Sustainability is encoded in the DNA of Hokkaido University

University News | April 28, 2022

Central Lawn, Sapporo Campus, Hokkaido University

Hokkaido University was established in 1876 as Sapporo Agricultural College, the first modern university in Japan. Its purpose was to develop agricultural production technologies in cold regions — which were necessary to turn Hokkaido, the northern-most region of the country, into a major food production center — and to foster human resources to put these technologies into practice. To this end, the Japanese government of the time appointed William Smith Clark, then-president of Massachusetts Agricultural College in the US, as vice-principal of the college. 

The bust of William S. Clark, Sapporo Campus, Hokkaido University

The university has developed into one of the largest universities in Japan, covering almost all disciplines including natural and social sciences as well as humanities. It possesses a wide variety of research facilities throughout Hokkaido, including experimental farms and ranches, extensive research forests, training ships, and aquatic research stations. With a total area of about 70,000 hectares, the research forests are among the largest in the world. 

With this rich educational and research environment, and the abundant nature of Hokkaido as a backdrop, the university has become prominent in field research related to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and environmental sciences. The “Clark spirit” of independence, self-reliance and self-establishment has not faded away in the 145 years since its founding; it continues to live on in all members of the university through the four basic principles of “frontier spirit”, “global perspectives”, “all-round education” and “practical learning”. Hokkaido University’s mission has been to build a sustainable society through the resolution of local issues right from its establishment.

From the left: Muroran Marine Station, Uryu Experimental Forest, Training Ship Oshoro-maru, and Shizunai Livestock Farm.

With this background, Hokkaido University has implemented many initiatives that contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, efforts toward SDG 2 (zero hunger) are the most fundamental area of the university, as it started as an agricultural college. The Global Center for Food, Land, and Water Resources conducts cutting-edge research on securing sustainable food, water, and land resources, and sends students to research institutions and international organizations with the aim of nurturing future leaders with broad perspectives.

A multitude of efforts toward SDG 2 is also being made at the Research and Education Center for Robust Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Industry, known as the “Robust Center”. The Robust Center aims to make the food value chain more robust by incorporating the concept of industrial engineering into agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Improving productivity and profitability of these industries, developing and implementing next-generation technologies, and fostering the next-generation professionals are also missions of the center. Moreover, it works with local businesses on projects to solve various problems and actively organizes science and technology workshops and conferences on the application of technology in fisheries and agriculture.

Automated tractors at Sapporo Experimental Farm.

The spirit of independence has taken root among our students. They independently organize “Hokkaido University Marché” – an annual event that connects Hokkaido residents with agriculture producers from all over the region, enabling producers and consumers to interact directly. Students also actively participate in the Hult Prize, an SDGs-oriented global entrepreneurship competition; one of the Hokkaido teams was selected as a regional representative.

Hokkaido University Marché, an annual event that connects Hokkaido residents with agriculture producers. Photo by Like!Hokudai

Hokkaido University is an early adopter of the concept of sustainability. In 1996, it became the first national university in Japan to adopt a “Campus Master Plan”, which aimed to maintain various historical and cultural assets and the rich ecological environment on campus. In 2005, a headquarters was established to evolve the concept of sustainable development into a university strategy, and in August 2021, a new organization, the Institute for the Advancement of Sustainability, headed by the university’s president, was established to further advance efforts towards the SDGs.

The tutelage that Hokkaido University received from the world leader Professor Clark 145 years ago has flourished, and the university has now been highly rated in the prestigious Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022. Times change, challenges change, but we are still halfway to a sustainable society. Hokkaido University will remain at the forefront of building a new society, hand in hand with the rest of the world, and will continue to strive to be a university that contributes to the world’s efforts toward achieving the SDGs.

Aerial view of Sapporo Campus, Hokkaido University


Atsushi Yokota, Ph.D.

Executive Vice President

International Affairs, SDGs

Hokkaido University

This article was originally posted on Times Higher Education (THE) website.