Sustainability Initiatives of Japanese Universities Discussed in 2024 SDG–UP Symposium

Convening member universities of the SDG–University Platform, the event explored education, research and collaboration projects for sustainability.

On 29 March 2024, UNU-IAS hosted a symposium on sustainability initiatives by universities participating in the SDG–Universities Platform (SDG–UP). Held at UNU headquarters in Tokyo and online, the event engaged university administrators, professors, students, government officials and private sector representatives to discuss how Japanese universities can advance the SDGs through education, research and multi-stakeholder collaboration. It was organized by UNU-IAS with support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT).

Moderated by Yasushi Katsuma (Academic Programme Advisor, UNU-IAS), the symposium began with opening remarks by Tshilidzi Marwala (UNU Rector). Dr. Marwala highlighted that UNU was co-chairing the UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) in 2024–2025, and that SDG–UP played a crucial role in strengthening cooperation between UNU and Japanese universities.

Koji Kitayama (Director for International Affairs Division, Minister's Secretariat, MEXT) noted that MEXT worked closely with UNU-IAS by supporting research and human resource development to advance progress on the SDGs. He stressed the importance of building up international networks and disseminating the results of SDG–UP activities widely during 2024, the 10th anniversary year of UNU-IAS.

Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi (Director, UNU-IAS; Chair, SDG–UP) summarized a Presidents' Roundtable that had been held in November 2023. Engaging the heads of three SDG–UP participating universities — Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), Keio University and Hokkaido University — the discussion emphasized integrating bottom-up activities as well as top-down approaches, and the role of human resource development in fostering the next generation of leaders.

A panel discussion on the topic Frontiers of University Sustainability Activities featured faculty members from SDG–UP participating universities: Shunichi Murata (Professor, Kwansei Gakuin University; Advisor, SDG-UP; former UNDP Representative in Japan), Ninomiya-Lim Sachi (Professor, Tokai University), Atsufumi Yokoi (Vice President, Okayama University), Atsushi Yokota (Director and Vice President Hokkaido University) and Miki Sugimura (Professor, Sophia University). The panelists introduced the activities of their respective subcommittees and initiatives of their universities as examples of innovative approaches to promoting sustainability in higher education.

In a second session, students from participating universities introduced their sustainability activities: the Jukusei Council at Keio University, the Student Climate Council at Ryukoku University, and the Student Organization Flagship at Osaka University. Tomomi Otsuka (Chief Sustainability Officer, Toyota Motor Corporation) and Nobuyasu Kitamura (Deputy Head of Sustainability Management Promotion Department, Suntory Holdings Co., Ltd.) provided feedback on the presentations.

In closing, Prof. Yamaguchi emphasized that since its establishment in October 2020, SDG–UP had advanced collaboration between universities through the exchange of knowledge and best practices. The project is progressing by leveraging the expertise and unique strengths of each participating university. She expressed her hope that the students would continue their sustainability activities, and that SDG–UP would make further contributions to the creation of a more sustainable society.

2024 SDG–UP Symposium Group Photo
Photo: Christian Brauneck / UNU-IAS

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