Opinion by Florian Schanznig | Implementing the SDGs through cooperation at a university level

Looking at the Sustainable Development Goals creates a good feeling for me. Not only because of the bright colours and the nice pictures, but also because they form a guideline for institutions, like national states, universities, companies, etc. on how to overcome the most urgent problems. Although all 17 are very important in themselves, I think that the combination matters. To combine and interrelate the goals with each other, exchange and cooperation is necessary. Because different strengths of collaborating partners can gear progress when joined together. Universities play a special role in communicating and exchange knowledge between each other and to other stakeholders. That is why I believe, that there should be more collaboration. Here I want to tell you, why I think that cooperation is one of the most important meta aims.

The last years I was engaged in a number of projects from different organisations, like “Grenzenlos” and “[sic!] – students’ innovation centre”. There I had to manage several tasks and interests and work together with different stakeholders and people. For sure I think, that I am not the only one, who had such to dos. Nevertheless, what was always important was communication and the cooperation between people, stakeholders, etc. to achieve a goal. In a university context the groups inside and outside of one university’s system have to cooperate to implement projects and to fulfil their duties. Since 2015 there are even more goals that need to be achieved. Even though universities are not able to accomplish the SDGs alone, they are necessary partners for politicians and other decision makers to gain the needed knowledge for their accomplishment. Not only can universities serve as platforms and centres for gaining and exchanging knowledge, but also be role models in the implementation of sustainable networks and governance processes. For example the “Allianz nachhaltiger Universitäten”, or “Alliance for Sustainable Universities” in Austria is one networks that brings together 15 universities all over Austria to use synergies and exchange on the topics of education, research, management, knowledge exchange and sustainability strategy. One main aim is to formulate and implement such sustainability strategies for each university (Allianz nachhaltiger Universitäten; 2019). The alliance formed the project “UniNEtZ”, which aims to formulate options until 2021 for the Austrian government how to implement the SDGs and beyond (UniNEtZ; n.d.). This example shows how universities can form very effective networks and influence policymaking more directly.

Looking at the European level, the report “Sustainable development in the European Union” from 2018 gives a good overview on the development of the implementation process of the SDGs in Europe. Although there had been progress in almost all of the SDGs, except for number 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and for goals 6, 13, 14, 16 where not sufficient data is available, there is more potential for good practice and progress (European Union; 2018). I think that the example of the Austrian Alliance for Sustainable Universities is one of the good practices that facilitate the better and faster implementation of the SDGs. I would suggest to establish such networks in different countries and all over Europe to foster the SDGs on national and international level. How impactful partnerships can be shows the guide “Maximising the impact of partnerships for the SDGs” from “The Partnering Initiative”. Why there is little impact so far is because, there are not enough partnerships and existing collaborations do not use their full potential. For good impact an integrational or transformative approach should be used. Where there is organisational and mission value inherent (Stibbe, Reid, Gilbert; 2019). The power of a collaboration lies within its interdisciplinarity and the goal that has to be achieved. With the SDGs as overall goals it is obvious that different stakeholders and institutions must collaborate to meet those complex tasks. Here it is not only universities that can form networks, but also multistakeholder networks with universities as educational and research expertise. This is also suggested in a guide from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Australia/Pacific; 2017), where universities should play a leading role in serving as neutral platforms for cross- sectoral collaboration and the identification of problems and suggesting solutions for policymakers. An example given is the “Western Australia’s SDG Network” from Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (ibid, p.51).

Taking into account, that for fulfilling the SDGs there are only 11 years left and that there is not enough progress, it is time now to collaborate and make the deepest and strongest partnerships possible. Although it might not be an easy task, the effort is worth it. With strong university networks that share knowledge, give advice and find solutions, the achievement of SDGs is far more accessible, than without. Taking the model from the Austrian and Australian universities’ initiatives might be a first good step to implement similar networks all over Europe and worldwide. Through that universities can be role models for other stakeholders to foster the implementation of the SDGs.



Allianz nachhaltiger Universitäten (2019). Über Uns. Available at: http://nachhaltigeuniversitaeten.at/ueber-uns/hintergrund/ (17.04.2019).

European Union (2018). Sustainable development in the European Union. Monitoring report on the progress towards the SDGs in an EU context. Bietlot, Belgium. doi:10.2785/401485.

SDSN Australia/Pacific (2017). Getting started with the SDGs in universities: A guide for universities, higher education institutions, and the academic sector. Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Edition. Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Australia/Pacific, Melbourne.

Stibbe, D.T., Reid, S., Gilbert, J.; The Partnering Initiative and UN DESA (2019). Maximising the Impact of Partnerships for the SDGs.

UniNEtZ (n.d.). Memorandum of Understanding. Available at: https://www.uninetz.at/ueber-uns/memorandum-of-understanding/ (17.04.2019).


Opinion piece by Florian Schanznig

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