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Organizational Change
Universities Launch Collective Response to the Sustainable Development Goals

A significant source of cutting-edge research, innovation and ideas, universities are uniquely positioned to accelerate progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a notion that is supported by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC). Representing more than two million students and 400,000 faculty and staff across the UK and Ireland, the organization has launched The SDG Accord to ensure the SDGs are embedded into post-secondary education.

“This is a huge step in the right direction to better show the world the value of universities, colleges and students,” said Ian Patton, CEO of EAUC. “The education institutes responsible for molding the minds of the next generation of leaders and change agents are accepting a central role in ending some of most critical global challenges.”

“These are the most pressing issues of our time and we are all responsible, and nobody must be left behind. The premise of the Goals is simple: there must be economic, social and environmental balance. Delivery has never been straightforward — but this SDG Accord will now help pave the way for holistic change. Institutions that sign up to the accord will embed the goals in every department and collaborate across cities, regions, countries and continents. This is the beginning of a total global transformation.”

Announced at the World Congress on Environmental Education (WEEC) in Vancouver, the SDG Accord has already been endorsed by 30 organizations from across the globe, including the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), Conférence des Grandes Écoles, China Green University Network (CGUN), The Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI).

According to a recent report by sustainability strategy consultancy Brite Green, universities in the UK are struggling to reduce CO2 emissions by 43 percent by 2020, a target outlined by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The launch of the Accord could help provide universities with the support and resources they need to improve sustainability performance.

The Accord can be signed on three levels: Institutional leaders can sign to make a corporate commitment; leaders of related university, college and student organizations can sign to make a corporate commitment to supporting the sector; or individual students, researchers, academics and operational staff can sign to make a personal and professional commitment to advancing sector performance.

By signing the Accord, universities commit to:

  • Align all major efforts — including education, research, leadership, operational and engagement activities — with the SDGs, targets and indicators
  • Aim to involve members from all stakeholder groups in this endeavor, including students, academics, professional staff, local communities, etc.
  • Collaborate across cities, regions, countries and continents with other signatory institutions as part of a collective international response
  • Report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, sharing case studies and best practices

“This moment in time calls all of us — individually and collectively — to live, learn and lead in a globally responsible way. The Sustainable Development Goals offer a clear and common agenda for humanity and places the onus on higher- and further education ecosystems to respond with urgency and action to meet and exceed the goals. The SDG Accord is an important awareness raising and activation platform for catalyzing global responsibility in living, learning and leading,” said John North, Managing Director at the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative.

From the progress reports provided participating national and international institutions, a sector overview of progress will be presented annually at the UN High Level Political Forum, where global progress on the Goals is reviewed each year.

The University of Bristol and UWE Bristol are the first UK higher education institutions to commit to the SDG Accord. “University of Bristol and UWE Bristol are pioneering university collaboration through our Skills Bridge project that connects the Bristol community with both universities to solve local challenges through student volunteering, internships and research projects,” said Judith Squires, Pro-Vice Chancellor of University of Bristol, and James Longhurst, Assistant Vice Chancellor of UWE Bristol.

“Our joint signing of the SDG Accord demonstrates our ongoing commitment to working together with the city to embed the Sustainable Development Goals at both Universities.”

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