U of T ranked 2nd in the world in first-ever QS sustainability ranking

a group of students works on the Lassonde building rooftop vegetable garden
(Photo by Matthew Volpe)

The University of Toronto has been ranked second in the world and first in Canada in the inaugural QS World University Rankings: Sustainability, which assesses universities for their environmental and social impact.

The new ranking, released this week by London-based Quacquarelli Symonds, placed U of T second out of 700 post-secondary institutions around the world. Only the University of California, Berkeley ranked higher.

In the two broad areas comprising the ranking – which tracks how post-secondary institutions are taking action to tackle the world’s greatest environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges – U of T was ranked third in the world for environmental impact and seventh for social impact.

“The University of Toronto community is delighted to be ranked second in the world by QS for our leadership in sustainability,” said U of T President Meric Gertler. “Our faculty members make a massive contribution to global scholarship pertaining to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Our students are deeply committed to long-term leadership in the field, as reflected in their extensive engagement in the huge range of sustainability-related learning opportunities we offer.

“And as an institution, U of T has made it a top priority to ensure that sustainability permeates our entire mission of research and teaching, while setting an example in our own operations.”

The QS sustainability ranking evaluates all universities eligible for the QS World University Rankings and takes into account data on reputation, research publications, third-party data concerning alumni impact and publicly available national-level data.

The ranking is based on 37 indicators grouped into eight lenses that each fall under the two broad categories of environmental impact and social impact. The environmental impact category comprises the lenses of sustainable education, sustainable institutions and sustainable research, while the social impact category includes employment and opportunities, equality, life quality, impact of education and knowledge exchange.

Canada had a particularly strong showing in the ranking, with two universities in the top 10 (the University of British Columbia placed third) and five in the top 50.

In a blog post, Quacquarelli Symonds noted the ranking goes beyond looking at universities’ commitment to sustainability and focuses on evidence of progress “from the impact that alumni are making in science and technology to solve climate issues, to the impact of research being done across the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”

It also noted that the ranking “evaluates the social and environmental impact of universities as [centres] of education and research, as well as major employers with the operational sustainability challenges of any large and complex organisation.”

As an institution, U of T has undertaken several high-profile sustainability initiatives in recent years, including a commitment to divest from fossil fuel investments and a pledge to achieve a climate-positive St. George campus by 2050. The latter includes the construction of Canada’s largest urban geoexchange field – in connection with the Landmark Project – that will enable U of T to curb emissions by 15,000 tonnes per year.

U of T Mississauga is embedding sustainability into every facet of campus life, as outlined in its Sustainability Strategic Plan featuring 102 targets and more than two dozen goals. Its New Science Building, for example, will feature a geothermal system that will cover 90 per cent of the building’s energy load.

In fall of 2023, U of T Scarborough is opening the country’s largest passive house student residence, continuing its commitment to developing low carbon infrastructure and embedding social procurement in its campus operations. The campus’s accessible and sustainable open spaces are also being reimagined through the award-winning Valley Land Trail, research and teaching farm, and other green spaces.

U of T’s longstanding commitment to sustainability also pervades its research and teaching. The university offers more than 3,000 sustainability-oriented undergraduate courses and more than 100 graduate and PhD programs with sustainability-related content. Undergraduate students in all degree programs can also take part in the Sustainability Pathways program, which lets them take clusters of courses and pursue co-curricular activities that help them incorporate sustainability learning into their respective disciplines.

Both undergraduate and graduate students can also enroll in “Campus as a Living Lab” and “Community-Engaged Learning” courses that allow them to contribute to real-world sustainability initiatives at U of T or with private and public sector partners.

“We are very pleased to be recognized for our ambitious sustainability programs and activities,” said John Robinson, co-chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability (CECCS) and a professor in the School of the Environment and Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. “It is important for the higher education sector to step up its efforts to contribute to the sustainability transition and our goal is to make sustainability part of the core identity of U of T in research, teaching, operations and external partnerships.

“Two of our flagship sustainability initiatives – committing to become climate-positive in our operations on the St George campus by 2050 and making sustainability curricular and co-curricular opportunities available to all undergraduate students – reflect this commitment and are part of a suite of activities across our three campuses.

“Much more remains to be done, and we are dedicated to further expansion of our sustainability ambitions.”

Overall, U of T continues to be one of the world’s top-ranked public universities in the five most closely watched international rankings: U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities, Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings, ShanghaiRanking Consultancy’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, and National Taiwan University World University Rankings.