From the Desk: Why the Sustainable Development Goals matter to IUPUI

In 2015, the United Nations introduced the Sustainable Development Goals, a broad agenda comprising 17 goals intended to make the world a better and more equitable place. Signed on to by all U.N. member states, the goals promote the economic, environmental and social advancement of people and the planet.

Hilary KahnView print quality image
Hilary Kahn. Photo by Ann Schertz, Indiana University

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals include No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-Being, Reduced Inequalities, and Climate Action.

Everyone, everywhere, grapples with these global challenges. They are as local as they are global; and countries, cities, businesses and schools will take different approaches to advance them.

They are clearly significant for Indiana. Climate change will increase precipitation here by 6 to 8 percent, and the number of days over 95 degrees in Indianapolis will more than double by 2050. Like the world, Indiana is full of inequalities, as illustrated by wildly ranging life expectancy and infant mortality rates, as well as disparate public health funding and systemic racism. One in five IUPUI students experiences food insecurity, and access to technology and quality education is uneven. COVID-19 has made the inequalities in our world more pronounced and has reversed progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, so we have our work to do.

The Sustainable Development Goals are not intended to be pursued in a vacuum, nor can they be achieved without partnership. These types of pervasive problems need disciplines, professions, communities, organizations and governments collectively working together. The goals cannot be achieved through unilateral development but rather through mutual knowledge production, collaboration and community assets.

Jessica DavisView print quality image
Jessica Davis. Photo by Indiana University

Just as the goals are interrelated, all of us at IUPUI and the many communities with whom we engage locally, nationally and internationally need to take shared responsibility for these global goals.

This is why the Office of Sustainability and the Office of International Affairs have become solid allies in this work, and why we worked together to submit IUPUI's application for the Times Higher Education's Impact Rankings. We are so delighted that IUPUI is ranked No. 2 in the United States in its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals!

While we are incredibly proud of our achievements and our recognition, the truth is that this is not about receiving accolades. Nor is it about who is best. For the world to be better, to be its best, we need to work together as one, and this is what we at IUPUI are committed to do.

IUPUI's Office of International Affairs is using the Sustainable Development Goals as a cornerstone of its internationalization efforts, and is encouraging faculty, staff, students and all IUPUI units to embrace the goals in global teaching, research and service. Starting in fall 2021, incoming freshmen at IUPUI will be introduced to the goals in select Freshman Year Seminars; faculty and staff will consider how the goals can be used in classrooms to address issues of diversity and inclusion in local and global contexts; and the Office of International Affairs Green Team, in conjunction with IUPUI's Office of Sustainability, is identifying opportunities to make business practices more sustainable. 

But sustainability is nothing new at IUPUI. Since 2011, the IUPUI Office of Sustainability has been working to create a culture of sustainability that  transcends the campus to impact Indianapolis, Indiana and beyond.

Academically, we want all Jaguars to understand how sustainability solutions address the greatest impacts of their chosen field of study, as well as the role they will play in championing those solutions in their workplaces. Operationally, we are working aggressively to mitigate our campus's contribution to climate change and the associated social and economic ramifications with a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2040, ahead of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations. And when it comes to engagement, we want IUPUI to be recognized as a place for sustainability resources and expertise in our community.

It is difficult to find a campus more dedicated to this work than IUPUI, one of the first campuses in the U.S. to offer an undergraduate and graduate degree in sustainability. And though we celebrate our successes, we also recognize there is a long way yet to go.

Higher education must take a lead, teach its students, work alongside communities, collaborate with businesses and pursue innovative research to push this agenda ahead. We have an obligation, a sense of responsibility that is as local as it is global, which comes with significant ramifications if we do not practice this commitment. IUPUI is taking this work seriously, and we look forward to working with our various partners to make this world, this state, the city of Indianapolis and IUPUI even better, more sustainable and more equitable than ever for generations to come.

Jessica Davis is director of the IUPUI Office of Sustainability, and Hilary Kahn is associate vice chancellor for international affairs at IUPUI.