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Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI)
The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) was created the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The partners of the initiative are UN-DESA, UNESCO, UNEP, UN Global Compact's Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative, UNU and UN-Habitat. With a membership of over 300 universities from around the world, HESI accounts for more than one-third of all the voluntary commitments that came out of Rio +20. Join the HESI network

National and International Frameworks
Nagoya Declaration on Higher Education for Sustainable Development

The Nagoya Declaration on Higher Education for Sustainable Development, adopted by the participants of the International Conference on Higher Education for Sustainable Development in Nagoya, Japan on 9 November 2014, reaffirms the responsibility of higher education for pursuing of sustainable development.

Aichi-Nagoya Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development

The 2014 UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) marked the end of the UN Decade of ESD (2005-2014) and launched the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD. The conference took place from 10-12 November 2014 in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan.

The Platform for Sustainability Performance in Education

From Outcome to Implementation

8 months after Rio+20, during the 27th Session of UNEP’s Governing Council (Nairobi, Feb 20th), the Platform for Sustainability Performance in Education was launched as one of specific follow-up of the HESI. (

The Platform is a shared web-space showcasing the worlds HE sustainability assessment tools and has formal recognition and support from UNEP, UNGC, PRME and UNESCO. The Platform is a direct HE Education sector-led response to Rio+20 and it aims to be a key resource to help both signatories of the Higher Education for Sustainability Initiative (HESI) and other HEIs implement the Education paragraphs in ’The Future We Want’ document.

The UNCSD 2012 (Rio+20) final text signed by 193 states confirms the importance of Education in building more sustainable societies and creating new paradigms. Chapters 229-235 highlight a number of actions that the institution should develop to fulfill its leadership role in the deployment of sustainable development. In addition, Article 47 encourages all stakeholders to “develop models for best practice and facilitate action for the integration of sustainability reporting”. This Platform rises to this challenge.

Green Plan (initially launched in France)

The “Plan Vert” is a sustainable development strategy designed by university associations in France (Conférence des Grandes Ecoles and Conference of University Presidents), the French government and non-governmental organizations within the framework of the Grenelle Environment Roundtable. It consists of a framework of objectives and actions drawn from the European Sustainable Development Strategy and is designed to pilot and evaluate those actions. More than 100 “Grandes Ecoles” and universities used it in 2010.

STARS (initially launched in US)

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. STARS® was developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education with broad participation from the higher education community.

LiFe Index (initially launched in UK)

Learning in Future Environments (LiFE) was developed in response to a growing need to embed social responsibility and sustainability into the activities of universities and colleges. Throughout the development of LiFE, the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges has worked extensively with people and institutions from across the sector. This support has been crucial to develop a system that is relevant and beneficial to all types of institutions.

AISHE (initially launched in Netherlands)

AISHE, the Assessment Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education, was developed and validated in the Netherlands in 2000-2001 by DHO, the Dutch Foundation for Sustainable Higher Education. With the help of AISHE results, universities or their departments can be awarded the ‘Certificate of Sustainable Higher Education', which is a star system, enabling universities to acquire 1, 2, 3 or 4 stars. AISHE can be applied freely by any university. (‘Publications section'). In Dutch only.

UN Programmes

The United Nations Environment Programme conducts Environmental Education and Training that promotes attitudes and value systems that influence environmentally ethical behaviour by developing understanding, skills and values that enable people to participate as active and informed citizens in the development of an ecologically sustainable and socially just society. Environmental Education is fundamental to the achievement of the goal of Sustainable Development. Education and training are essential to UNEP fulfilling its mandate of inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to achieve sustainable development. UNEP's flagship initiative is the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability,,which aims to promote the integration of environment and sustainability concerns into teaching, research, community engagement, the management of universities, greening of university infrastructure/facilities/operations, as well as to enhance student engagement and participation in sustainability activities both within and beyond universities.


As lead-agency of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO supports policy-makers in integrating Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into education plans and curricula; publishes material on ESD for decision-makers, teachers and students; monitors progress in the implementation of the UN Decade; communicates good ESD practice in all areas of education; brings together ESD practitioners from all world regions; and contributes to developing ESD further.


The UN Global Compact is a call to companies everywhere to voluntarily align their operations and strategies with ten universally-accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and to take action in support of UN goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. The UN Global Compact is a multistakeholder leadership platform for the development, implementation and disclosure of responsible corporate policies and practices. Launched in 2000, it is the largest corporate responsibility initiative in the world, with over 10,000 signatories based in 140 countries. Higher education institutions are encouraged to participate in the UN Global Compact as deeply and meaningfully as the thousands of traditional corporate and organizational participants that have adopted its principles for over a decade. A working group of UN Global Compact academic stakeholders has developed guidelines for higher education institution to implement the principles in their goals, strategies, and operations.


The mission of the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative is to inspire and champion responsible management education, research and thought leadership globally. The PRME are inspired by internationally accepted values such as the principles of the United Nations Global Compact. They seek to establish a process of continuous improvement among institutions of management education in order to develop a new generation of business leaders capable of managing the complex challenges faced by business and society in the 21st century. In the current academic environment, corporate responsibility and sustainability have entered but not yet become embedded in the mainstream of business-related education. The PRME are therefore a timely global call for business schools and universities worldwide to gradually adapt their curricula, research, teaching methodologies and institutional strategies to the new business challenges and opportunities. Taking the Six Principles as a guiding framework, any institution which is willing to integrate corporate responsibility and sustainability in a gradual but systemic manner is welcome to join the initiative.


The United Nations University implements research and educational programmes in the area of sustainable development, with the particular aim of assisting developing countries. Established in 1973 as “an international community of scholars, engaged in research, postgraduate training and dissemination of knowledge in furtherance of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations”, UNU operates through a worldwide nexus of institutes and programmes. UNU serves as a think tank for the United Nations system and provides a bridge between the UN and the international academic and policy-making communities.

Other Initiatives During the Rio Summit
The 50+20 initiative

The 50+20 initiative describes a vision for the transformation of management education, in which the common tenet of being the best in the world is revised in favor of creating businesses that are designed and led to achieve the best for the world. Providing management education for the world, according to the 50+20 Agenda, involves three fundamental roles: educating and developing globally responsible leaders, enabling business organizations to serve the common good, and engaging in the transformation of business and the economy.

The People´s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education

A group of over 30 agencies, organisations and associations came together in 2012 to influence Rio + 20 dialogues. These stakeholders are rooted in different regions of the globe and actively engaged in sustainable development at the higher education level. The partnership, led by Copernicus Alliance with the support of UNU IAS and the International Association of Universities has generated a Higher Education Treaty for Rio+20. This Treaty is one of a series of People's Treaties developed to influence Rio+20 but also to make visible commitments across various sectors. The process of influencing higher education to reorient itself towards sustainability is complex and a long term commitment. Others engaged in, and with, higher education are invited to support this process by becoming signatories to the Treaty. The Treaty will remain open for signatories until the 31st August. Plans will then be developed in the autumn to progress, as well as showcase, efforts of signatories beyond 2012.

Over 300 organizations have made commitments to the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative.
The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative is supported by a range of international networks, national and regional organizations, and several student organizations.
International Networks
Amfort (or WAPTT, the World Association for Professional Tourism Training)

Amfort (or WAPTT,the World Association for Professional Tourism Training ) was created at Nice in 1969, as part of the same movement which created WTO. Its aim was » to define, develop, promote and adapt world tourism training to the needs and evolution of the tourism industry. Every second year, its world congress brought together the representatives of the three categories of institution and people that can shape the future of tourism education and training

Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA)

Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) works by bringing international education leaders into dialogue with each other, their counterparts around the world, umbrella organizations that promote international education, and organizations concerned with the shaping and management of higher education.


CEEMANis an international management development association established in 1993 with the aim of accelerating the growth in quality of management development in central and eastern Europe. CEEMAN is a global network of management development institutions focusing on the quality of education and innovations within the field, as well as in the broad area of subjects related to change. CEEMAN has more than 200 institutional and individual members from 51 countries in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia.


CNRD is an international university network on research and education related to the Millennium Development Goal 7 (MDG 7). Currently the network consists of 11 partner universities in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. CNRD is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and managed by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Its focal point is Cologne University of Applied Sciences.


EFMD is an international membership organization, based in Brussels, Belgium. With more than 760 member organizations from academia, business, public service and consultancy in 82 countries, EFMD provides a unique forum for information, research, networking and debate on innovation and best practice in management development. EFMD runs the EQUIS, EPAS, CEL & CLIP accreditation systems as well as the Deans Across Frontiers business school mentoring programme (DAF) and is one of the key reference points for management education worldwide. Since its inception EFMD has been pioneering initiatives related to responsible management .

Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE)

The Foundation for Environmental Education is a non-government, non-profit organisation promoting sustainable development through environmental education. FEE is mainly active through its five environmental education programmes: Blue Flag, Eco-Schools, Young Reporters for the Environment, Learning about Forests and Green Key.


GRLI: The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative is a worldwide partnership of companies and business schools/learning organisations working together in a laboratory of change to develop a next generation of globally responsible leaders. The GRLI engages in thought leadership, advocacy and projects to achieve measurable impact. Founded in 2004 by the European Foundation for Management Development and the UN Global Compact, today it comprises 70 partner (member) organisations who are committed to transforming leadership development. It is a member organization, a foundation, an advanced laboratory and a movement.

MEDIES (Mediteranean Region): Mediteranean Education Initiative for Environment and Sustainability

MEDIES (Mediteranean Region): Mediteranean Education Initiative for Environment and Sustainability aims to support the educational community in its efforts to contribute to the implementation of Agenda 21, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), through the successful application of innovative educational programmes in all countries around the Mediterranean basin.

ProSPER.Net (Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research Network)

ProSPER.Net (Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research Network)is an alliance of higher education institutions launched in June 2008, formed by leading universities in the Asia-Pacific region. ProSPER.Net was created in recognition of the need to advance and disseminate knowledge and research for sustainable development within a systematic and collaborative platform. By engaging with other members within this framework, opportunities for synergies and collaboration in terms of building upon members' strengths, exchanging good practices and expertise in joint projects are enhanced. Collaborative projects in various fields have been carried out since the network was founded, comprising design and delivery of an e-learning programme on sustainable development practice in public policy, integration of sustainability issues in business school and engineering and built environment curricula, faculty training module and resource materials for sustainability, researchers' school in sustainable development, research on innovative pedagogies applied in regional poverty reduction programmes and alternative university appraisal project, that aims to reflect and create tools for universities' evaluation as regards their activities in ESD.


SENAI has been based on meeting the needs of the industrial production process, with courses and programs for vocational education, aiming at high levels of professional qualification of workers, as well as the formation of creative and enterprising citizens. We reinforce our goal of promoting education for a generation of workers and managers capable of promoting sustainability today and over the long term. Our pedagogical practice will be guided by the goal of forming autonomous learners, who have initiative, pro-activity and ability to solve problems. Thus, educating professionals capable of conducting self-training and improvement as well as the resources and environment sustainability.

The Association of African Universities (AAU)

The Association of African Universities (AAU) is an international non-governmental organisation founded in Rabat, Morocco in November 1967 having its headquarters in Accra, Ghana. The Association draws its membership from all five sub-regions of Africa and operates in three official languages, namely English, French and Arabic. Over the years, membership has grown from an initial 34 to 265 members from 46 African countries. It is accorded observer status by the African Union (AU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations University (UNU). A major development in recent years is that the AAU has been designated the lead implementing agency for the higher education component of the Action Plan for the Second Decade of Education of the African Union.

The Association of MBAs

The Association of MBAs is the international impartial authority on postgraduate business education. Established in 1967, it sets the global standard for accrediting MBA, DBA and MBM programmes. The Association currently accredits MBA provisions in 189 schools in more than 75 countries. It is also a professional membership association connecting MBA students and graduates, accredited business schools and MBA employers. The Association of MBAs is committed to the advancement of responsible management through postgraduate business education.

The Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF)

The Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF) is the Secretariat for signatories of the Talloires Declaration (1990), which has been signed by over 400 college and university presidents and chancellors worldwide. ULSF provides resources and support for sustainability as a critical focus of teaching, research, operations and outreach in higher education through publications, research, and assessment.


The COPERNICUS Alliance is a European network of Universities and partners which promotes transformative learning and change for sustainability across the higher education sector. The COPERNICUS Alliance promotes learning through dialogue and exchange opportunities; encourages the development of publications and resources; collects and shares best practice; provides opportunities for collaborative research; and reviews assessment tools to assist organisations in their journeys towards sustainability.

The International Association of Universities (IAU)

The International Association of Universities (IAU), founded in 1950, is a UNESCO-based worldwide association of higher education institutions. The Association brings together HEIs and higher education organizations and associations from some 120 countries from around the world for reflection and action on common concerns. Its services are available on a priority basis to Members but also to organizations, institutions and authorities concerned with higher education, as well as to individual policy and decision-makers, specialists, administrators, teachers, researchers and students. The three overarching clusters the Association works on are: I. Internationalisation, globalisation, cross-border higher education, and intercultural learning and dialogue; II. Access to higher education, including growing demand for enrolment and decreased funding, use of ICTs, distance education and the opportunities brought on by innovations such as the Open Content movement; III. Higher education and society (including higher education for sustainable development, the role of higher education in meeting the UN Education for All programme goals, etc.).


UNITWIN: The University Twinning and Networking Programme, established in 1992, seeks to advance research, training and programme development in all of UNESCO's fields of competence by building university networks and encouraging inter-university cooperation through the transfer of knowledge across borders.

World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB)

World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB): WBSCSB is a sustainability think-tank and platform of action for business schools to contribute making business sustainable through their research, education and engagement. Founded at the 2010 annual conference of the Academy of Management in Montreal, a small group of concerned deans and professors took a first step to create the World Business School Council for Sustainable Business (WBSCSB). Core areas of activities include: leading research addressing pressing sustainability issues and education embracing sustainability as a function of business.

More information
The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) for Rio+20 was initiated in 2012 by a group of UN partners (the Executive Coordinator of Rio+20, UN DESA, UNEP, UNESCO, UN Global Compact, UN Global Compact's Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and UNU) as an unprompted initiative for Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in the run-up to the Rio+20 Conference. Since HEIs educate current and future decision makers, they play a key role in building more sustainable societies and creating new paradigms. As educational institutions, they have the mission to promote development through both research and teaching, disseminating new knowledge and insight to their students and building their capabilities. Given the objectives of Rio+20, HESI has a special responsibility to provide leadership on education for sustainable development. Since the inception of the HESI initiative it has been driven by all HESI partner organizations with special input from Global Compact and PRME signatory HEIs, in particular Kedge Business School (former Euromed Marseille School of Management), which has made significant contributions in the organization of this initiative.

Review of progress to date

A total of 272 organizations in 47 countries have made commitments to the HESI as of June 2013. These commitments represent organizations from a diverse range of countries including both public and private HEIs from all six UN regions. Many of these organizations are also affiliated to other UN initiatives, such as the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES) and around two-thirds of the organizations are signatories to the UN Global Compact or PRME. Commitments by the HEIs generally include a commitment to reporting in order to provide transparency to the implementation of the particular sustainable development commitment. Many institutions have also committed to plans for sustainable development in specific areas, e.g. the ESADE Foundation has committed to implement a strategic CSR plan from 2011-2014 that minimizes the carbon footprint on campus, while Cairo University has committed to include environmental studies in the curricula of undergraduate and postgraduate studies, amongst others.

Opportunities and challenges

Since HESI was established as an ad hoc initiative by several UN organizations and external stakeholders, this action network relies on a more informal organizational structure, typical of a network of stakeholders rather than a top-bottom organization. Therefore, although the organizational capacity to implement the network goals is rather limited and thus a bit challenging, it can also be seen as a strength. HESI partners are able to leverage the existing capacities in the individual partner entities. In this regard, the action network has been able to attract many commitments through their own network of partners and signatories and is able to draw on existing reporting structures for these commitments. For example, commitments made by PRME signatories can use their Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports to the PRME initiative as a way to deliver on their commitments. Reporting systems already in place therefore ease and strengthen the accountability of the action network. This includes the input solicited from stakeholders and actors for the final report on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, which UNESCO is preparing for publication in 2014. Another tangible example of progress in support of HESI commitments was the launch of a Platform for Sustainable Performance in Education on the margins of the UNEP Governing Council in February 2013. The Platform includes an array of sustainability assessment tools to support HEIs in adopting strategic approaches to implement and monitor their sustainability commitments.

Next Steps

Looking ahead, the HESI partners are planning, with strong support from UNU and UN DESA's regional office in Nagoya, Japan, a follow-up meeting for the action network prior to the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, which will be taking place from 10-12 November 2014 in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan. Marking the end of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the conference will celebrate the achievements and review the initiatives that have been taking place throughout the Decade. The conference therefore offers a good occasion for HESI to review the commitments and set new goals and strategic partnerships, as required. Alignment will be sought between HESI activities and follow-up activities to the UN Decade, highlighting the key and urgent role of higher education for sustainable development