. However, for the SDGs to be truly successful at a global scale, universities need to become champions of sustainable development and play a leading role in the implementation of the SDGs.
For this, a whole-of-university approach is essential and universities can use the following steps to start and deepen their engagement with the SDGs:

1. Mapping what they are already doing
2. Building internal capacity and ownership of the SDGs
3. Identifying priorities, opportunities and gaps
4. Integrating, implementing and embedding the SDGs within university strategies, policies and plans
5. Monitoring, evaluating and communicating their actions on the SDGs

Different universities will need to approach this process in different ways, and the guide provides general tools and guidance that can be customized to different contexts and needs – including guidance on mapping, engaging with university stakeholders and senior leadership, building the business case, managing interlinkages, and reporting.
Source: Text from the executive summary from Getting Started with the SDGs in Universities.

*Professor John Thwaites, Chair of SDSN Australia/Pacific, Monash University and member of the SDSN Executive Committee and co-chair of SDSN Leadership Council.

SDG Academy

The SDG Academy is a SDSN program that creates and curates free massive open online courses and educational materials on sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Goals. Sign up for their newsletter to keep updated on new courses and engagement opportunities.

Members only

Members of SDSN Northern Europe have access to a discussion group about SDGs in Universities. If you want to join the group, signup on the online communication platform Mobilize! The topics that are discussed in this group include:

  • Examples of successful and innovative initiatives
  • Useful tools, publications and resources
  • Requests for advice from other members on how to address problems
  • Invitations to collaborate on initiatives to support institutions to embed the SDGs
  • Conferences and events that address how universities can embed the SDGs within all or some areas (e.g. teaching or research)
  • Opportunities to showcase university SDG initiatives and expertise, such as calls for case studies or calls for authors

Inspirational ideas

Our members have a lot of inspirational ideas of how to implement the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. Here we have gathered some examples, but if you visit our members websites, we can promise you more.


Agenda 2030 Graduate School (Lund University)
This a graduate school focusing on societal challenges and Agenda 2030, the first of its kind in Sweden.

Toolbox – Learning for Sustainable Development (KTH)
Here you can find tips and examples for the integration of sustainable development into teaching.

Toolboxes for sustainable development (University of Gothenburg) [In Swedish]


ACT Sustainable (Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development)
Act Sustainable is an entire week filled with activities and inspiration around sustainable development issues for all students and staff at the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology

Sustainability Science Days (HELSUS)
This is a two-day conference which is organized jointly by Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) and Aalto Sustainability Hub.

Climate Framework (Chalmers University of Technology and KTH)
The Climate Framework includes set of guidelines which describe a number of key areas for climate work for the higher education sector. As of November 2019, 37 Swedish universities have joined the initiative.

SDG Initiative (University of Bergen)
SDG Bergen is a University of Bergen strategic initiative to engage in science diplomacy in particular towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Gunnerus Award in Sustainability Science (NTNU)
The Gunnerus Award in Sustainability Science is an international research prize that is jointly awarded by the Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters (DKNVS) and NTNU.

Impact ranking

The Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the SDGs. Here you find information about how to participate.

Authors of the guide

Get inspired by Marjan van den Belt, one of the authors of the guide Getting Started with the SDGs in Universities.

See a short interview with 3 advice on how to get started, and watch a live captured seminar focusing on getting the SDGs into action at academic institutions. Marjan van den Belt is an Ecological Economist and until recently Assistant Vice Chancellor at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, where she used the SDGs as an organizational framework. The seminar was held at the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development, Sweden, 4 June 2018.


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