University of Limerick


Global North




The Model

What is the institute’s sustainability approach?

University of Limerick (UL) sets out multiple pillars of action supporting its mission-based approach to achieving the SDGs, including a recently developed Mission Lab, with the support of a Citizen's Mission Council, intended to foster active citizenship and external engagement. The Mission Lab approach involves the articulation and action towards a variety of specific individual missions within the following four grand challenges: governance, economy, society and planet. Missions are linked and benchmarked to respective SDGs. Some examples of these are generating a carbon-neutral (I have included link to our carbon neutral roadmap) and biophilic campus, pioneering a transitions framework for higher education in Ireland, and the implementation of a mission-driven learning curriculum. As part of its mission to become an Egalitarian University the university has also designated itself as a 'University of Sanctuary', with specific programs to facilitate access to education for refugees.

transition process

Activities and Development Process

What is the institute’s overall culture of sustainability and their long-term vision for the future?

The university has aligned their activities with the UN SDGs to make sustainability an integral part of the university’s ethos, governance and leadership. This is accomplished by encouraging students to act as stewards of sustainability.

How does the institute translate their sustainability vision into a sustainability agenda?

Through the creation of a UL Sustainability Framework 2030, 21 missions were co-created with members of the UL Sustainability Working Group with the goal of becoming a Sustainability University.

What are the institute’s short-term practices and programmes which achieve their sustainability mission?

The 21 missions are aimed to be achieved through the mandate of the Mission Lab, where a dedicated team aims to orchestrate the missions project portfolio by creating the conditions for deep collaboration, amongst other methods The Mission Lab as a physical campus hub for mission activities is also in development.


Sustainability and Setting

What is the culture of sustainability at the country-level?

Ireland faces significant environmental challenges, including high per capita greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants, largely attributed to the agricultural sector. The Irish government has devised a National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) with a commitment to a Just Transition, ensuring that climate action is carried out in a fair and equitable manner for workers, local communities, and farmers. With the ultimate goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, the government has implemented various mitigation and adaptation measures, including the establishment of five-year carbon budgets for the entire economy.

In which regional context is the institution situated, and what is their policy or activities of integration within the broader community?

UL campus is located in County Limerick and County Clare, Ireland, with multiple climate related challenges such as biodiversity loss and water pollution. The counties have ambitions and specific plans for sustainable tourism and community engagement in climate action.

What is the institutional context of engaging with sustainability and experimenting with reorganisation or alternative governance approaches?

Established in 1972, UL has been on a mission to foster engaged students who contribute to the local community. In addition to the Mission Lab approach, the adoption of the SDGs as institutional guideposts, ambitious campus sustainability plans and a model for academic and governance transformation demonstrate institutional reflexivity and innovation.

Process and Approach

Development Timespan

What was the time-line and process of development and implementation of the sustainability approach?

The university's commitment to sustainability was first sparked by the COPERNICUS University Charter for Sustainable Development in 1993, followed by the establishment of an environmental committee in 1996. In subsequent years, UL published a Green Metric, leading to their national recognition as a Taince Green Campus in 2015 and their inclusion in the UN's Global Compact. In 2020, UL adopted the UN-SDG Strategic Integration plan, the SDG System-wide Approach, and an SDG Steering Committee and Working Groups. The Mission-based Sustainability Framework 2030 was launched in 2022, which lead to the creation of the Mission Lab approach.


Drivers and Challenges

What were the motivations for developing the approach?

The main driver behind the Mission Lab approach is the university’s acknowledgement of the paradoxes of short-term planning and long-term ambition. The Mission Lab is an engine designed to enable a cultural shift in the institute’s work practices to support risk taking, experimentation and innovation, carefully designed to support increased organisational resilience and adaptability.

What are some challenges that arose?

A key challenge facing UL, and all HEIs, is how to successfully transparently report on the sustainability transition. To address this challenge UL has developed an innovative platform in the form of a University Digital Twin designed to capture real-time data and ensure rigorous and transparent reporting. Some of the challenges that UL might face when implementing actions to achieve the 21 Sustainability Missions and become a carbon neutral campus concern the complexity and time needed to achieve such goals before 2030. The metrics for each specific mission are not yet stated and are stipulated to be determined by the relevant stakeholders once the mission commences.

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