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Top Global Sustainability Trends in Higher Education

By George Alecou Valerkou July 19, 2022

Institutions around the world are prioritizing sustainable operations following the pandemic. With students, faculty, and staff engaging with campuses differently during the pandemic, institutions are prioritizing improvements to a campus’ physical and technological infrastructure. In the early findings from what will be our third edition of the Connected Student Report, which will be coming later this year, global higher education leaders outlined numerous initiatives to support the environment, such as going net zero, removal of single use plastic, aiming for carbon neutral by 2030, solar power, and electric cars on campus. 

Initiatives such as these can serve as a recruitment and retention tool for students, faculty, and staff. It can also reduce unneeded spend on energy and supplies. This blog post will cover specific initiatives and trends by country and region across the world.

North America

Institutions in North America are prioritizing sustainability through participation in the AASHE STARS reporting tool, and by investing in the creation of leadership roles charged with promoting and growing sustainability initiatives, courses, and centers.

In a Princeton Review Survey Report 74% of applicants said that an institution’s environmental commitment would affect their final decision, it’s not surprising to see North American universities and colleges are addressing sustainability from multiple angles. Initiatives such as supporting students, faculty, and staff initiatives focused on environmental justice and equity, sustainability-based hiring and research, and mental health and wellbeing programs focused on eco-anxiety and climate grief are becoming more commonplace. 

Institutions are also re-examining their relationships with external communities and partners through a sustainability lens and taking actions to improve these. The supply, lifespan, and sustainable use of a product across multiple generations of students, renewable energy sourcing, or sustainability disclosure language in agreements with corporate partners are all great examples. Procurement relationships, sponsorships, research partnerships and all other forms of corporate relationships that a university can have, each could be an opportunity for a sustainability initiative. Interestingly, institutions across North America are now creating collaboration networks between them, addressing partners in a collective voice, signaling to them that they are interested in more sustainable practices, products, and values. Check out this on-demand webinar recording for more information!


According to the Europe Sustainable Development Report, the U.K. ranks 17 out of 34 countries overall, indicating that while progress is being made towards sustainability goals, significant challenges remain. Within the U.K.’s higher education system there is a clear understanding of the importance of sustainability. 

Industry bodies, charities, and advocacy organizations are addressing the government, students, faculty, and staff to keep sustainability at the forefront. Work by Universities UK and the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education are exploring how higher education institutions can be part of the solution


France is in the top 10 most sustainable European nations according to the Europe Sustainable Development Report, with the country being an early adopter of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Additionally, many initiatives such as green cities, eco-commerce, and the Sustainable Development Reference Framework are being adopted. 

In France, there is recognition among educational institutions that they “have a major role to play in the transition towards sustainability.” As with the U.K., there is an understanding that educational institutions must play a critical role as they “educate our current and future leaders and actors in the local economy, making it instrumental in advancing sustainable development issues…The issues are prevalent both in education and research activities, and in institution management.”


There are clear steps that Spain is taking to become more sustainable, including being the first country in the EU to adopt national plans to bring an end to climate change. Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important theme in Spanish higher education. 

Institutions such as ESADE, IESE, UOC, UIC Barcelona, and IQS are more vocally promoting their sustainability values in a similar fashion to U.K. and French institutions, showing that they recognise “their responsibility and are incorporating sustainability into their operations and practices.” Where Spanish institutions seem to still be catching up are the offerings of sustainability-focused degrees. 

Globally, higher education institutions are prioritizing sustainability, and are using technology to drive towards net zero. Interested in learning more? Check out Salesforce’s commitment to sustainability.