By Ruth A Pagell*
(December 18, 2023)
Question: What is the best sustainability ranking?
Question: Who is the most “sustainable” university
I looked forward to the second edition of QS’ Sustainability rankings. It was well-timed, during the meeting of COPE-28. I was so anxious to learn as much as I could before the ranking was released that I woke up early in the morning a week before the release to listen to their webinar. For those of you who may be jealous because I am writing this while looking out at the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, I am in no one’s time zone for professional webinars. Alas, listening did not help much since it did not prepare me for the doubling in size of the rankings and the impact that modifying metrics would have on the rankings from 2023 to 2024. Highman and MacFarland provide some context for the QS approach.
The 2024 Sustainability Rankings include not only the universities from the World University Rankings included in version one but also those eligible for the Regional and Subject rankings. This doubled the number of ranked universities from 700 to 1397. The second edition also added a third category, Governance, to Environmental and Social Impact, using the corporate model of ESG. The three categories display rankings on nine performance lenses and have a total of 53 metrics, the latter not available to the public. In 2024, the University of Toronto is number one in the world, the University of Auckland ranked fifth is tops in Oceania, and The University of Tokyo at 22 is tops in Asia. See Table 1 for Categories and Lens with links to individual metrics. It lists the top performers in Categories and Lenses and the underlying SDGs.
Universities from English-speaking countries, particularly from the British Commonwealth, dominate the top rankings. 60 percent of the top 100 are from Commonwealth universities, with the United Kingdom leading with 28. Canada and Australia have more in the top 100 than the United States. There are no universities from China in the top 100 and just five from Asia. Table 2 below lists the top 10 for 2024 with their ranks for each Category.
See Table 3 for a list of the top ten Sustainability universities overall for 2023 and 2024, the top 10 in each 2024 sustainability category, and their world ranks. Because of the changes made in the individual categories and their weightings, QS recommends not making comparisons between 2023 and 2024. For those of us who want to know more than who is number one, analyzing the difference in rankings between 2023 and 2024 illustrates the importance of looking at more than the rank. It shows how modifying weightings and metrics changes rankings. Adding Governance resulted in changes, especially for US universities. Of the 209 US universities, 165 have governance ranks below 900. Countries, such as the UK, benefited which may have more to do with what countries require than an individual university’s performance.
COMPARING SUSTAINABILITY RANKINGS
The approaches taken by QS, THE, and UI Green rankings are different. QS emphasizes research, which is quantifiable and results in the same universities rising to the top in Asian rankings. It uses a business-like ESG format. Most data are available from third-party sources and universities cannot opt out. The research rankings may not cover my subject of interest. I would like the research emphasis of QS more if I could add a layer to search by subject. THE includes universities that have opted in and the metrics focus on individual SDGs. For example, QS has 209 US universities and THE has 50. UI Green Metrics, from the University of Indonesia, looks at actual initiatives reported by universities. It includes the questionnaire that universities fill out. Universities listed in Webometrics are eligible for inclusion. It includes 8 institutions from the US.
29 of the 30 top 10 universities are different as shown in Table 4 below. Ten different countries are represented with Canada leading with eight different universities, followed by Australia.
I recommend using a variety of rankings to see what meets individual needs and to look at university websites. There is no best ranking nor most sustainable university. The QS website is not useful for finding individual examples of what universities are doing. Use top-ranked universities and check out their websites. Look at the website for the number one ranked University of Toronto. Also, check out other universities’ websites based on your location. Two universities that I am familiar with, Emory University in Atlanta and Singapore Management University for example are very proactive. In the US Princeton Review ranks the top 50 top green universities and reports information on 519. Emory is number seven.
I try to remain as neutral as possible when presenting different rankings I have not revealed a list of my favorites or least favorites. I do not critique the interfaces. To see excellent overviews of QS and THE sustainability rankings check out the articles from Canada’s One Thought to Start Your Day” (Usher)
Highman, L. & MacFarlane, D. (Dec 2023). QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024. QS Insights Magazine.” https://magazine.qs.com/qs-insights-magazine-11/sustainability-rankings?utm_source=SG&utm_medium=SG&utm_campaign=SG
Princeton Review Guide to Green College 2024, https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings/green-guide?ExDT=2&gad_source=1&gclid=Cj0KCQiA4NWrBhD-ARIsAFCKwWuGPWTog0JXvLuniVu0nWNcx6L9FqKJjdUWcL7037q-g88_ga_qVnAaAkGuEALw_wcB
QS Methodology sustainability, https://support.qs.com/hc/en-gb/articles/8551503200668
RR 48 Part 1 (20Nov 2021). How Green is my University? Ranking green universities: new metrics and new leaders. https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-48-part-1-how-green-is-my-university-ranking-green-universities-new-metrics-and-new-leaders/
RR 53 (28 Nov 2022). Beyond SDGs: QS releases its world sustainability rankings https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-53-beyond-sdgs-qs-releases-its-world-sustainability-rankings/
Usher A. (8 Nov 2023). THE Impact Rankings: A Tale of Canadian Dominance. One Thought to Start Your Day. https://higheredstrategy.com/the-impact-rankings-a-tale-of-canadian-dominance/
Usher, A. (29 Nov 2023). Rankings Round-Up (3): The evolution of QS Rankings. Higher Education Strategy Associates.https://higheredstrategy.com/rankings-round-up-3-the-evolution-of-qs-rankings/
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674