Sustainability in Education and Research

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Utrecht University is focusing on sustainable development: the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will become an integral part of education, research and business operations (Strategic Plan 2020-2025). The university is working towards a better world by connecting knowledge about sustainability from education and research to its own business operations and making a targeted contribution to reaching the SDGs. To boost multidisciplinary research, Utrecht University has been concentrating its research on four strategic themes for more than ten years: Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. These four themes link up with several United Nations SDGs, such as SDG 3 (Good health and wellbeing), SDG 5 (Gender equality), SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation), SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities), SDG 13 (Climate action) and SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions).

In education at Utrecht University, every student comes into contact with sustainability, regardless of their field of study. The university educates this new generation to become leaders and drivers of the sustainable transition. The university does this by integrating sustainability into education and working to increase sustainability awareness among students, using the SDGs as a guiding principle.

Sustainable Development Goals
Focus SDGs in education - Strategic Plan

Meanwhile, the university continues to work intensively on making its research and education more sustainable. The number of students coming into contact with sustainability is growing thanks to new offerings in sustainability education such as the new Master's programme 'Global Challenges for Sustainability', which started in September 2021 and is part of the CHARM-EU* curriculum. In research, the university works on integrated solutions that contribute to a fairer and sustainable future for all within the strategic theme 'Pathways to Sustainability', among others.

In short


In 2021, the new Master's programme offered by CHARM-EU called 'Global Challenges for Sustainability' got started. Utrecht University is one of the five universities that are part of CHARM-EU. Utrecht University students can also follow this Master’s programme.


Over the past year, the research team led by Professor Johan Schot delivered the first results of the study on the research efforts of Utrecht University in relation to the SDGs. The final report revealed that the university conducts research across the entire breadth of the SDGs and more specifically the SDG 13: Climate change.

Living Labs

In 2020, there were eighteen Green Office Living Lab projects. In addition, the Utrecht Sustainability Institute, in association with several partners, realised Europe’s first energy-generating high-rise building (Inside Out) in the Utrecht district of Overvecht. As part of this Living Lab project, Utrecht University assesses the results of energy performance and comfort levels, in association with Utrecht University of Applied Sciences.

What happened in 2021?

Mixed Classroom

In the Mixed Classroom of the Urban Futures Studio, students and policy makers investigate together how they imagine the future and how it can be improved. With this innovative form of education in which students and professionals learn from and with each other, the Mixed Classroom team won a Dutch Higher Education Award worth 800,000 euros in 2021. This is the second prize in the academic education category, awarded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW).

Online module ‘Making your education more sustainable’

The online module 'Making your education more sustainable' was developed within Educate-it. This online module offers teachers tools for making ecologically responsible choices in the design of their education.

Unusual solutions for clean water

Although Utrecht University has several centres and institutes where sustainability research is the main focus**, since the launch of the Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and University Medical Center Utrecht (EWUU) alliance, new grants have been awarded in the Centre for Unusual Collaborations to various interdisciplinary studies in which researchers from the four partner institutes work together. This includes the research 'Unusual solutions for clean water', with which Utrecht University researcher Herman Gilissen is affiliated. This research group aims to develop an unusual cooperation network and use this network to drive clean water solutions for nature and society.

Utrecht 2040 game

In the period from February 2021 to November 2021, 799 participants played the Utrecht 2040 game: a serious game that introduces students to sustainability with reference to the SDGs. The game was also the central theme of the Onderwijsparade 2021 during the keynote address by Karin Rebel, associate professor of Environmental Sciences.

What will Utrecht University be doing in 2022?


  • This year the team of Professor Johan Schot is conducting phase two of the SDG research. Other universities, including Eindhoven University of Technology, will be included in the analysis. The research team will also organise a dialogue within Utrecht University to put into use the mirror these results offer: what do the results of the research mean for our researchers?


  • Early 2022 will see the launch of the Special Interest Group (SIG) 'Sustainability in Education', in which lecturers can exchange knowledge and experiences with each other in the area of sustainability in their teaching. 
  • In 2022, Utrecht University will organise the prestigious LERU Summer School. The theme is ‘The University of the Future’, with a focus on sustainability.
  • As from the academic year 2022-2023, Bachelor's students can use the Course Planner to search for courses in their profiling area across the university (e.g. sustainability).

*CHARM-EU is an alliance of five European universities that offers transdisciplinary, challenge-based education.

** Pathways for Sustainability, UGlobe, Copernicus, Urban Futures Studio, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Utrecht Centre for Water Oceans and Sustainability Law, Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU) and Institute for Environmental Biology.

Factsheets research and education

This chapter is based on the factsheets research and education, provided by the department SO&O

Factsheet education (NL)
Factsheet research (NL)