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This is how we're creating a sustainable university

This is how we're creating a sustainable university

by Caroline Hardaker

Newcastle University is 4th in the UK and joint 24th in the world for sustainable development in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2023. Let's find out why.

In this blog, we'll be digging into what these rankings mean and why they're important, as well as what being a sustainable university actually involves and the steps we're taking to safeguard the future of our planet.



  1. What do the THE Impact Rankings measure?

  2. What are the UNSDGs?

  3. How is Newcastle University working towards the UNSDGs?

  4. How is Newcastle University taking climate action?

  5. How does this benefit students?


What do the THE Impact Rankings measure?

The rankings assess universities across their research, stewardship, outreach and teaching against the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

These goals - 17 in total - are a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.


What are the UNSDGs?

The 17 goals were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals are:


The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals


How is Newcastle University working towards the UNSDGs?

Our action towards the UNSDGs includes:

  • what and how we teach
  • our research activity
  • how we welcome and support our students and colleagues
  • outreach to the local community
  • environmental and energy improvements to our campus and operations

Through our Global Challenges Academy we share ideas and best practices with partners as we work to help realise the UNSDGs.


How is Newcastle University taking climate action?

One of the first universities to declare a climate emergency in 2019, we're investing £15 million every year into being net-zero by 2030 - we've managed to reduce our CO2 by 43% since 2006. 

We're installing solar photovoltaic panels on 50 buildings across our campus as part of an £11m campus-wide programme, and we're reducing the energy we use with LED lighting, heating and ventilation system upgrades.

Whenever we can, we're refurbishing rather than rebuilding facilities to lower our carbon footprint, and we're reducing waste with recycling schemes and a furniture reuse initiative.

We have divested our endowment funds from fossil fuels, and we engage with our fund managers on the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance of our investments.

More information on the ways we are working towards our carbon reduction targets is detailed in our Climate Action Plan.

We're also managing our water consumption and flood risk – we’ve installed a ‘blue roof’ at the Henry Daysh Building to control how rainwater drains from the roof during a downpour. This sustainable drainage system helps reduce the impact on water quality, biodiversity and flooding.

An extra 1,500sqm of wildflower planting is helping improve the wildlife habitats of our city-centre campus and we hold the Hedgehog Friendly Campus Silver Award in recognition of the action we've taken. We've also retained our Green Flag award - the international standard for parks and green spaces.


How does this benefit students?

By embedding our commitment to sustainability in everything we do, our students learn about - and can contribute to - solutions for a fairer, stronger, more sustainable world.

Through the delivery of new teaching programmes and course modules, we're improving education for sustainability, while our Climate Leadership Scholarships support students to carry out research in areas that address the UNSDGs.

Key messages about what we're doing to tackle the climate crisis and enhance sustainability, are included in our induction programme, and an annual Sustainability Week helps our community discover what they can do to get involved. 

Our student-led Student Environment and Sustainability Committee (SESC) helps raise awareness of the climate emergency and gives students a voice on the sustainability improvements they want to see on campus.

Last year, our Students' Union also staged a Climate Conscious Careers campaign highlighting environmentally-focused careers. It gave students with a passion for the green economy the chance to explore available opportunities as well as information on how they can lead climate-conscious personal lives.

You can find out more about our commitment to being a sustainable university when you explore our From blog. Alternatively, find out more about the work we're doing to champion the green economy.