BOSRU: Barriers and Opportunities around Sustainability Reporting in Universities

Funded by:

This research was funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) through the MaREI Centre (Grant no. 12/RC/2302_2). The authors also acknowledge the financial support from Enterprise Ireland for Construct Innovate, Ireland’s national research centre for construction technology and innovation, under grant agreement no. TC-2022-0033.


To be completed


This project aims to identify barriers and highlight opportunities that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have when it comes to reporting on sustainable development. Measuring Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the curriculum and measuring scope 3 carbon emissions were identified as two areas which had significant barriers around them and hence became the focus areas of this project.  

The measurement of ESD was tackled through two approaches, a keyword scan and a survey. The objective of the project was to create a tool which could automatically and accurately scan for SDG related keywords in curriculum material, producing a “baseline measure” of ESD in a given module, programme or College. The survey was used as a comparison. Lecturers and module owners were asked to rate their modules in terms of SDG coverage. The ESD project has seen the creation of an SDG keyword scanning tool. This tool was created through a process of critically analysed SDG related keyword lists sourced online from other research projects. This keyword tool was used to scan modules within at the University of Galway, accompanied by a survey of staff and the tool showed strong consistency with the survey. A first version of the SDG keyword scanning tool has been published on the University of Galway website.  

Measuring scope 3 emissions was quickly identified as an area that has been neglected and specifically scope 3 category 1, purchased goods and services. This project compares two methodologies of reporting on this category, firstly using broad sectors of purchase and secondly using life cycle assessment emissions for the products of one of the University’s suppliers. When comparing the two methods of measuring emissions from purchased goods and services, it was found that when using the best practice approach of life cycle analysis emissions, the total CO2 equivalent was 59% less than the figure attained when using the broad sector of purchase approach. There is also scope within this project to host carbon footprint workshops with suppliers who don’t yet have emissions data available. 

Project Objectives:

This project aims to identify barriers and highlight opportunities that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have when it comes to sustainable development. As the topic of sustainable development covers a broad range of aspects, two specific areas were chosen as focus points for this project. These are:

  • The Curriculum and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)  
  • The Carbon Footprint and Scope 3 Emissions 

In the ESD project, there are plans to:

  • Complete an institution-wide scan for the University of Galway using the SDG keyword tool.
  • Seek out more opportunities for cross-institutional analysis.
  • Publish an updated version of the tool which uses the more modern python platform and has enhanced accuracy due to the incorporation of AI. 

Plans for the carbon footprint project are focussed on the upcoming workshop which aims to support the University’s suppliers in carbon footprint calculation. Following this, the plans are to:

  • Publish a revised carbon footprint report for 2017-2022 for the University of Galway, utilising the supplier data collected after the workshops. 
  • Collaborate with other Universities, offering support on carbon footprint assessment methodologies.


ResearchGate Profile:

Published a template SDG keyword Scanner: