The Role of Universities Towards a Sustainable Future: Integrating the Sustainable Development Goals

York University

Publication Release Date: Dec. 31, 2021
Date Posted: March 10, 2022
Submitted by: Lillian Makhoul
Content Type: Publications
Type: Graduate Student Research


We live in an era of unprecedented planetary and social challenges, including: the climate crisis, globalization of economic markets, social injustice, inequalities, poverty, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, migration, technological automation, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. For decades scientists around the world have sounded the alarm on planetary boundaries, yet there is a profound discrepancy between knowledge and action. These challenges urgently need to be addressed with practical solutions if the world is to achieve the United Nation’s Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Universities play a distinct role in society and a critical role in helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals to rebuild a more resilient and equitable world. My specific research question is: How have universities integrated the Sustainable Development Goals, and what lessons might be learned and applied therein? This research was conducted through a qualitative, case study-based methodology, where findings were derived from a literature review, analysis of select universities and empirical evidence from SDG related information sessions. Findings include best practices of how universities have integrated the SDGs through a whole-institution approach. Key lessons learned are 1) SDGs are an integral blueprint towards a sustainable university; 2) the Campus as a Living Lab is a tool to accelerate the integration of the SDGs; 3) SDGs require an impact solution-oriented approach; and 4) it also requires a holistic approach integrating Indigenous Knowledge, other worldviews and different ways of knowing. The findings and lessons learned are applied to York University as a case study.


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