University College Dublin: A pioneer of sustainability in global higher education
Promoted by University College Dublin

University College Dublin: A pioneer of sustainability in global higher education

Laoise Markey believes choosing University College Dublin’s (UCD) BSc Sustainability with Social Sciences, Policy & Law has been the single best decision for her. She had always wanted to contribute solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the planet and its people.

Markey’s programme empowered her to do just that. Broad and comprehensive, modules covered exciting topics ranging from global climatic inequalities to agriculture and sustainable land use. She took classes that appealed most to her interests, gaining “thoughtful insights into a whole range of climate justice issues.”

Markey believes this strong foundation is key to anyone seeking to forge a career related to climate change mitigation and adaptation. “My eyes are now open to the injustices of the world and I feel equipped with the skills, knowledge and ambition to make a difference,” she says.

Stories like hers are one of many in a growing list of examples of how UCD is preparing students to build a more sustainable future. UCD is Ireland’s largest and most globally engaged university. Always ahead in the study of people, society, business, economy, culture, languages and the creative arts, the past decade saw the university play a key role in Ireland’s national response to the challenges of sustainability. Today, it’s seen as a leader in both the European and global higher education contexts.

“UCD has long been a prominent contributor to sustainability, with great strength in energy, agri-environmental systems, the circular economy, and humanitarian action, for example, and through innovative educational programmes,” says Professor Tasman Crowe as Vice President for Sustainability at UCD. “It also has a real appetite for the kind of interdisciplinary approaches and wider partnerships that are needed.”

UCD’s winning green-collar efforts

In a recent milestone, UCD claimed the top spot in Ireland and ranked 24th in Europe in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability 2024 — a testament to all it has done to tackle the world’s greatest environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges.

University College Dublin (UCD) O’Brien Centre for Science. Source: UCD

“This achievement reflects the high level of commitment of staff and students across the university to transitioning to more sustainable approaches and to the attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which span climate change, biodiversity, inequality, poverty, and a range of other environmental, social, economic and governance challenges,” says Professor Crowe.

“The ranking underlines our excellence in education, research and operations and our demonstrated commitment to good governance, equality, health, and well-being and to partnership for impact.”

To UCD President Professor Orla Feely, the achievement illustrates something bigger — that is, how UCD can “offer unparalleled transformation on a global scale.” She believes that UCD has always been a place “that makes a difference.”

In her inaugural lecture last year, Feely said, “At a time when many, and in particular those of our students’ generation, feel powerless at the scale of the challenges facing humanity, in UCD we have the ambition, the scale, the substance and many distinctive advantages that enable us to make a difference in areas that matter.”

Riding towards eco-friendly horizons

A recent example of UCD’s efforts in eco-friendly living is its bike library, the first of its kind in the country. It allows members of the UCD Library to access their collection of e-bikes and folding bikes for free. If it all goes well, there are plans to scale up the service and offer it to the whole campus community.

Other similar initiatives include a greater focus on digital brochures and materials to reduce printed materials, a dedicated committee for ethical consumption and green living, as well as a staff travel project to actively reduce carbon emissions linked to necessary travel. Students are also encouraged to take up volunteering initiatives with UCD Volunteers Overseas, a registered charity that works to create opportunities for transformative learning and responsible volunteering.

Source: UCD

Another notable example is a 31.5 million pounds (≈ US$40 million at the time of writing) project for a new sustainable co-centre aiming to transform food systems in Ireland and the UK. Co-led by UCD, it will bring together world-leading researchers from both countries to “drive change in the way we produce and consume food, addressing economic, social, and environmental problems to ensure safe nutritious food for all,” according to Professor Eileen Gibney of UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science.

The project will allow researchers to test strategies against heatwaves, floods, drought and conflict. These aims tie in with the university’s membership of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and SDSN Youth. Both operate under the auspices of the UN Secretary General to mobilise global scientific and technological expertise to realise the SDGs.

For UCD students, these efforts make their campus a living laboratory for their programmes. “During my first two years, I have had both a broad introduction to sustainability and the opportunity to specialise within it by choosing the Business and Economics degree subject. Choosing Sustainability gave me the ability to select from a wide choice of modules offered, which reflects the multidisciplinary nature of the course,” says Colm Flanagan, Sustainability with Business & Economics student.

“I have found that this course and its students are especially well supported by its director and coordinators. The combination of systems and future-focused thinking that exists at the core of this degree is a huge advantage for sustainability students both in university and the wider world.”

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