City, University of London, Launches SDG Report
Written by Sophie Nicholas and Gunn Benjaminsen
January 26, 2021
Achieving the SDGs
“Universities have a pivotal role in achieving the SDGs. This role ranges from the obvious physical contribution, as large institutions reduce the energy use and carbon emissions, and by conducting research and providing education around matters such as renewable energy, global environmental, climate resilience, health, disaster relief and legal and financial structures.”
– Jason Clarke, Head of Sustainability at City University of London
Also known as the ‘global goals’, the SGDs are a set of 17 interconnected goals released officially by the United Nations in 2015. Adopted by all United Nations member states, the SDGs collectively call to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people can enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
On 12 January 2021, City held their very own global goals launch event and released their annual sustainability report. The event was chaired by Chris McDowell (City, University of London) and panelled by Colleen Howell (University College London), Joanna Newman (Association of Commonwealth Universities) and Meg Baker (SOS-UK).
The event considered the ability of universities to meaningfully contribute to delivery and achievement of the SDGs. Jason Clarke, Head of Sustainability at City, highlighted for us that Universities play multiple roles in achieving the goals, such as enabling collaborative knowledge generation, working alongside stakeholders to identify policy priorities and evaluate policies, and training the future leaders of sustainable development by integrating the SDGs into the curricula.
Jason informed us of his hopes for City by 2030:
“I would hope to see City increasing its research in these areas and continuing to actively collaborate with other institutions […] with a view to influencing policy development around the SDGs. I would hope to see Education for Sustainable Development fully integrated within the curriculum, with knowledge around sustainability identified as a desirable graduate outcome.”
However, City is not the only one working towards achieving the SDGs. Here, we also look into how some of our other member colleges have been putting the SDGs into practice and in what ways. So, what has been achieved?
UCL has been using world-class research, external engagement, and innovative new operations to play a leading role in responding to the challenges set out in the UN’s SDGs (1). UCL has driven SDG-based research, from Anthropologists exploring the impacts of Tanzania’s community-based schemes to manage natural resources, to artists reusing waste ochre from coal mines to produce commercial paint. UCL has also made institutional changes. Children in the UCL Day Nursery now receive an early-years education in sustainable development such as biodiversity and recycling. Recently, a UCL event was hosted, comprising 12 sessions, all aiming to further our understanding of universities’ approaches to the SDGs. It tackled how we can move forward to develop cross-disciplinary and beyond-boundary research and activities (2).
LSHTM has streamed talks and events such as ‘The new Sustainable Development Goals and Access to Essential Medicines’’(3), and has created the SDG-Health and Wellbeing consortium (SDG–HaW), which conducts research into the health and wellbeing needs and priorities of host communities in which Anglo-American mines are situated (4). The aim of the consortium is to inform a set of interventions, working collaboratively with a multidisciplinary team of social scientists and epidemiologists, to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages, by 2030 (SGD 3).
At QMUL, they have focused on in-house sustainability and created an environmental sustainability policy and environmental sustainability action plan (2020 – 2023) that engages directly with the SDGs. The plan lists a number of ambitions such as offering more sustainable food choices, recycling at least 50% of general waste, and achieving net-zero carbon by 2050. With ‘Green Mary’ as their sustainability engagement brand, they have incorporated the staff workbook, Students’ Union’s Student Group and campus garden, where students and staff can volunteer (5).
Soas’ SDG-themed content includes an online course devoted to understanding the SDGs (6). SOAS has also led research networks and conferences. An investigation into the engagement of religious actors with the SDG process in Ethiopia, India, and the UK was carried out, which drew our attention to a number of issues and recommendations such as: ‘more investment is needed to spread knowledge about the SDG agenda to local faith actors to enable them to participate in the international conversation’ (7).
Researchers from RVC contributed to the FibroScHot research project in alignment with Goal 3, to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all’. They identified the need to optimise the use of a drug called praziquantel to achieve elimination of severe schistosomiasis for future generations in communities where the current standard is failing to gain control (8). RVC also created their Environment Sustainability Strategy (9), with five focus areas: energy and carbon, resources and waste, sustainable travel, water management and wildlife enhancement.
Birkbeck has contributed to achieving the SDGs through significant research. Birkbeck’s Dr. Pamela Yeow conducted research into climate change and the public agenda during the coronavirus pandemic, while Dr. Jasmine Gideon conducted research revealing that applying a gender lens to review the evidence is one way that we can move closer to Goal 3 of the SDGs (10).
Brunel celebrated 2020 as a year of SDG achievements. Recognised amongst the best in the world by the Times Higher Education, Brunel ranked joint 99th overall, performing particularly well with ‘Reduced Inequalities’ (ranked 16th globally), and ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’ (ranked 29th). Across 15 of the 17 SDGs, Brunel is ranked in the top 200 research institutions.
Moving Towards the SDGs?
The incorporation of the SDGs has been understood by some universities as simply adding SDG-themed content to the curriculum (11). But our member universities have been moving towards achieving the goals in more substantial ways. Our member universities have taken on some of these challenges, changing institutionally as well as pedagogically.