Championing sustainability in higher education | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Impacting a sustainable future

As a university committed to leading the way in sustainability, we focus on teaching and research that creates the most significant impacts for our regions and communities. We know what we do today, will significantly impact our future.

So we were incredibly proud of how UniSC placed in the 2023 Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Out of the overall ranking which includes 1,591 universities from 112 countries and regions, UniSC placed:

  • Equal 29th in the world overall
  • 3rd in the world for SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 3rd in Australia for SDG 14 - Life below Water
  • 5th in Australia for SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • 1st in Queensland for SDG 13 - Climate Action
Here are just some of our initiatives that helped UniSC achieve these results:

In 2015, UniSC became the first university in Australia to supplement 'make-up' water for the 50 metre swimming pool with treated onsite lake water. The treated lake water meets the Australian Standard to Potable Water Classification making it the first project of its kind in the country to be used for this purpose. In 2020, we extended the use of treated lake water to the 25 metre pool.

  • Untreated lake water is used for irrigation of campus fields.

At the low point of our Sunshine Coast campus are two lakes with a capacity for 130,000,000 litres of water. On-site water treatment removes solids and modifies the lake water to produce potable standard water for use as make-up water to the pools, central energy plant and the cooling towers which are a part of the campus air-conditioning system. Since this project has been implemented, we've saved more than 20,000 litres of mains water used per day, also significantly reducing the cost for mains water supply.

  • We have a high percentage of recycled water vs. mains

in 2022, the percentage of recycled water used was more than 47 percent at our Sunshine Coast campus and approximately 22 percent at Moreton Bay.

  • Our on-site water treatment plant reduces our reliance on mains

Our on-site water treatment plant draws water from the lake using a low velocity screened intake arrangement, so no flora or fauna are detrimentally affected by the water extraction process. This process greatly reduces the amount of potable water being sourced from mains with the dual benefit of lowering both emissions and water bills.

Clean water and sanitation
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • We've formed partnerships to ensure water security

These partnerships include a collaboration with the Sunshine Coast Council to develop a useful tool that shows our local ecosystem services, including ten ecosystem reporting categories that relate to water, and in turn provide data for water security planning and policies for the Sunshine Coast.

  • Drinking stations throughout our campuses

All our campuses provide free drinking water and bottle refill stations, making it easy to access clean water without having to buy bottled water, thereby reducing plastic waste.

  • Community education initiatives

Our community education initiatives like the futurelearn course helps people learn about the human impact on underwater biodiversity, ecosystems, and animals, and solutions for preserving life below water.

We also have a number of community outreach initiatives around freshwater ecosystems and tourism, such as the ‘Creating Waves’ forum at our Fraser Coast campus, held in partnership with Fraser Coast Tourism and Events. This forum included two research-led discussions, ‘Life in the Shipping Lane’ and ‘Is it hot in here or is it just me?’, which looked at some of the latest studies into the challenges facing humpback whales, from boat strikes to climate change.

  • Our research focuses on conservation and ocean sustainability

From research that works to protect our endangered sea turtles, to uncovering the mysteries of the manta ray, UniSC researchers are making waves in ocean sustainability for both the health of our planet, and the magnificent creatures who form life under water. Another way we are involved is the 'Protect our Passage' initiative for the Pumicestone Passage and modelling beach topography for turtle nesting.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water
  • We actively work to reduce pollutants

Our university community has implemented a sustainable operational policy, as well as policies for hazardous waste disposal, and plastic waste reduction and action plans to reduce marine and earth pollution.

  • Working with First Nations people to protect K'gari

In 2022, we led a symposium aimed at developing a research strategy to help ‘future-proof’ K’gari, the world’s largest sand island, over the next three decades. The K'gari Research Symposium: Towards 2050 brought together the Island’s traditional custodians, the Butchulla people, with researchers, students, environmental groups and other stakeholders at our Fraser Coast campus.

  • Community outreach

UniSC is fortunate to have the K'gari Research and Learning Centre to use for community outreach initiatives on sustainable management of land for agriculture and tourism. And with our unique geographical position as the world’s only university operating within three interconnecting UNESCO Biosphere Reserves – the Great Sandy (Fraser Coast), Noosa and Sunshine Coast Biosphere Reserves – and the UNESCO world heritage listed K’gari – we have many opportunities for community outreach and education.

  • Partnerships to Reforest Africa 

Our research partnership in Reforest Africa, works directly to maintain and extend existing ecosystems and their biodiversity.

  • International research projects 

Our research projects with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) supports a new age of agritourism and revive local pride in rural Pacific communities.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land
  • Clean energy powers our largest campus

To embrace Australia’s steady supply of sunshine, we have installed 6,000+ solar panels to power a “water battery” that cuts our energy use by 40 percent. It's a first for an Australian university.

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