Categories and Criteria 2019

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.


2 Year Rule - Initiatives which won or were highly commended in the previous 2 years will not be considered for this year’s awards, unless they can provide evidence of further, significant improvement since the last application and this improvement is clearly documented in the application form. They could also consider applying to the Sustainability Institution of the Year category provided that there is evidence of further improvement since the last Award. Other initiatives from the institutions concerned, or ones which were previously submitted but unsuccessful, can be re-submitted, again with the condition that they provide documented evidence of further, significant improvements since the previous submission. Click here for the full conditions of entry.


Organisational Categories:

Individual and Team Categories:

All categories will be awarded to the lead institution with the exception of the Individual and Team categories - Research with Impact Award (Student), Sustainability Champion (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.

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:


2030 Climate Action - NEW

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 by 2030 with such initiatives such as Zero Carbon Wales, Emissions Reduction Pledge (from BEIS for England) and Outcome Agreements in Scotland and the forthcoming Climate Change Act and the Sustainable Development Goal 13 – Climate Action. Institutions have to be taking bold steps to meet these targets while ensuring student outcomes and satisfaction are maintained.

This category goes beyond the usual carbon reduction practices. Judges will be looking for real innovation and progression to meet 2030 targets with particular focus around Scopes 1 & 2 of the GHG Reporting Protocols. Institutions that have taken a campus-wide approach to mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and emission reduction which includes operations, as well as teaching and learning and engagement, are to be welcomed. Institutions that take climate action seriously understand the financial, reputational and operational consequences that will impact them. Strong applications will also illustrate engagement with their community – such as staff, students and local area.

Supported by The Energy Consortium.

Note on Climate Action Category: Climate Action is a hot topic with institutions needing to take a more holistic approach to achieving their targets. Newly introduced as a category this year, the judges decided to defer the category to next year and encourage the sector to step up to the mark to show real innovation and progression to meet 2030 targets.

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, how positive actions bring global benefits such as circular economy and Modern Slavery Act approaches - 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.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Campus Health, Food and Drink     

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.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Campus of the Future - REVISED

This category recognises pathfinding campus and learning innovation to improve the student experience. 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 across all aspects of an institution giving students a richer experience of learning and teaching.  Next-generation campuses provide benefits such as enabling institutions to reduce their impact by monitoring and managing energy use in real time, streamline waste management to moving supplies around site more efficiently as well as improving student and staff well-being.  Judges will also be interested in cross-discipline and social space design. The possibilities are endless, and judges will particularly look for a whole–institution mix of 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.

Proudly supported by JISC

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.


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.

Proudly supported by CUBO.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Money for GoodNEW

As anchor institutions in their communities and cities, universities and colleges wield real economic and financial power. This category celebrates educational institutions which are consciously using this power to drive positive societal, environmental or cultural change. No matter how small your resources are, judges will be looking at the resulting beneficial social and environmental impacts.

The judges are looking for innovative ways that institutions use their money for good. Financial sustainability is essential and the category awards those universities and colleges who align their financial strategy with their broader sustainability objectives. Such innovation can be found for example, in using small-scale internal ring fenced funds which support sustainability initiatives or influencing society benefit through procurement contracts, social enterprises, social investment models and every day ethical banking. For those institutions with treasury, endowment or pension assets, the judges are looking for institutions who incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors across their investments and proactively use their capital through impact investments. For example, using endowment capital to invest in funds or businesses aligned with key research themes at the institution.

This category will recognise those who have taken a brave step to use their funds to directly support a project or initiatives that have real environmental, social or cultural impact. The judges will be looking for strong stakeholder engagement with staff and students and will be focusing on the scale of impact and not the actual value of the funds.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.


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.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Research with Impact – Institution 

This category recognises the importance and societal impact of research and development by post-16 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.

Proudly supported by the Emerald Publishing. 

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

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.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

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 five 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.

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 

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Tomorrow’s Employees

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.

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Total Reporting 

This Award aims to assess the quality and relevance of sustainability reporting offered throughout the publicly available information provided by institutions. Applications 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.

Applicants are to submit their latest sustainability report or sustainability section of their annual report or full integrated annual reports 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.

Applicants are to use the Total Reporting Application Form.



Outstanding Leadership Team of the Year

As sustainability mainstreams across a university or college, leadership for sustainability is often distributed across an institution where it embraces staff and student. This 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.

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

The shortlisted teams will present live at the Awards Ceremony and the audience will live vote for the winner.

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.

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

Proudly supported by Interface

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Research with Impact – Student 

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 5 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 24 June latest.

Finalists for this category will be invited to take part in the Meliora International Symposium of Student Sustainability Research with the Winner(s) invited to speak at the Symposium. 

Applicants are to use the Individual Application Form.

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

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

Sustainability Champion

The Sustainability Champion 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 criterion 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 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
Sustainability Student Champion.

Proudly supported by SALIX.

Applicants are to use the Individual Application Form

Get inspiration from the 2019 Finalist Videos here.

For how to enter and application forms (available from the foot of the enter page), click here