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Top 10 Canadian Universities for Sustainability

Last updated: 9 January 2024 Canada University Rankings Canadian University Guide Sustainability

The global awareness of environmental challenges and the solutions needed to save our planet has been increasing for many years. Aside from governments worldwide, universities are also addressing these issues to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Many prestigious universities see sustainability as a key aspect of their social responsibility and commitment to positively impacting the planet.

Why is sustainability important?

Sustainability is crucial because it represents a responsible and ethical approach to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Addressing climate change, resource depletion, and biodiversity loss requires a shift toward sustainable practices in various sectors, including energy, agriculture, and industry. By embracing sustainability, we can mitigate the negative impacts of human activities on the environment, promote social equity, and build a more resilient and harmonious global society, fostering a world where current and future generations can thrive in a balanced and interconnected ecosystem.

Measuring global universities' impact

As a result of this realization, all global universities have been working towards solving sustainability issues through a unique mix of initiatives. To recognize the contributions of these universities, the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024 features over 1,400 universities from across the globe, measuring an institution’s ability to solve environmental, social, and governance challenges through a special methodology. Universities have been ranked for their efforts and achievements, and Canada’s best universities impacting the world positively through their sustainability initiatives are discussed below. 

If you also want to be a part of the educational institutions that are paving the way for a secure future, book a consultation with SI-Canada today.

most sustainable universities canada

Top 10 Canada Universities for Sustainability

1. University of Toronto

The University of Toronto is the top-ranked university in Canada and the top among all global universities in the Sustainability Rankings 2024.

This became possible as the university has been actively working towards sustainability across various fronts, including constructing and renovating campus buildings that follow green building standards, incorporating energy-efficient technologies, sustainable materials, and environmentally conscious designs. The university is committed to reducing almost 80% of absolute carbon emissions by 2050 on its campuses. There is a strict carbon budget for all new constructions, and targets are set for energy efficiency and water reduction. The university is also working on increasing the use of renewable energy, including solar power, for on-campus and off-campus functioning. U of T supports sustainable transportation options, including cycling infrastructure, public transit partnerships, and electric vehicle charging stations. 

2. University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia stands at the 4th position globally among the most sustainable universities in the world. The university's goals on this front are to enhance the efficiency of its operations while improving environmental performance. UBC intends to leverage the existing campus infrastructure and built environment to showcase innovative sustainability solutions at a municipal scale. The university has a Zero Waste Action Plan, which has improved the campus recycling infrastructure. UBC also makes efforts for energy conservation, which has reduced campus CO2 emissions by 28,400 tons annually since the 2000s, equivalent to taking almost 6200 cars off the road. The university encourages more sustainable modes of transportation to meet its environmental goals. 

3. Western University

Taking the 3rd position in Canada and being among the top 10 universities worldwide for sustainability in the QS Rankings for 2024, Western University has gained this position due to its concerted efforts towards safeguarding the planet. The entire campus community, including the staff, faculty, and students, promotes sustainability differently and has incorporated the principles in teaching, learning, and research initiatives. Western University commits to reducing carbon emissions to 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions on campus by 2050. The university works and tracks its progress on all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals given by the United Nations. More than 2,700 courses at the university and its affiliates are in alignment with the SDGs. 

4. McGill University

The McGill Office of Sustainability was established in 2010 and has been responsible for embedding climate action and sustainability into all the university's activities. The office connects and supports students, faculty, and staff to foster a sustainable community. Solutions for environmental challenges are being innovated at all levels in the university, from research to operations. The university’s Climate & Sustainability Strategy 2020-2025 has been advancing efforts and transforming the campus to build a sustainable world around the university and beyond. Through this strategy, 62 specific actions have been taken to guide the university towards achieving the long-term sustainability goals. The university intends to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and become zero waste by 2035.

5. University of Alberta

The University of Alberta has established a Sustainability Council that is committed to building prosperity for the people and the planet by giving learning opportunities, leadership training, and research support to the community. The sustainability plans at the university guide the students, staff, and faculty members to become environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable. The University of Alberta is a charter member of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System, a voluntary self-reporting framework helping universities recognize and measure progress toward sustainability. The university also provides courses and experiential learning opportunities to students that allow them to research and learn about sustainability issues.

6. Queen's University at Kingston

Queen’s University has been partnering with the faculty and students to create a greener future for the planet. The university is committed to advancing sustainability by improving operations and fighting climate change by reducing the environmental footprint. An investment of around $30M has been made towards energy reduction projects on campus and to reduce 35% greenhouse gas emissions from the operations and facilities at the campus. Queen’s University is dedicated to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 and recycles more than 30% of its waste into organics. The university also encourages students to take up more eco-friendly transportation systems. It is a designated Fair Trade Campus, a status through which the university supports sustainable practices for agricultural workers and the environment. 

7. University of Calgary

The University of Calgary has adopted sustainable ways of living, learning, and working, as proclaimed on the university's official website. Through its Institutional Sustainability Strategy, the university has continuously advanced to reach its overall sustainability goals. The university has a Campus as a Learning Lab, which brings together faculty, staff, and students to work on projects that make the university more sustainable. There are learning and research opportunities on the sustainability front for students in the form of educational programs across various disciplines. The university also has a Campus Energy & Emissions Dashboard where accurate sustainability reporting is available to measure the effectiveness of all the efforts by the university. 

8. University of Waterloo

The Sustainability Office at the university works as a hub for sustainability action and information on the campus. Right from encouraging individual actions to systems changes, the office integrates sustainable thinking into the academics, operations, and overall engagement of the university within the community and at the global level. The university’s community has played an integral role in advancing an equitable, low-carbon, and resilient environment within Waterloo. Through the university’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy, the office works on eight operational areas on the campus to reduce the negative environmental impact. These areas include climate, energy, waste, water, transportation, grounds, food, and procurement. 

9. University of Ottawa

The Office of Campus Sustainability at the University of Ottawa has adopted sustainability as a lens through which the university sees the world. The office strives to integrate sustainability into the daily life on campus for students, staff, and faculty members. The University of Ottawa’s campus has become the first in Ontario to have become bottled water free. The university has 4 LEED certified buildings and is Canada's 7th Fair Trade Campus. To become zero waste, the university has implemented over 20 reuse and recycling programs and has over 350 recycling stations across the campus. The University of Ottawa aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 by reducing energy consumption on campus and building climate-proof campus infrastructure. 

10. McMaster University

McMaster University is among the top Canadian universities in many aspects, and the same applies to its sustainability efforts. Through its Office of Sustainability, the university has been working to transform the campus to become environmentally efficient. McMaster’s first-ever university-wide Sustainability Strategy 2022-2026 is focused on creating a brighter world by addressing some of our planet's most pressing challenges. The university intends to become a living laboratory for sustainability and has taken input from the community to work on this front. One of the approaches in this direction is to create a self-sustaining campus. McMaster will focus on active and alternative transportation facilities, building eco-parks and greenspaces, and exploring how these greenspaces can promote mental wellness among community members. 

Study in Canada

If you want to apply to study at one of the above universities, or have any questions answered about your Canadian study abroad application, contact SI-Canada today.

Universities featured in this article:

  • University of Toronto
  • University of British Columbia
  • Western University
  • McGill University
  • University of Alberta
  • Queen's University
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Waterloo
  • University of Ottawa
  • McMaster University
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