Virginia Tech’s commitment to sustainability continues to receive international acclaim, as the university was again ranked among the top 100 universities globally in the Times Higher Education 2023 Impact Rankings released Thursday.

The Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). THE rankings use calibrated indicators to compare universities across four areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

Virginia Tech received an overall score of 89 and an impact ranking of No. 92 out of nearly 1,600 universities. Last year, the university was ranked No. 98 out of 1,406 universities.

Of the United Nation’s 17 SDGs, Virginia Tech participated in 11 of those and registered top-100 marks globally in six. The university’s top mark came in the SDG of Zero Hunger, a category that considers a university’s research on hunger, its teaching of food sustainability, a commitment to tackling food waste, and a commitment to addressing hunger on campus and locally.

The university finished 17th globally out of 647 institutions ranked in this category.

The Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation played an important role in Virginia Tech’s success in this category. As an Extension and Outreach Center in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the center leads multi-institutional and community-based grant-funded projects focused on ecological, cultural, and societal elements of regenerative agriculture, local foodways, and regional food systems.

Examples of these projects include the Roanoke Foodshed Network that aims to explore and build capacity for a regional food system in the Roanoke area of Southwest Virginia; Soil Conservation, and Place that talks to farmers about conserving soil and water resources; 4 the Soil: A Conversation that consists of a podcast that focuses on soil health; Agroforestry in Virginia that trains growers and educators in establishing and maintaining agroforestry systems; and Stories of Community Food Work in Appalachia that shares narratives of people working for food systems change.

“We not only make an impact through our programming and projects, but we offer backbone support to a number of initiatives that emphasize a commitment to addressing food access and availability from a critical and systems perspective,” Kim Niewolny, director of the center, said. “Through our events and more, our center team and community are well positioned to continue to support the university in serving as a leader in addressing the UN’s SDGs as a result of high impact teaching, research, and outreach.” 

Biking on campus in the fall
Efforts to increase biking to and on campus have played a role in the university's commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. Photo by Christina Franusich for Virginia Tech.

The SDG of Responsible Consumption and Production measures universities’ research on responsible consumption and their approach to the sustainable use of resources. The SDG of Sustainable Cities and Communities measures universities’ research on sustainability, their role as custodians of arts and heritage, and their internal approaches to sustainability.

Virginia Tech’s Office of Sustainability works daily to meet the university’s goals stated in its Climate Action Commitment, which seeks to move the campus toward becoming a more sustainable community. Much of their work contributed to these high SDG scores in the Impact rankings.

Some examples of the Office of Sustainability’s efforts in these SDG categories include offering individuals the opportunity to participate in a bike census each fall and soliciting green request for proposals from students to make the campus more sustainable — proposals that may receiving funding and be implemented within the following academic year.

Other examples include campus officials working with a zero-waste consultant – Reduction in Motion – to develop pathways for the university’s goal of becoming a zero-waste campus by 2030 and the Game Day Green Team, which helps improve recycling rates at athletics events. Also, a Climate Action, Sustainability, and Energy Committee pushes forward sustainability policies and priorities.

“One of the mottos we often use in sustainability is 'think globally and act locally,'” Nathan King, campus sustainability manager, said. “I believe that Virginia Tech has been able to put a special spotlight on its sustainability efforts through THE Impact rankings and our dedication to supporting the UN SDGs.  We are proud of the fact that we have a myriad of faculty and staff experts at the university working alongside our committed students to advance our Climate Action Commitment and our campus Sustainability Plan. We continually look forward to harnessing Virginia Tech’s spirit of innovation and service to better our local and global community.”

Other top marks for Virginia Tech came in the SDGs of Reduced Inequalities, Life on Land, and Climate Action. The SDG of Reduced Inequalities considers universities’ research on social inequalities, their policies on discrimination, and their commitment to recruiting staff and students from underrepresented groups. The SDG of Life on Land measures universities’ research on life on land and their education on and support for land ecosystems. The SDG of Climate Action factors universities’ research on climate change, their use of energy and their preparations for dealing with the consequences of climate change.

Virginia Tech was ranked No. 63 globally out of 901 universities in Reduced Inequalities, No. 73 globally out of 586 institutions in Life on Land, and No. 80 in Climate Action out of 735 universities.

More information about Virginia Tech’s rankings can be found online.


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