New International Alliance of Research Universities report highlighting the role of academia in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals

January 7, 2019

The Sustainable Development Goals are a crucial agenda and a very important one for universities - not only for how universities should be adapting themselves internally but also for the many contributions that universities can make to the very big challenges that are represented by the [goals].      -        Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, was clear in his keynote address at the International Alliance of Research Universities special event on the Sustainable Development Goals: academic institutions have an important role in helping to achieve the global goals. Academic institutions generate knowledge, invent and innovate, test systems and technologies, and train tomorrow’s leaders. All of this adds up to them having a unique role that could and should be played in advancing progress toward the SDGs.

The complexity of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires collaboration at all scales. This sentiment has been consistent since the launch of the goals in 2015, and has been emphasized in high-level fora such as the UN and the World Economic Forum. However, while there has been robust talk of key groups such as the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and municipalities, the knowledge sector has been curiously absent from discussions.

Committed to helping to advance  and collaborate on the SDGs, the Yale Office of Sustainability organized an event on behalf of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) called Global Priorities, Educated Solutions: the role of academia in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals during the annual conference of the International Sustainable Campus Network, which was held at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

The resulting report showcases the work of 12 academic institutions whose work was featured in this special event. The event and report is organized into four tracks:

  • Scholarship for solutions: teaching and research in the context of the SDGs
  • Walking the talk: how campuses can lead by example in terms of operational excellence and using the campus as a test bed for innovation
  • Next generation innovation: the role of students in advancing world-changing ideas
  • Service for society: universities as thought-leaders and collaborative partners in addressing global challenges

Highlighting how the SDGs can be integrated into the core missions of the university, the report provides an overview of the presentations and discussions. It also emphasizes six major societal transformations that Sachs’ states are required to achieve the SDGs.

While there is no blueprint approach for academic institution engagement with the SDGs, the IARU report suggests shared opportunities and challenges. The complexity of the SDGs requires integrated solutions, coordinated actions, transparency and accountability, and scaled policies and programs. Academic institutions are well versed in planning and implementing these types of solutions and can harness their core strengths to catalyze progress on the SDGs.

The IARU is a network of 11 research-intensive universities from around the world. IARU universities are bonded by a commitment to addressing pressing global challenges, educating future world leaders, and promoting collaboration. Yale is an active member in the Alliance, and is on the steering committee of the IARU’s Sustainable Campus Initiative.

Yale is currently co-chair of the Advisory Committee of the ISCN. With over 90 members from around the world, the ISCN provides a global forum to support leading colleges, universities, and corporate campuses in the exchange of information, ideas, and best practices for achieving sustainable campus operations and integrating sustainability in research and teaching.

Read the full IARU report here.

Yale is committed to building a more sustainable world. By doing what we do best—integrating science, the humanities, and our community—Yale creates, tests, and adopts innovative solutions to the environmental and social challenges we all face.