The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make up a global framework to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. There are 17 goals, each addressing global challenges such as poverty, climate change, peace and justice, which are all interconnected.
Find out more about some of our research into global challenges, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund. Watch on the video below how Leeds is making a world of difference.
Making an impact
In April 2020, the global Times Higher Education Impact Rankings rated the University of Leeds third in the UK and 11th globally for its work towards the UN SDGs.
It recognises the positive actions of the whole University community working together, leading by example to achieve a sustainable future not only for the University but also regionally, nationally and globally.
Read the full new story on our rankings.
Our commitment to the SDGs
We are committed to contributing towards the SDGs through our teaching, operations and research.
In 2018 we signed the UN SDG Accord, a global commitment for the education sector to:
- Inspire, celebrate and advance the critical role that education has in delivering the SDGs and advocate the value they bring to governments, business and wider society.
- Annually report on progress in a way that shares learning and best practice both nationally and internationally, and present the SDG metrics at the annual UN High Level Political Forum
Our SDG impact
We do a huge amount of work towards each of the SDGs. Here are just a few highlights of what we’re doing.
Goal 1: No poverty
Economic growth must be inclusive to provide sustainable jobs and promote equality.
- Our research project ‘A Different Take’ was an insightful exploration into how media and policy narratives around child poverty in the UK. The model developed through the project went on to inform Leeds City Council’s child poverty strategy.
- Our partnership with intouniversity helps more than 2,500 young people each year through a programme of academic support, motivation and encouragement to increase access to university for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Read more about Goal 1 on the UN website.
Goal 2: Zero hunger
The food and agriculture sector offers key solutions for development, and is central for hunger and poverty eradication.
- The N8 Agrifood theme at the University of Leeds is currently working with Lancaster University, Leeds City Council and both Leeds and Lancaster Food Partnerships on a pump prime project to look at risks to public procurement in light of a no-deal Brexit and climate change, and looking at actual and perceived barriers to procuring more local and sustainable food.
- Our catering service, Great Food at Leeds (GFAL), received the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s highest accolade, a three star ‘Food Made Good’ sustainability rating. The team holds an overall score of 70% over three main categories; Sourcing, Society and Environment
- ‘Rooted’ is our community food growing project aimed at equipping students’ knowledge of sustainability and gardening to cultivate local, seasonal and organic produce.
Read more about Goal 2 on the UN website.
Goal 3: Good health and well-being
Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development.
- The Gryphons in the Community programme supports our students to deliver sport and physical activity initiatives to a variety of groups within the local community. There’s an extensive range of projects that help bring greater levels of physical activity to groups who might struggle to access it and boost community wellbeing, whilst offering students valuable experience in community well-being projects
- The University of Leeds has made a commitment to being a smoke-free campus.
Read more about Goal 3 on the UN website.
Goal 4: Quality education
Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development.
- Our highly sought-after students-intoschools programme connects our students up with local schools in the area. Through this programme, university students share their passion for their subject with local schools and give something back to the community.
- The Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence (LITE) promotes and supports innovation and excellence in teaching and disseminates outcomes for impact on student learning. It offers teaching enhancement programmes, mentoring and fellowships in all areas of student education.
- Our Lifelong Learning Centre works to create opportunities for under-represented groups to access and enjoy the benefits of Higher Education.
Read more about Goal 4 on the UN website.
Goal 5: Gender equality
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.
- We work in collaboration with Northern Power Inclusion Matters to boost recruitment and provide support to women working as researchers in STEM.
- The University of Leeds has been commended for its work to support the career development of talented women in the form of a prestigious Bronze award under the Athena SWAN Charter.
- Our Edge sport and well-being complex used the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign to introduce of a variety of initiatives to motivate more women to take part in sport and physical activity. This included female-only swim sessions and strength-training courses available to university staff, students and the public.
Read more about Goal 5 on the UN website.
Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation
Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in.
- The Water@Leeds network draws together around 150 academics and 170 PhD students from across the University to deliver excellent, internationally leading water science, technology and policy research.
- Our many free and accessible water fill-up points across campus have been instrumental in reducing plastic waste across campus.
- A team at the University of Leeds is a key partner in the £17.7 million Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub. This international partnership of 55 organisations from 12 countries includes collaborators from Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Malaysia, and the Universities of Newcastle and Oxford. The project seeks to help to identify the barriers holding back the delivery of sustainable water services across the globe.
Read more about Goal 6 on the UN website.
Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy
Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity.
- Our Seven Climate Principles outline our commitment to reorientation of our research away from fossil fuels towards clean energy.
- Our Seven Climate Principles also outline our commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030, including our divestment away from fossil fuels and transition to low carbon energy.
- We are part of the DecarboN8 network of research-intensive universities across the UK. It brings together researchers, government, industry and communities to design solutions that can be deployed rapidly and at scale in the process of decarbonisation
- We are working with Leeds City Council, in particular through the Leeds Climate Commission and by extending our Living Lab Programme, and with other partners, towards the goal of making Leeds a net-zero carbon city by 2030.
Read more about Goal 7 on the UN website.
Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth
Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs.
- Nexus, the University’s £40 million innovation hub, demonstrates our commitment to building collaborations with businesses to help them innovate and grow. Our strategic relationships with KPMG and NorthInvest mean that the business community within and through Nexus, receives a wealth of support including commercial advice, investment connections and funding opportunities.
- The University of Leeds’ entrepreneurship support scheme, SPARK, provides students with a range of support and resources when thinking about starting their own business including financial support, mentoring, professional career advice and access to physical and online resources. SPARK, along with our Centre for Enterprise & Entrepreneurship Studies, have both won all four major national awards for University and Student Entrepreneurship within the UK for our work in this area, the only University to ever achieve this.
Read more about Goal 8 on the UN website.
Goal 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
Investments in infrastructure are crucial to achieving sustainable development.
- Our Centre for Technology Innovation and Engagement (C-TIE) brings together management researchers sharing an interest in the factors that shape the innovation processes. Through collaboration between academic researchers and practising innovation executives from profit and nonprofit organisations, we develop strategies for addressing academic and practical challenges.
- Our popular annual ‘Be Curious’ event attracts a wide audience from the local community. The event showcases variety of research taking place at the University, particularly engineering, transport and the sciences.
Read more about Goal 9 on the UN website.
Goal 10: Reduced inequalities
To reduce inequalities, policies should be universal in principle, paying attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations.
- The University’s world-leading Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) was the first of its kind in the country. The CDS is an interdisciplinary network of researchers from across the social sciences, humanities and STEM subjects, united by their commitment to carrying out research and teaching that helps achieve equality and social justice for disabled people, globally.
- Our University admissions policy is aligned with our approach to advancing Race, Disability and LGBT+ Equality and Intersectionality at University of Leeds, which aims to increase our recruitment of staff and students from a range of backgrounds, to ensure that the University of Leeds is reflective of a diverse wider demographic that is also reflected in senior management.
Read more about Goal 10 on the UN website.
Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities
There needs to be a future in which cities provide opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.
- Both University galleries, the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery and Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery are open to the public, with frequent events, seminars, drawing sessions and workshops.
- Our Bike Hub achieved CityConnect’s Bike Friendly Business Gold Standard accreditation for its ongoing work to promote cycling to staff and students and the storage, maintenance, training and equipment it offers. It’s also chemical free – switching to plant-based Green Oil products in 2017.
- Bike Hub has partnered with STAR (Student Action for Refugees) to provide free access and repairs to bikes for refugees in the local community.
Read more about Goal 11 on the UN website.
Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production
Responsible Production and Consumption.
- The University of Leeds has made a pledge to be single-use plastic free by the end of 2023.
- Our undergraduate Discovery Module ‘Sustainable Consumption’ is an elective module that can be taken by students from any School across the University.
- The Reuse@Leeds website, relaunched in 2017 and now linked to WarpIt, is the University’s redistribution network. This has resulted in widening our outreach to other charities, universities and organisations. Since the relaunch, the number of users has increased by 20% and we’ve avoided 8,373kg of waste – saving over 21,000kg CO2, the equivalent of taking three cars off the road.
Read more about Goal 12 on the UN website.
Goal 13: Climate action
Climate change is a global challenge that affects everyone, everywhere.
- As part of our Seven Principles, the University of Leeds has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
- As part of our Seven Principles, we are developing the University’s Climate Plan, which recognises the need to work closely with Leeds City Council who declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and have committed to net-zero emissions by 2030. Collaboration, communication and shared learning with the Council and wider networks are a key element of the emerging Climate Plan, bringing together researchers, operational staff and the wider community in Leeds.
- The University of Leeds has eight lead authors for the upcoming UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report, and two lead authors on each of the forthcoming IPCC Special Reports on Global Warming of 1.5°C and Climate Change and Land Use.
- Chaired by Andy Gouldson from the University of Leeds, The Leeds Climate Commission is a pioneering collaborative yet independent voice in the city, providing authoritative advice on steps towards a low carbon, climate resilient future so as to inform policies and shape the actions of local stakeholders and decision makers.
Read more about Goal 13 on the UN website.
Goal 14: Life below water
Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future.
- Our Water@Leeds network is involved in an extensive range of local, national and global partnerships, seeking to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing water issues. The network nurtures partnerships with a wide range of people and business that will help both to further research for all parties involved, as well as providing the necessary tools to train the next generation of researchers.
- As part of the University’s Living Lab programme the iconic Roger Steven’s pond has undergone a period of development by the University’s Sustainability Services Team, Estates Services, School of Biological Sciences, School of Geography and the School of Civil Engineering to transform the cooling pond into a promoter for biodiversity and scientific research.
Read more about Goal 14 on the UN website.
Goal 15: Life on land
Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.
- The Living Lab project I-tree, funded by funded by United Bank of Carbon, the University of Leeds Sustainability Service, the University of Leeds Living Lab programme, and the Woodland Trust, generated an in-depth report on the value of trees across the University’s campus.
- As a corporate member of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the University holds numerous volunteer days throughout the year to preserve and enhance biodiversity on conservation sites.
- LEAF researchers from across the University have collaborated with Leeds City Council and the United Bank of Carbon to establish a Forest Observatory. The Leeds Forest Observatory (LFO) will allow students and staff from the University to contribute to the collection of long-term environmental measurements and study the role of forests in the provision of ecosystem services.
Read more about Goal 15 on the UN website.
Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
Access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.
- Our expert Centre for Law and Social Justice explores the role that law has in addressing inequalities and achieving a more just society. It aims to generate research that addresses the global challenge of inequalities, exploring the themes of accessing and enacting justice, law and social sustainability, and (legal) embodiment.
- University policies include the Code of Practice on Corporate Governance, Code of Practice on Whistleblowing and anti-bribery policy to make sure we remain committed to our core value of integrity.
- Community engagement is a key activity within the School of Law. This includes the legal ‘pop-up’ clinics which have brought volunteering students, pro bono lawyers and community partners together to provide free legal advice services to members of the local public, within the community setting.
Read more about Goal 16 on the UN website.
Goal 17: Partnerships
Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
- The University is specifically focusing our research on the SDGs and tackling the world’s biggest challenges to extend our global impact through supporting more than 70 Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) or Newton award research projects across over 40 different countries.
- We work frequently in collaboration with Leeds City Council on sustainable travel developments in the city, including developments of a bike-docking system, Connecting Leeds Transport proposals ad Clean Air Zone developments.
- The University is a signatory of the SDG accord, showing our commitment to constantly reflecting on our contribution to all 17 SDGs.
Read more about Goal 17 on the UN website.