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The 2-megawatt wind turbine at the University of Delaware’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes is a source of renewable energy for campus.
The 2-megawatt wind turbine at the University of Delaware’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes is a source of renewable energy for the campus.

UD leaps in sustainability rankings

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

UD ranks 33 in the U.S. and 240 globally in QS World University Rankings: Sustainability

The University of Delaware’s commitment to sustainability is being recognized by a global higher education analyst. 

QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) released the 2024 edition of the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability, placing UD at #33 in the United States and #240 globally out of nearly 1,400 institutions. UD’s 2024 international ranking is a jump of nearly 200 places from QS’ sustainability rankings in 2023. 

Evaluating universities based on social impact, environmental impact and governance, the ranking provides a unique and detailed framework to assess how universities are taking action to tackle the world’s most pressing global challenges. QS’ methodology for the World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024 is based on university performance across three assessment categories:

  • Environmental Impact (aggregating three indicators: Environmental Sustainability, Environmental Education and Environmental Research)

  • Social Impact (aggregating five indicators: Equality, Knowledge Exchange, Impact of Education, Employability & Outcomes and Health & Wellbeing) 

  • Governance (considering factors related to good governance: ethics, hiring practices, transparency, decision making etc.) 

Chris Williams, UD associate provost and academic director for the Office of Sustainability, praised the University for the improvement it made in the ranking from the prior year. 

“Our improvement is a testament to UD’s Forward and Forever Strategic Plan that prioritizes sustainability,” Williams said. “We’re super excited that the new rankings reflect the hard work by the entire UD community.” 

Further, Williams said UD’s sustainability success really shines by training the next generation to find novel solutions to problems.

“We’re educating our students so they can be changemakers,” Williams said. “In the future, there’s so much work to be done to create a sustainable planet. The job opportunities are growing by leaps and bounds in this area. Governments and private industry need people who are experts with an interdisciplinary understanding of sustainability that includes environmental science and conservation, policy, diversity and equity, economics, and innovative technical solutions.” 

There’s also the operational side. The State of Delaware mandates a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. To help meet that goal, the UD Sustainability Council’s plan from 2022 aims for 45% of its energy usage to come from renewable energy sources by 2035. In addition to these large goals, Jeffrey Summerhays, director for sustainable operations, said UD has actively committed to things like reducing waste and upgrading facilities.

“From a facilities and operations standpoint, we want to reduce our consumption of energy and do so in a way that’s much more renewable with less carbon output,” Summerhays said.

The University has already made some big strides — evident through the 2-megawatt wind turbine at the university’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes and the inclusion of solar panels on Building X, an interdisciplinary science facility on main campus that is under construction and slated to open later this year.

“The Lewes campus wind turbine is producing enough energy to make the campus net-zero,” Summerhays said. 

The QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024 features 1,397 institutions across 95 countries and territories, more than double the number featured in last year’s pilot edition. The University of Toronto is crowned the world’s most sustainable university, followed by the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) in second and the University of Manchester in third.

Jessica Turner, CEO of QS, highlighted the role of the QS Sustainability Rankings as a cutting-edge tool for gauging the progress and collaborative efforts of universities globally in tackling pressing existential challenges. Turner draws attention to the increasing importance of these considerations for students, noting that their choices in academic pursuits are guided not only by career prospects but also by their personal values and beliefs.

“For this generation of brand-conscious students, their chosen university represents a lifelong affiliation, deeply intertwined with personal identity and social awareness,” Turner said. 

She continued, “Our 2023 Sustainability Survey revealed a striking trend: 79% of prospective international students view an institution’s sustainability practices as extremely or very important. Additionally, 82% actively seek information on these practices while researching universities. This demonstrates a clear shift in priorities among today's students who are increasingly weighing the social and environmental impact of their future alma mater alongside academic excellence.” 

As today’s students weigh the kind of impact their university may have socially and environmentally, UD is already looking at ways it can improve in sustainability. Williams at the Office of Sustainability said that includes giving students more options to learn about sustainability from freshman seminars to detailed academic curricula. 

The University has 23 centers with dedicated faculty doing work in broad sustainability topics. And more than 300 of UD’s 4,000-plus courses touch on the topic of sustainability in some way. Williams said there is plenty of room for more sustainability-focused courses. He also brought up that current students who might want to major or minor in sustainability currently can’t — something he hopes will be addressed.

“There's lots of course options that exist already, which are great,” Williams said. “But the question we ask ourselves is: could there be new unique interdisciplinary academic opportunities that partner across all eight academic colleges? The graduate college offers such flexibility and a new graduate certificate in sustainability is now available. We look forward to exploring these new opportunities for our undergraduate students as well.”

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