2024 applications are NOW CLOSED.
Finalists will be announced on 13 June 2024.

All categories are open to any tertiary education establishment  - including all post-16 year old educational institutions such as colleges, universities and learning and skills institutions globally. 

If your institution is in the UK & Ireland or Australasian regional chapters you can only apply via the regional route and cannot apply directly to any of the International Green Gown Awards categories. 

Judges are allowed discretion to award up to 2 winners for each category to distinguish between large and small institution applications (measured against an annual turnover of US$50 million or below). However, this will only be done when applications are of a high quality - it is not mandatory.

You can only apply for one category per project - you cannot apply with the same project in multiple categories.

Guidance Notes can be found here.

**Note - you can change the language of this page by selecting your desired language in the drop down box located in the top right hand corner of this page. 

2024 Categories

2030 Climate Action 

Institutions are having to plan how they get to net-zero emissions. This category focuses on the steps that institutions are taking and planning to take to reach their targets. The judges are looking for innovative ideas and approaches that institutions are taking or planning. It is recognised that there will not be the normal evidence or impact available as this category is looking at current plans, with the focus being on intentions.

Carbon reduction and adaptation to the effects of climate change are essential for institutional resilience and business continuity – both executive-level issues for our institutions. Universities and colleges are exposed to significant climate risks and responsibilities to meet targets and institutions have to be taking bold steps to meet these targets while ensuring student outcomes and satisfaction are maintained.

The judges will be looking for:

  • Innovative plans for achieving net-zero.
  • Focus on achieving Scope 1 and 2 emissions initially with Scope 3 in the horizon.
  • How do you know you are getting there? Outline what steps are being taken in the area of measurement and verification of impact of efforts on the progress towards net-zero.
  • What steps are being taken on mitigation and adaptation?
  • Actions that can be scalable and transferable to other institutions and across the sector.
  • Plans and actions that are looking at the whole institution and holistic approach.
  • Examples of using internal research and academic knowledge in helping advance actions.
  • Examples of working in partnership within your local community and other stakeholders.

The aim of this category is to share the good efforts institutions are taking as well as learning from each other on areas that have not worked so well. Whilst the end results will not be available, judges will look at projected impacts.

Signatories of the Race to Zero for Universities and Colleges are particularly encouraged to apply for this category.

Benefitting Society

As anchor institutions in their communities and cities, universities and colleges benefit society in many ways. This category captures the powerful and innovative ways education institutions are realising their purpose in today’s society to benefit the lives of individuals, communities and wider society. Examples will range from economic, social and environmental impacts with organisations and sectors outside the institution where innovative new approaches to bringing positive benefit can be found. 

Although all applications will be considered on their merits, the judges will particularly be looking for innovative community engagement type of initiatives which have an element of proactive, new, community and social concern and positive impacts, rather than the very worthy and commendable ‘grass roots’ and ‘business as usual’ activities. Amongst others, examples might include how an institution applies and exchanges its student and academic knowledge with communities or partner organisations, how it uses its finances and investments, how it designs and manages its campus - all to demonstrate its values and the positive value it brings to society. A powerful example of such innovative and proactive engagement is the Living Lab approach: establishing projects that draw on students’ curricular work or academic research to address real sustainability challenges in stakeholder partnerships with community bodies.

Activities which have a substantial student element should be submitted to the Student Engagement category.

Creating Impact

This category recognises institutions that have achieved significant sustainability-related outcomes, on-campus or within their community, using minimal and/or limited resources. Initiatives need to demonstrate the relationship/link between the number of resources used (for example staffing, budget, time) and the level of impact achieved (for example quantifiable changes in behaviours and/or reportable metrics). Institutions that have received substantial external funding for their initiative are not eligible for this category.

Initiatives could include those which can demonstrate significant sustainability achievements (such as sustainable products, processes or learnings) in a relatively short period and/or with a restricted budget, and/or with a small staff base e.g. good progress from a low base. Projects that raise the broader profile of sustainability and working in your community will be particularly favoured.

Initiatives can cover a single aspect of sustainability or a focussed impact area or as a whole-institution approach, including but not limited to: facilities & operations; learning & teaching, research; leadership and governance; community; procurement, and engagement. However, regardless of the topical focus, the primary aim of this category is to demonstrate how institutions can still achieve creative and high impact outcomes with limited resources.

Applications must show how learning from others has been implemented and for the greater chance of success demonstrate how the initiative can be extended to and/or replicated by other organisations.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Sustainability

This category recognises the work institutions undertake to integrate equity, social justice and inclusion as part of their broader sustainability work. Disadvantaged groups will be impacted the most by the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and pollution, so equity and equality are core to achieving a sustainable world. Institutions have to take new approaches and different ways to engage broader diverse audiences and champions. The sector needs to look at ways to improve sustainability as a profession and integrate green careers and skills into their work. The sector needs to look at the barriers that exist which exclude particular protected characteristics and celebrate areas where these have been broken down and accelerated to a more inclusive approach to transition to a sustainable future.

This category recognises those surprising collaborations and innovate approaches that staff and students take to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in their institutions. Approaches may include how institutions promote sustainability as a career to a broad audience to cultivate diverse and equitable professional opportunities. Judges will be looking for institutions that have ongoing commitments to embed equality and inclusion within sustainability practices or impactful initiatives that push the boundaries and challenge the status quo to improve diversity, equity and inclusion.

Judges will be looking for institutions that have innovative collaborations within or beyond their institutions. Examples could be, but not limited to:

  • Integrating within teaching that encourages diversity in sustainability
  • Engagement with the wider community to focus on under-represented groups within your local region to engage with sustainability
  • Leading practises or initiatives that lead to greater access and participation in sustainability
  • Innovative internal collaborations across departments
  • Leading research that addresses barriers and challenges.

Judges will be looking for evidence of the impact of the initiative and must be able to show that it exceeds normal performance as well as looking at potential to scale-up and replicate across the sector.

Other categories recognise community and student engagement more generally and applicants are to apply under those categories where protected characteristics and/or elevated community vulnerability to climate change was not central or only part of the initiative. 

Nature Positive

From the air we breathe to the water we drink and the food we eat, nature provides the essentials we all rely on for our survival and well-being, including crucial economic, health, cultural and spiritual benefits. To reflect the biodiversity and ecological crisis the world is facing, this category champions those institutions who are taking action to promote nature on their campuses, in their operations and teaching and research as well as working in partnership with their local communities. This category is in recognition of the Global Goal for Nature to be net positive by 2030 and the landmark deal on the Global Biodiversity Framework at the UN Biodiversity Summit (COP15). Nature must recover so that thriving ecosystems and nature-based solutions continue to support future generations, the diversity of life and play a critical role in combating climate change.

Institutions have a critical power and influence to build more resilient ecosystems and help nature recover, whilst simultaneously addressing societal challenges such as climate change, human health, resource security, and natural disaster risk reduction and adaptation.

Being Nature Positive means halting and reversing nature loss so that species and ecosystems start to recover. For institutions this means restoring species and ecosystems that have been harmed by the impacts of the institution and its activities and enhancing the institution’s positive impacts on nature.

Applications are encouraged from institutions that can demonstrate how their actions have positive biodiversity impacts on both the community and the environment, including how they are engaging and educating their students and staff on nature positive approach.

Judges will be looking for institutions that can provide:

  • Nature recovery targets, such as increasing species diversity, restoring habitats and ecosystem services and reducing the impacts of their operations on biodiversity
  • Clear actions and implementation plans on the innovative actions they are taking to reach their nature recovery targets
  • Measurable progress toward targets and transparently report on their actions, performance, lessons learned and challenges
  • Evidence of integrating approaches into core operations and decision-making process, from research to education, procurement, infrastructure and community engagement
  • Positive impacts both with students, staff and local communities

Judges will favour applications that can demonstrate collaboration and sharing best practices with other stakeholders, such as local communities, governments, businesses and NGOs.

Signatories of Nature Positive Universities are encouraged to apply but applicants do not need to be signatories to apply.

Next Generation Learning and Skills

This category recognises achievement in the development of academic courses, skills and capabilities relevant to sustainability. These can be vocational, undergraduate or postgraduate courses or related to wider purposes such as community involvement, global or environmental awareness or to support lifestyle changes.

Examples of possible application topics include: 

  • Training for apprenticeships;
  • Continuing professional development (CPD) activities;
  • Skill-focused courses leading to professional or vocational qualifications; 
  • Adult and community learning and short courses for practitioners;
  • The development of new courses focused on some or all sustainable development issues; 
  • Adaptation of existing courses;
  • Use of practical sustainability-related projects or other practical activities within courses including work-based learning initiatives;
  • Staff development.

Applications can be made for activities connected with academic courses if there is a practical focus on the development of specific skills which goes beyond the normal activities of the disciplinary curriculum, e.g. running community-based projects which give students considerable autonomy and develop their communication, management abilities etc.

Possible applicants for this category include: Higher Education institutions; Further Education and technical colleges; adult and community and work-based learning providers.

Signatories of the SDG Accord are particularly encouraged to apply for this category.

Student Engagement

This category reflects that students and staff must work together to achieve goals using “top-down” and “bottom-up grass roots” methods to achieve maximum understanding and engagement across an institution. This in turn aids student progress and allows for opportunities to gain transferable employability skills. It looks at both the student input and the staff commitment and the relationship between the two. It must be clear that initiatives include both staff and students (not just one party) working in partnership, however judges will look favourably on activities that have been initiated by and/or demonstrating strong leadership by students.

Where staff and students are involved, as well as including the actual numbers, include how they are involved and what impact/influence they have had.

Examples could include: Social media projects; Awareness and communication campaigns; Procurement actions; Sustainability reporting and websites; Volunteering activities organised by unions, societies and similar organisations within institutions; Community projects.

Applications are equally welcomed from institutions or student bodies.

Sustainability Institution of the Year

This category recognises sustained, whole-institution commitment and impact to becoming a sustainable organisation.

To improve economic and social responsibility and environmental performance through a whole institution approach strategic sustainability activities through four main areas must be achieved:

  •  Leadership and Governance
  •  Estates and Operations
  •  Learning, Teaching and Research
  •  Partnership and Engagement

Applications are only likely to be successful if they provide considerable quantitative evidence on the nature of the improvements made and also demonstrate a causal relationship between activities undertaken and improvements achieved based on the four areas. Initiatives must have been running for at least two years.

Judges will be looking for evidence of whole institution measuring and reporting such as the Sustainability Leadership Scorecard or equivalent.

Judges will be looking for key areas where it is felt that the institution is distinctive compared to its peers, and provide supporting evidence. Tangible evidence of high level commitment, and its incorporation into management procedures, will also carry great weight with the judges as will engagement with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and public reporting of performance.

Judges welcome more granular data so others in the sector can learn and replicate approaches taken by these leading institutions.

Generic criteria

To make a strong application please provide facts and figures to support your application and meet all the criteria within your chosen category. You should also include the following generic criteria: