by Pamela Chasek, professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program at Manhattan College in New York
In the aftermath of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that concluded in Rio de Janeiro June 22, many commentators were harsh with their criticism, saying the meeting failed to accomplish much, if anything. The aim of Rio+20 was to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess progress, and address new and emerging challenges. While many have argued that even these minimal goals were not accomplished in the final document, titled “The Future We Want,” we can’t measure the results of Rio+20 by this document alone. In fact, over the nine days in Rio, thousands of events were held, where civil society, the private sector, and governments shared best practices and registered nearly 700 voluntary commitments for sustainable development, amounting to more than $513-billion. But where were the institutions of higher education in this mix?
Many professors attended the conference as part of their research efforts, myself included, but higher education as a whole was not well represented. In fact, only about 25 colleges and universities were even accredited to participate at Rio+20. They included several American ones like, Boston, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale universities, and the University of Colorado and Ramapo College of New Jersey, as well as a host of non-U.S. institutions, such as, the University of Bern, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen. I applaud their involvement and argue it is time for more institutions to follow their lead.
This article was written for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s WorldWise blog. To continue reading please click here.
by Maryam Faghih Imani, University of Oslo, Norway
UC Davis hosted the annual California Higher Education Sustainability Conference on 18-22 June. While other Norwegian delegates on this tour decided to attend the ISCN conference, I packed and went to Davis where the temperature was almost 40° C. I met the rest of Nordic Sustainable Campus Network Delegates from Sweden at the conference and we had some exciting days together.
UC Davis is highly profiled as a sustainable university in California. They have received 4 sustainability awards last year, reduced their waste up to 60%, designated a gold-level ‘Bicycle Friendly University‘, awarded Platinum LEED and a lot more recognition and activities that make visiting their website and the university truly worthy.
I had 2 main questions on my mind when I was on my way to the conference:
- What sustainability approach do universities in California have which make them different from our universities?
- How do students contribute in sustainability affairs?
With these questions in mind, I have attended 3-4 days of conference including preliminary sessions, parallel sessions of panels and presentations, campus tour, visiting community projects, even visiting sustainability art exhibition, sustainability awards ceremony and a picnic at the park where we enjoyed meals from the farmers market. I have tried not to miss a chance to open a conversation with other participants from universities all over California and some beyond. This led to many insightful conversations.
This article was written for Grønt UiO beta, the University of Oslo’s sustainability blog. To continue reading please click here.
by Louisa Casson, Press Officer
While the place of climate change in the new National Curriculum remains unclear, some of the proposals Michael Gove unveiled this week can help us learn to live more harmoniously with other people – and our planet.
Last summer, there was uproar when the government advisor in charge of revamping the National Curriculum suggested cutting climate change from the national curriculum.Our very own Matt and Helen affirmed the importance of educating children about climate change as a way to prepare them for employment within a low-carbon, sustainable economy. Education must prepare young people to deal with the challenges that the world is facing now and in the future. The 21st century world demands that we adopt sustainable models of organising our economies and societies, as a result of ever more evident climate change.
With Michael Gove releasing proposed plans for the National Curriculum overhaul this week, this focus has been dropped, as most media attention has turned to the plans to start teaching foreign languages to 7 year olds. While seemingly unrelated, this could actually prove to be incredibly useful in bringing British children up to be able to deal with the environmental and economic challenges they will face.
Learning a foreign language is not just an exercise in mastering grammatical structures – it opens students’ minds up to appreciating new ways of thinking, particularly how other cultures perceive and value the world (Futerra have a great blog on how untranslatable words reveal inherently sustainable outlooks). Climate change is forcing us to change our relationship to our planet – and interacting with other cultures gives us the opportunity to think about how we can live better on Earth.
Speaking foreign languages also enables you to interact with people from across the planet – essential training for living in a world where we face global challenges. Connecting people from around the world, including the young people whose future is most at risk, and enabling international dialogues to share ideas and solutions to global threats like climate change can help us collectively shape the future we want to see.
There’s another interesting parallel in the “back to basics” approach planned for the Maths curriculum. Living sustainably means making sure that there are enough resources available for us and our children in the future to live decently. That’s simple maths. The actions governments are taking now shouldn’t subtract a clean, fair future away from young and future generations – taking decisive action on climate change and setting up sustainable practices now will multiply the security and happiness available to today’s school children.
We can’t keep sustainability as a foreign language – based on a solid scientific understanding, climate change should be explored across the curriculum, to match how it will shape multiple aspects of the lives of future generations. Formal education must equip our young people with the skills and global outlook to be able to adapt to the challenges left to them, and to build a healthy and happier global society.
The UK Youth Climate Coalition works to “inspire, empower, mobilise and unite young people to take positive action on climate change.” These blogs are written by UKYCC team members. The views they express may not always be the official position of UKYCC and often contain the personal views of our volunteers.
Jordan University of Science & Technology (JUST) is an oasis of sorts; its leafy canopy, extensive fruit and nut orchards, and elaborate topiary sculptures come as something of a shock on a campus situated in one of the most arid regions of the world.
In fact, the term “arid” barely captures it.
Over 90% of the territory within the Kingdom of Jordan receives less than 50mm of rainfall per year, 94% of which evaporates. Groundwater supplies in Jordan are consequently meager, in addition to being historically overexploited, and often just plain inaccessible due to border disputes with neighboring Syria and Israel. According to USAID, yearly per capita share of fresh water in Jordan is among the lowest in the world — less than 200 cubic meters. Compare that to the average U.S. citizen’s annual use of about 9,000 cubic meters. Even the richest neighborhoods in the capital Amman receive running water only once per week.
If current pressures on available resources weren’t sufficient cause for concern, the population of Jordan is expected to double by 2029.
Abuse of fresh water resources at institutions of higher education is unforgivable in this context. Abuse, however, has its reasons; water is provided free of charge to college campuses. Some, such as JUST, are further able to exploit underground reservoirs via on-campus wells. In this context, lush campus landscaping could be understood as an inappropriate but unpunished extravagance.
JUST’s Groundskeepers would balk at any suggestion of irresponsible water use, however.
The truth is that the irrigation system for this verdant campus relies on neither well nor municipal fresh water sources.
“We are the only campus now that has its own water treatment facility and water reuse program,” explains Vice President Omar Al-Jarrah. “It’s considered a showcase — for Jordanian farmers, for students of this university and many other universities, and for people from around the world.”
The Water Reuse Project: Showcase for the World
JUST’s pioneering water reuse project, led by Civil Engineering Associate Professor Ziad Al-Ghazawi, makes use of a vast and relatively untapped source: Jordan’s sewage stream.
Every drop of wastewater from campus drains, toilets and showers is treated on site at a plant designed to manage up to 2,500 cubic meters of effluent per day. Reclaimed water is then stored for future use in a 132,000 m3 lined catchment area, affectionately referred to as the Duck Pond.
Water from the Duck Pond serves as a primary irrigation reserve for campus landscaping. Indeed, providing a leafy campus canopy in a region where summer temperatures routinely reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit is one tangible and very visible benefit of the wastewater project. The Duck Pond itself has even become a favorite hang out for students on break between classes.
However the primary justification of this project is not to transform the face of campus landscaping. Rather, it targets Jordanian food production.
Feeding a Water-Starved Nation
Jordan’s agricultural sector is responsible for 66% of all water consumption despite the fact that the sector returns a paltry 4% of annual GDP. According to Al-Ghazawi, increasing “crop per drop” will depend on farmers abandoning water inefficient and economically unstable products such as bananas and watermelon. But another answer lies in his JUST’s vast agricultural fields.
“We planted each and every crop variety that Jordanian farmers use and we irrigated each variety with freshwater and with treated wastewater,” explains Al-Ghazawi. “What we wanted to do is prove to the Jordanian public and to the Jordanian scientific community how safe wastewater reuse is.
Color-coded pipes (pink for reclaimed water, black for freshwater) conduct water through a series of high-efficiency irrigation systems to nourish field crops (barley, vetch, alfafa), fruit and nut trees (apple, almond, carob, pomegranate, pistachio, olives, figs, grapes, cactus), as well as decorative tree species on 72 hectares of land. The scale of JUST’s plantings are comparable to those of a commercial farmer’s; the campus boasts 33,000 olive trees alone.
Soil, water and crop analyses conducted since the project’s inception have consistently supported Al-Ghazawi initial claims; produce grown using treated wastewater is on par in terms of chemical and microbiological contamination, nutritional content, and quality with both control produce as well as randomly selected produce from the markets of Irbid and Amman. In some cases, the experimental crops have even outperformed their conventional counterparts.
However, convincing Jordanian consumers that food grown using treated sewage is not only safe but also acceptable is an uphill battle. Aside from commonly held social and cultural misgivings, another barrier to adoption is Islam’s specific injunction against the use of water classified as “impure.” Although certain reputable religious scholars argue that treated sewage can achieve the purity required for agricultural use, consumers’ gut-level aversion may prove to be more powerful still.
According to Dr. Samer Talozi, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at JUST, the key to overcoming this “ick factor” and other barriers to widespread use of marginal water sources is perceived urgency of the water crisis. And this why Talozi works to systematically cultivate that sense of urgency in all of his courses.
Farming Student Leaders
“Even in my Fluids Mechanics class, the first week is usually a focus on the water situation in Jordan,” says Talozi. “Our resources, our demands, the gap between them, and the problems that we face.”
Talozi typically shows his students before and after pictures of some of Jordan’s principle water features: The Jordan River, the Dead Sea, the Zarqa Creek, and the Azraq Oasis. Talozi often lingers on the example of the ancient Azraq Oasis, which was completely drained in the course of only nine years to serve Amman’s tremendous thirst for freshwater.
“What bothers me the most is the very short memory span that our students have. They live in Jordan now thinking this is the way it was for the longest time.” When asked to characterize JUST students’ awareness of environmental issues, Talozi calls them “unhealthy.” However, he is convinced that educators working in higher education can have a huge impact on student attitudes and behaviors without investing excessive amounts of time or effort.
“When I show these pictures and I say, ‘This was done by engineers,’ that creates a shock in their minds.” And that shock, according to Talozi, does seem to lead to a changed worldview and changed aspirations for how their own careers will contribute to solving problems rather than creating them.
“We need to find ways to spotlight these things. Otherwise, we are into a future with more destruction of our ecosystem.”
Talozi’s current research project analyzes the suitability and methods of cultivation of high value drought-tolerant crop species, which could prove attractive to Jordanian farmers. He is encouraged by steps that JUST has taken to model sustainability in action, such as greywater systems in two of the
campus dorms. But he laments the fact that there are few visible indications of the university’s commitment. A short-lived campus experiment with recycling may have ended up sending mixed signals.
“For a period of about a year or a year and a half, you could walk around campus and see labeled trash bins for plastic, for glass and for other waste,” recalls Talozi. “But when the project ended, the university did not carry on the practice. Had these practices been carried on, the students would learn more and become more environmentally aware.”
Expanding the Field
Recently, a Smarter Campus Committee was formed at JUST to provide guidance to the university regarding more efficient and effective resource use. Smart buildings and a new cross-disciplinary elective dealing with energy and water conservation are just a few of their draft recommendations.
A large scale solar farm is also being considered as a possible next step in reducing the campus’ dependence on fossil fuel resources. Jordan may be nearly as poor in energy as it is in water, which is why desalination has not proven a viable solution to water shortages as it has in the oil-rich nations to the south.
What it lacks in natural resources, however, the country makes up in human capital. Jordan has emerged over the last few decades as a leader in higher education for the region as a whole; JUST now draws over 5,000 international students from 61 nations, many flocking to its biosciences and engineering programs which rank among the best in the world.
That kind of expertise will need to be critically engaged if the country is to tend to the needs of its ever-growing population. Nationwide, Jordan’s annual water use is 890 million cubic meters (MCM), with a need for 1,600 MCM per year to meet its 2015 forecast requirements. Now, prepare for a shock: The total renewable safe yield of groundwater resources in all of Jordan is an estimated 275 MCM per year.
Drop by drop, JUST’s wastewater project is striving to fill that gap. With water, yes. But also with another renewable resource: Educated students and consumers. Fittingly, all the proceeds from sales of the campus’ produce fill the coffers of the Needy Student Fund, making the project that much more valuable.
“Jordan’s water strategy for many decades had stated it loud and clear,” asserts Al-Ghazawi. “Every drop of wastewater is a precious resource.”
For more information on the water reuse project at JUST, contact Professor Ziad Al-Ghazawi. Further details are also available in “UNITEN ICCBT 08 Waste Water Reuse for Agriculture-Pilot Project at the Jordan” (2008, PDF download). Professor Talozi’s research project will be specifically addressed in an upcoming Parlez-Vous Green Campus piece. In the meantime, his website (under construction) provides background on the drought-tolerant species under investigation.
Une toute dernière nouvelle de YOUNGO m’est parvenue par courriel, reproduite ci-dessous. NB la date limite pour les candidatures: 9 novembre à minuit!
La Constitution des Jeunes à la Convention-cadre des Nations Unies sur les Changements Climatiques (YOUNGO) a reçu un financement du gouvernement Norvégien pour permettre la participation de quinze (15) jeunes de pays du Sud à la 17e
Conférence des Parties à la CCNUCC (COP17) à Durban, du 28 novembre au 9 Décembre 2011, ainsi qu’à la 7e Conférence de la Jeunesse (COY7) qui se tiendra du 25 au 27 novembre 2011 également à Durban. YOUNGO a le plaisir d’annoncer un appel à candidatures et invite tous les jeunes dans les pays du Sud qui participent à des activités, projets et campagnes de lutte contre le changement climatique, et qui sont membres actifs d’organisations à considérer cet appel.
Si vous êtes intéressés à postuler, veuillez attentivement lire les informations ci-dessous:
1. Qui peut postuler?
Les jeunes admissibles à cette aide de la subvention doivent impérativement remplir les critères suivants:
- Être citoyen d’un pays du Sud et posséder sa nationalité au moment de postuler,
- Être âgé d’au moins 18 ans au 31 décembre 2011,
- Être membre actif d’une organisation ou d’un groupe œuvrant dans la protection de l’environnement et/ou du climat,
- Être disponible à voyager pour Durban du 24 novembre au 10 décembre 2011,
- Démontrer une bonne compréhension du rôle de la jeunesse pour parvenir à un climat stable,
- Démontrer une bonne compréhension des processus de la CCNUCC ou une passion convaincante à d’apprendre de ces processus,
- Fournir une lettre de recommandation de l’organisation d’appartenance ou de toute personne dont la référence serait pertinente et importante,
- Avoir un passeport personnel en cours de validité (en raison du temps très limité, la priorité sera accordée aux détenteurs de passeports valides),
- Ne pas être un parent ou un employé de l’ONG Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE),
- Ne pas être un parent ou un proche d’un Point Focal actuel ou passé de YOUNGO,
- S’engager à participer activement à toutes les activités que YOUNGO organisera à Durban et liés à la COY7, la COP17, ainsi qu’à la séance de synthèse finale,
- S’engager à respecter le Code de conduite de YOUNGO ainsi que les Directives pour la participation des représentants des ONG aux réunions de la CCNUCC (http://unfccc.int/files/parties_and_observers/ngo/application/pdf/coc…)
- S’engager à écrire un rapport de 4 à 5 pages de la participation à la COY7 et COP17 et le soumettre à YOUNGO au plus tard une semaine après la fin de la conférence de Durban.
2. Ce que le financement couvre
Le financement permettra la participation de tous les 15 jeunes sélectionnés et couvrira :
- Un billet d’avion aller-retour du pays d’origine à la ville de Durban, Afrique du Sud, en classe économique,
- L’hébergement à Durban à partir du 25 novembre jusqu’au 10 décembre 2011, couvrant la 7e Conférence de la Jeunesse (25-27 novembre), les deux semaines de négociations de la COP17 (28 novembre au 9 décembre) et une journée d‘évaluation finale organisée par YOUNGO (10 décembre),
- Indemnité journalière de subsistance couvrant la nourriture et le transport local, à Durban,
- Accueil à l’aéroport à Durban par des facilitateurs de YOUNGO,
- Les frais de visa et d’assurance voyage (il se pourrait que le visa soit accordé gratuitement).
S’il vous plaît noter que le financement ne couvre pas les autres coûts tels que l’établissement du passeport, les vaccinations, la documentation de demande de visa, les vêtements, le transport de votre maison à l’aéroport de départ et les factures supplémentaires dans votre lieu d’hébergement, comme l’usage du téléphone, du mini-bar ou des services de blanchisserie. Nous vous conseillons vivement de prendre cela en considération si vous êtes sélectionné.
3. Comment postuler?
Tous les jeunes des pays du Sud répondant aux critères mentionnés ci-dessus sont invités à postuler pour ce financement. Vous devez à remplir le formulaire de candidature ainsi qu’une fiche d’engagement. Vous devez également joindre une lettre de recommandation de votre organisation/groupe ou toute personne de référence pertinente, sans oublier une copie de votre passeport valide. S’il vous plaît assurez-vous de répondre à toutes les questions et n’oubliez pas d’inclure tous les contacts nécessaires qui serviront à vous contacter dans un temps très court si vous êtes sélectionné. Nous vous encourageons également à respecter la date limite de candidature car toute candidature tardive ne sera pas considérée. Vous recevrez un email une fois votre dossier complet soumis sera arrivé à destination.
4. Comment le processus de sélection sera-t-il mené?
Un Comité de sélection mis sur pied par YOUNGO sera chargé de la sélection des jeunes participants sur la base des candidatures écrites reçues. Ce processus sera transparent et mené de façon équitable. La décision finale du Comité n’est pas soumise à la réclamation/contestation. Le Comité de sélection n’est pas impliqué dans l’administration du financement, qui sera fait par Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE), une ONG togolaise dirigée par des jeunes et qui a été sélectionnée par YOUNGO afin d’administrer les fonds en conformité avec les règles du Secrétariat de la CCNUCC. JVE n’est pas responsable du processus de sélection des bénéficiaires de ce financement.
5. Date limite de candidature et annonce des résultats de la sélection
La date limite de candidature est fixée au 9 novembre 2011 à minuit Temps Universel. S’il vous plaît envoyer le formulaire de demande, la fiche d’engagement, une lettre de recommandation et la copie électronique de votre passeport. Les candidatures reçues après la date limite ne seront pas prise en considération. Les participants sélectionnés seront informés par e-mail et au numéro de téléphone qu’ils auront fournis dans leurs formulaires au plus tard le 11 novembre 2011 par le Comité de sélection. Nous vous conseillons donc de consulter votre courrier électronique au cours de cette période car les procédures de visas et les préparatifs de voyage commenceront dès que la sélection sera finalisée.
Pour toute information complémentaire ou toute question veuillez contacter le Comité de facilitation de cet appela à candidatures.
I don’t know what they are feeding young climate activists in Australia lately, but they have to be the happiest, most optimistic, most energized, most POSITIVE environmental advocates I’ve come across in months.
Witness their recent #PowershiftOZ video, produced by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition:
Not familiar with Powershift? It is a youth-led climate summit which began in 2007 in Washington DC, USA, coordinated in large part by the Energy Action Coalition. The author of this post was actually a speaker at that very first event which drew 6,000 college students from across the country. Its purpose is to educate, motivate and empower young activists to precipitate a “shift” from dirty energy to clean energy.
Since then, Powershift has inspired North American regional as well as global spin-offs. To wit: Powershift Europe, Powershift France, Powershift Russia, Powershift Canada, Powershift Sweden, Powershift Italy, Powershift UK, and lastly but not leastly, Powershift Australia. An event much like Powershift called “Be the Change” was organized by the Indian Youth Climate Network in Delhi in 2009.
I haven’t come across any central web site or contact for global Powershift activities, but if you are aware of any such thing, please let us know in the comments section below. There is, however, a main site for the Youth Climate Coalition which seems to be an umbrella group for international Climate Coalition groups that are often behind the Powershift events.
Individuals representing member institutions in the European Network on Higher Education for Sustainable Development are invited to participate in the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Copernicus Alliance, scheduled for November 24th and 25th in Kerkrade, Netherlands.
Here’s a quick list of the member institutions for your convenience:
- Medical University Graz
- Modul University Vienna
- University Innsbruck
- University of Graz
- University of Music and Performing Arts Graz
- University of Technology Graz
- WU Vienna University of Economics and Business
- Bern University of Applied Sciences
- University of Teacher Education St.Gallen (PHSG)
- Zurich University of Teacher Education (PH Zurich)
- London South Bank University
- Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems
- University of Gloucestershire
The Copernicus Alliance was founded in Austria in 2010. The program for this first annual meeting, available online, will include a workshop on University Appraisal and Assessment for Sustainable Development jointly co-organized by the COPERNICUS Alliance and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) .
It is not clear from the registration form whether there is a fee associated with participation. It is also unclear whether there is a deadline for registration.
The goals of the Copernicus Alliance are the following:
- Networking: Exchanging and enhancing knowledge on Education for Sustainable Development between European Higher Education and student organizations that work for sustainability
- Policy: Promoting Higher Education for Sustainable Development in European policy making
- Service: Disseminating tools for sustainability integration in higher education
- Outreach: Promoting sustainable development in European Higher Education
- Representation: Representing European Higher Education for Sustainable Development in international committees on Education for Sustainable Development
Mina Michel Samaan is a Masters student at Mansoura University in Egypt in the Architectural Engineering Department who is attending the 2011 AASHE conference in Pittsburgh, USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about the university’s green campus efforts and his own research on building level energy optimization.
PVGC: Mina, you are working on a Masters thesis at Mansoura University in Egypt. What are you investigating?
MMS: How to move toward green campuses in Egypt. As an architect, I am focusing on educational buildings and teaching and learning environments. I am using energy simulation tools to model and assess performance of these buildings in order to develop guidelines for future built space and also to optimize use of existing buildings.
PVGC: How is “green campus” defined in Egypt?
MMS: This concept can’t be understood directly. But people in Egypt are seeking the results without knowing it. They are seeking thermal comfort without knowing the term. They know the problems so well and they are waiting for solutions. As a researcher I know that the only solution to our problems is a sustainable green campus.
PVGC: Tell me about the climate in Egypt and how it impacts your campus energy use.
MMS: Climate is hot overall. In coastal cities and around the Nile it is also humid. Then arid in the desert. So, hot arid or hot humid. Summer is getting longer every year. Summer now lasts for 8 months summer. The climate is challenging. In order to provide thermal comfort for spaces, active air conditioning is used with very high energy consumption rates.
PVGC: To what extent are campus sustainability case studies from the US and Canada relevant to your own campus?
MMS: The United States is perfect because it includes many climate zones. There is one in california which is very similar to Egypt, so is Arizona. So there are very useful case studies based in similar climates that we can benefit from. But all universities, even in cold climates, are relevant. They are sticking to LEED or STARS with certain guidelines and techniques, and these techniques and methodology are relevant to us. They just have different results and different specialized points.
PVGC: Why did you decide to attend this conference?
MMS: I heard about AASHE two years ago and starting following their initiatives and certificates for green campuses. My Masters thesis includes a description of AASHE and its activities. When I saw the call for papers, I submitted. It was an opportunity for me to interact with researchers from around the world.
PVGC: Are there other campuses in Egypt or in your region that are having success with campus sustainability efforts?
MMS: Of course. Each department of environmental studies in architecture or civil engineering or faculty of science or even sustainable learning systems in the department of education includes researchers working on these topics. But until recently we didn’t have an umbrella that gathered all these efforts together. That’s the main reason to establish the Egypt Sustainable Urbanism (ESU) Lab at Mansoura University Faculty of Engineering. We are trying to provide a wide umbrella for all Egypt in all sustainable urbanism fields and all green campus efforts.
Live tweets on international topics from the 2011 AASHE conference @GreenCampusIntl
Parlez-Vous Green Campus is live tweeting and blogging from the 2011 conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in Pittsburgh, USA.
If you are in attendance at the conference and you represent a college or university outside of North America, be sure to get in touch! We are collecting stories about your campus sustainability efforts, success and challenges.
Here in the United States, we tend all to often to focus exclusively on what our American colleagues are doing and too little on what’s happening in the rest of the world. Let’s work together to change that for the benefit of all.
Q & A: Walter Leal Filho, Task Force Chair, World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities
On the 20th anniversary of the first “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations will be hosting a World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities in parallel with the Rio+20 conference. The Symposium on June 5th and 6th, 2012 will bring together students, faculty and staff from institutions of higher education to discuss campus sustainability efforts past, present and future. The aims of the Symposium are:
- To provide universities with an opportunity to display and present their work as it relates to education for sustainable development;
- To foster the exchange of information, ideas and experiences from successful initiatives and good practice;
- To discuss methodological approaches and projects which aim to integrate the topic of sustainable development in university curricula;
- To network participants and provide a platform for exploring opportunities for cooperation.
In the following Q&A conducted via email, Walter Leal Filho, Symposium Task Force Chair, comments on the significance of the event and the case for attending. Professor Leal is Senior Professor and Head of the Applications of Life Sciences Research and Transfer Center at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany.
PVGC: Professor Leal, what precipitated the decision to hold this special session for universities?
WL: The relevance of sustainable development and the need to make sure universities are more pro-active in this field.
PVGC: What are some of the “cutting edge” campus sustainability topics or issues that you are hoping to see presented and debated at the summit?
WL: We are keen to see examples of institutional commitment, campus greening and curricular innovations. Not old fashioned approaches, but forward-looking initiatives and innovation in the field.
PVGC: Which regions, countries or sectors have you found to be particularly active participants in the campus sustainability movement worldwide?
WL: At present the sustainability debate at universities is dominated by North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand. This is not enough. We need more, far more engagement in universities from other parts of the world.
PVGC: Many campuses around the world use the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development as a starting point for discussion. In what ways has the understanding of sustainability as evidenced at the Rio Summits evolved since then?
WL: People have realised that sustainability is not only a matter of concern to governments, but that it affects us all. We can choose to be sustainable on not in the way we purchase products, use water, energy or even in the way we vote. Since Rio, the debate on sustainability is now far closer to one’s lives then it was ever before.
PVGC: Travel budgets at colleges and universities are strained. Why should attendance at this particular conference be given priority?
WL: In addition to having the chance to attend such as historical event and to interact with like-minded people from across the world, a book publication will be produced and will showcase the work happening at the universities attending the event. This will make it worthy to anyone reluctant to travel all the way to Rio which, we shall not forget, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The Call for Papers is now open. Deadline for the submission of abstracts is September 30, 2011. Deadline for submission of papers is January 30, 2012. Registrations will be accepted through February 10, 2012.
A special issue of the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education with selected papers from the conference will be produced. Furthermore, the book “Sustainable Development at Universities: New Horizons” will be published with a further set of papers. This will be volume 33 of the award-winning book series Environmental Education, Communication and Sustainability (Peter Lang Scientific Publishers), which since its creation in 1998 has become the world’s longest running book series on education and communication on sustainable development.