Summer Highlights: How to make our universities more sustainable?

Sustainable development stands as one of the key challenges of our time, and universities have a crucial role to play in addressing it. They are not only responsible for conducting research and innovation on environmental and social issues but also for transforming their own practices and policies to become more sustainable.

To address this imperative, the University of Rouen Normandy (URN) hosted a hybrid roundtable on sustainable development as part of the BI4E project on July 1st, 2023. The event brought together representatives from six partner universities across different countries, who shared their experiences and achievements in implementing sustainability strategies in their respective institutions.

The roundtable was moderated by Guillaume Cornille (URN), who introduced the BI4E project and its objectives, wherein sustainable development serves as a cross-cutting theme.

The event featured six presentations from different countries, followed by an open discussion. Here are some of the key highlights from each presentation.

Roundtable on Sustainable Development at URN, 1 (Credits: URN)

University of Rouen-Normandy: A pioneer in sustainability

The first presentation was delivered by the project manager for sustainable development at URN, who showcased the remarkable progress and achievements of the university in this field since the appointment of a Vice-President for Sustainability in 2009. He outlined URN’s six main ambitions for sustainable development, which include reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, protecting biodiversity, promoting inclusivity, and integrating sustainability into the curriculum.

He also provided concrete examples of how URN has implemented these ambitions, such as creating shared student gardens, partnering with SMÉDAR for waste recycling, offering a mobility package that includes public transport and electric vehicles, and providing sustainable development training for all first-year students.

Medical University of Sofia: A digital transformation for sustainability

The second presentation was given by Magdalena Iskreva from MUS, who focused on the university’s digitalization strategy as a means to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She highlighted the benefits of digital transformation, including integrating Wi-Fi systems and developing a cloud platform for data storage and sharing, using virtual reality and online education to enhance learning outcomes while reducing environmental impact, increasing medical students’ interest in practising sustainable healthcare, and organising green events to raise awareness and engage stakeholders.

University of Oviedo: The Vice-Rectorate for Sustainability

María José Suárez from the University of Oviedo delivered the third presentation, which discussed the goals and competences of the Vice-Rectorate for Sustainability, Mobility, and Campus Development.

She shared the university’s efforts to enhance sustainability, such as installing battery storage and charging stations for electric bicycles and vehicles on the campus, improving thermal comfort and air quality in buildings, implementing smart energy management systems and LED lights, and installing photovoltaic systems to generate solar power.

Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences: A commitment to carbon neutrality

The fourth presentation was given by Selma Janssen from HKA, who spoke about the university’s commitment to supporting efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, following guidelines from the European Union and the Baden-Württemberg government.

She highlighted the university’s involvement in various projects and networks to reach this goal, such as collaboration between academic and administrative staff to implement sustainability measures in teaching, participation in Klimapakt (a network of all eight universities in Karlsruhe) to exchange best practices on climate protection, engagement with the network of climate protection managers of Baden-Württemberg, and promotion of emission-free traffic by creating a car-free campus and encouraging the use of public transport.

Roundtable on Sustainable Development at URN, 2 (Credits: URN)

Gheorghe Asachi Technical University: A focus on education and research

Brindusa Sluser from TUIASI delivered the fifth presentation, which focused on the education and research activities related to sustainable development at her university.

She highlighted educational programs that cover sustainable development topics such as air pollution, air quality, and water management, as well as high-level research on environmental issues in laboratories and campuses. Additionally, she discussed the implementation of waste management systems in certain faculties and buildings, and efforts to improve energy efficiency in selected buildings.

Munster Technological University: Linking SDGs and Human Rights

The sixth and final presentation was given by Catherine Carty from MTU, who emphasized the connection between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and human rights. She stressed the importance of collaborating with international parties and multilateral agencies, highlighting MTU’s initiatives related to green campuses and the circular economy.

The key message conveyed was the need to apply SDGs at both social and environmental levels. This necessitates delivering SDG content to students across all disciplines and levels; developing skills to tackle major challenges and find community-relevant solutions; teaching in a way that fosters critical thinking and awareness of issues such as poverty, inequality, and discrimination; ensuring that solutions align with human rights principles; and taking action at all levels, from the local to the global.

A lively discussion

A vibrant discussion followed the presentations, with the audience posing questions and engaging in dialogue. Some of the issues raised focused on how the eight partner universities could collaborate effectively on sustainable development, considering the complexity of the topic.

The hybrid roundtable showcased our universities’ strides in sustainability, underlining their pivotal role in shaping a greener future.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON-WIDERA-2021-ACCESS-05-01-European Excellence Initiative under Grant Agreement No. 101071321 -BI4E

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