Categories and Criteria 2018

All categories are open to any tertiary education establishment  - including all post-16 educational institutions such as colleges, universities and learning and skills institutions. Specific categories are also aimed at student applications and 3rd party applications. 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 £50 million or below). However, this will only be done when applications are of a high quality - it is not mandatory.



Organisational Categories:

Individual and Team Categories:

All categories will be awarded to the lead institution with the exception of the individual categories - Research with Impact Award (Student), Sustainability Champion of the Year Award (Staff and Student), Outstanding Leadership Team of the Year Award  - which recognise an individual or team within an institution.

We recognise that partnerships can have a significant role to solving sustainability issues and these will be recognised  - if appropriate - in the form of a group/partnership name. This must be declared on your application form.

International Green Gown Awards

The Green Gown Awards are run in the UK, Australasia, French speaking Europe and Canada and 6 of the UNEP regions (Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and West Asia) known collectively as the GUPES Green Gown Awards). We bring them together with the winners from each region going head-to-head for the coveted International Green Gown Award. The judging criteria will be based on the project as a whole, with the ultimate deciding factor being which project has the biggest scale of impact (dissemination, replication, within and outside of the sector, national and international reach). It will be based on stage 2 applications - a separate application is not required and your entry is automatic. Find out more.

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:


Benefitting Society - REVISED

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. This category replaces the former Community category and the 2 year rule applies.

The Winning entry will automatically be put forward for the International Green Gown Award for Benefitting Society.

Campus Health, Food and Drink - NEW          

This category includes all food, drink and hospitality aspects of healthy, sustainable institutions. Applications are to be beyond good practice and that standard credentials, as examples of good practice, will usually be in place (such as Food for Life Served Here; free-range eggs; Fairtrade; seasonal and local food; Marine Stewardship Council; health and well-being, food waste etc.). It includes innovative campaigns across institutions that show creativity and consideration for how healthy food and drink is procured and served and ultimately how behaviour change and where appropriate, health and well-being, has been encouraged across staff, students and the broader community.  In particular, judges will be looking for the whole life-cycle approach from concept to waste; promoting awareness (being informed); making informed choices (considering environmental and social issues); improving entire systems (by avoiding decisions that fix one problem but cause another) and informed selections (putting decisions in context with facts from all parts of the life-cycle).

Examples could include new and innovative ways of promoting food and/or health, the sourcing and provenance of food served on site, health and wellness focus across menu creation and provision or the design/layout of the hospitality space at large to cater for well-being and other needs. It could cover reduction in food waste, packaging or a drive to educate and grow awareness of a specific key challenge within the institution.

This category replaces the former Food and Drink  category and the 2 year rule applies.

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Campus of the Future - NEW

Building on the previous Carbon Reduction category, this category recognises pathfinding campus and learning innovation. Traditional campus and learning processes are challenged and advances in internet connectivity, artificial intelligence and augmented reality have scope to transform campuses and learning into more immersive and more sustainable experiences. Similarly, the digital revolution is driving smart buildings, intelligent campuses and step-change advances in carbon reduction across all aspects of an institution.  Next-generation campuses are championing climate adaptation, biodiversity, student well-being, waste reduction, better procurement, sustainable travel, cross-discipline and social space design. Others are pioneering solid linkage with the local community in supporting embedded energy supply and grid reduction through a joined-up approach for example in local ‘smart grid’ infrastructure. The possibilities are endless, and judges will particularly look for a whole–institution mix of carbon reduction and enhancement of learning and wider student and community outcomes.

Applications are only likely to be successful if they provide quantitative evidence on the nature of the improvements made and demonstrate a causal relationship between activities undertaken and improvements achieved.

This category replaces the former Carbon Reduction and Facilities and Services categories.

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This category recognises social, social media and sustainable enterprise as key ingredients of contemporary education to ensure a supply of education leavers who can rise to the 21st century's economic, environmental and social challenges.

Enterprise skills such as creativity, innovation, resilience, opportunity recognition and self-determination are crucial elements, as are the entrepreneurial skills for new business generation. These may arise from activities within the curriculum, be part of extra curricula initiatives or be a product of the Living Lab approach, such as linkages of research output with enterprise that transform and benefit society.

Award winning work can be with students, graduates, post-graduate researchers, academics and the business community to build enterprise skills and capability across any aspect of the institutions mission.

It must be evidenced that the initiative enhances the student’s enterprise skills as well as resulting in beneficial social and environmental impacts. It must be evidenced that alumni impact benefits society.

Initiatives can be existing students or alumni (up to a maximum of 3 years from leaving the institution) and can be individuals or collectives.

This category is an institutional award.


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:  Apprenticeships; Continuing professional development (CPD) activities;  Skill-focused courses leading to professional or vocational qualifications;  Informal adult learning; 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;  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 colleges; adult and community and work-based learning providers.

This category replaces the former Learning and Skills category and the 2 year rule applies.

Research with Impact – Institution - REVISED

This category recognises the importance and societal impact of research and development by tertiary education as a driver of sustainable development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. As claims of impact from research and development can be difficult to judge, entries are sought which:

  • Are about tangible improvements resulting from research & development, rather than the findings or quality of the research & development itself
  • Can provide quantitative evidence of what those improvements and resulting sustainability benefits and impacts are. Outcomes linked to the Research Excellence Framework, if applicable, are required
  • Can demonstrate a clear and unambiguous causal link between the research & development and improvements and benefits.

Note that adoption or dissemination measures will not be considered sufficient evidence by themselves – there needs to be a further stage of demonstration that adoption or dissemination has actually produced results.

Possible activities include:

  • Research and development leading to mitigation of environmental and wider sustainability-based impacts related to existing technology
  • Research and development that has created new products with demonstrable superiority to existing ones with regard to sustainability
  • Research that incorporates the above two, and other principles, as part of a Living Lab project that is successful in co-creating & co-implementing a transformation.

Judges will be also interested in innovative approaches to better link academic research with industry need. Eligible entries can include both large-scale projects with major impacts as well as small-scale projects that provide tangible impacts in focused areas/technologies, or amongst specific target audiences. In line with the broader sustainability agenda, judges will be keen to see evidence on how the project links with the Sustainable Development Goals.

This category replaces the former Research and Development category and the 2 year rule applies.

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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.

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.

The Winning entry will automatically be put forward for the International Green Gown Award for Student Engagement.

Sustainability Institution of the Year - REVISED

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 five years.

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.

This category replaces the former Continuous Improvement: Institutional Change category and the 2 year rule applies.

The Winning entry will be put forward for the International Green Gown Award for Sustainability Institution of the Year.

Proudly supported by the EAUC 

Tomorrow’s Employees - REVISED

For a sustainable industry and economy we need students leaving universities and colleges with the necessary understanding and skill sets.  Judged by leading industry sustainability executives, this category recognises institutions which are taking pioneering and innovative steps to ensure that their leavers are future-fit. 

Judges will be looking for new approaches and initiatives taken by institutions, but will also be keen to see systemic and whole-institution approaches for example a Living Labs or when sustainability is embedded in course development, review and/or quality procedures etc.   Applications might also include new approaches to academia/ industry linkage and understanding as well as how staff development is aligned to achieving this. Qualities and skills that will be considered include both academic abilities and personal attributes which are transferrable into the working environment and can be gained through the course of study or engagement in student life.

Strategic leadership and commitment will be expected as will reference to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and campus sustainability to frame and resource the development of learners ready and equipped to deliver a sustainable economy and society.

It must be evidenced that the initiative enhances the student's employability skills as well as resulting in beneficial social and environmental impacts.

This category replaces the former Employability  category and the 2 year rule applies.

This category is an institutional award.

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Total Reporting - NEW NAME 
Awarded by PwC UK

This Award aims to assess the quality and relevance of sustainability reporting offered throughout the publicly available information provided by institutions. In order to apply the tertiary education institution should provide:

  • Evidence that sustainability (environmental and social) issues are being factored into core business strategy/priorities.
  • KPIs and targets around the institutions important sustainability issues.
  • Performance monitoring and balanced reporting on the organisation's important sustainability issues.

The following criteria are also considered:

  • Consideration of sustainability risks and opportunities.
  • Evidence of governance over sustainability performance.
  • Evidence of engaging with internal and external stakeholders, and how this has impacted on the organisation's sustainability strategy.
  • Evidence of internal or external assurance over data.

These attributes form the scoring criteria that will be used by PwC UK’s sustainability reporting experts to judge the reports and recommend the winner to the Green Gown Awards.

Applicants are to submit their latest sustainability report or sustainability section of their annual report via appropriate web links for inclusion. No other supported application form is required. The Total Reporting category can be applied for every year as long as the report submitted is for a different year/period than has been previously submitted.

Sustainability reporting tips can be found here.

Applicants are to use the Total Reporting Application Form.

This category replaces the former Sustainability Reporting category.

Proudly supported by PwC UK



Outstanding Leadership Team of the Year - NEW

As sustainability mainstreams across an university or college, leadership for sustainability is often distributed across an institution where it embraces staff and student. This new category recognises the pioneering and innovative cross institution approaches universities and colleges are taking to deliver more sustainable institutions through whole-institution sustainability strategies and new organisational structures. 

Judges will be looking for evidence of a clear high-level strategic approach – firstly how stakeholders at all levels are engaged in powerful strategic conversations, secondly how a truly integrated plan is constructed and communicated and thirdly the leadership of change and innovation to turn ideas into action. Outstanding applications must illustrate how the following groups impact and influence the team:

  • Governors and the Executive team
  • Deans and Directors
  • Sustainability delivery team
  • Champions
  • Students

This category reflects the innovation and leadership that institutions are taking in organising their staff and student structures to take a whole institution approach. This category is not just for a sustainability team or specific individuals but for the wider institution team approach. 

The shortlisted teams will present live at the Awards Ceremony. Previous applicants of the Leadership Award and Sustainability Professional Award are welcome to apply for this Award. Teams that have not won previously can reapply after 2 years.

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Applicants are to use the Individual/Team Application Form but the Award will be made to the institution.

This category replaces the former Sustainability Professional and Leadership categories.

Research with Impact – Student - REVISED

This category recognises excellent student research that progress the field of sustainability and beneficially impacts on society.

Applicants should have completed a piece of sustainability-related research at undergraduate, master’s level or small research pieces as part of a PhD (not full PhD research), in any discipline, done at a further or higher education institution, assessed within the last calendar year, and scored a 2:1/60%/Merit or above**. The project could be a freestanding piece of work, a product of a Living Lab project or be completed in partnership with an on- or off-campus partner.

Examples include:

  • The benefits of biodiversity initiatives on an organisations’ premises;
  • Community development, social inclusion or assisting disadvantaged people;
  • Alternative ways of communicating sustainability messages;
  • Potential new energy-efficient technologies;
  • The impacts of alternative methods of trading;
  • An evaluation of water-saving technology in a company;
  • A resource-efficient engineering or architectural design.

The focus of this award is the impact (actual or estimated) of the research. Judges will be looking for evidence of the project’s potential to strengthen at least one of the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social or economic as well as links to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Applications will be judged on impact and not on the quality of the research itself as that has already been independently verified by the institution.

Applicants are to use the Individual Application Form. The Proposer in the Application Form should be your tutor who can verify your grade/score. If your project work is carried out in a team (i.e. team dissertation) then you may submit on behalf of the team and make it clear in the application form that this is the case.

**The grade/score must be included in the Application Form. If this is not known before the application deadline of 8 June, then the stage 1 application form must be submitted by the deadline and a follow up email from the student/tutor to informing of the grade, is to be sent as soon as known and by 25 June latest.

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Applicants are to use the Individual/Team Application Form.

This category replaces the former Research and Development category and the 2 year rule applies.

Sustainability Champion of the Year Award

The Sustainability Champion of the Year Award is an individual award open to both staff and students at a tertiary education institution. It will recognise people at any level (except Executive/Leadership level – please submit under the Outstanding Sustainability Leadership Team of the Year Award) who have worked hard at implementing a sustainability project/initiative (or several) and whose involvement has made a positive impact be that on their peers, their institution, their students, their local community or their local workforce. A key criteria is actions that have been taken over and above the normal requirements of people’s jobs. Applications must provide evidence of impact, and of good leadership/championing practice in engaging and inspiring others.

This category is only open to staff who do not have a formal responsibility for sustainability – for staff with a formal responsibility for sustainability please submit under the Outstanding Sustainability Leadership Team of the Year Award if appropriate.

Individuals apply themselves but should be formally nominated by a manager or peer (within or outside the sector). Individuals that have not won previously can reapply after 2 years. Teams are allowed to be submitted as long as the role and impact of each team member is made clear.

Judges have the discretion to award two Winners:

  • Sustainability Staff Champion of the Year Award
  • Sustainability Student Champion of the Year Award.

Applicants are to use the Individual/Team Application Form