As you are probably aware, our society is at a critical moment when it comes to the future of the planet. Institutions of all sizes are being called on to implement changes to their operations in the name of environmental sustainability. For this reason, this article discusses green universities and environmental teaching.
What is a green university?
According to the Green Office Movement, a green university is “an educational institution that meets its need for natural resources, such as energy, water, and materials, without compromising the ability of people in other countries as well as future generations to meet their own needs.”
In this way, what a university needs to do in order to become a green university depends on its specific circumstances, location and resource availability. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to becoming a green university. Every institution’s path toward sustainability is individual and should be crafted with input from all relevant stakeholders.
Green research is an umbrella term for research on environmental sustainability and ecologically mindful innovations in a variety of disciplines and industries. In general, green research aims to understand and revolutionise humans’ relationship to the environment. Again, this type of work is relevant and important today more than ever.
If you have an interest in this type of research, it’s a good idea to look for universities that have established centres for green research. Though this is an emerging field, many universities around the world have moved quickly to support green research in their institutions.
An eco-campus isn’t so much a specific type of physical university arrangement, rather a type of strategy to help bring existing campuses into the future in terms of sustainability. Eco-campuses are those which have elaborated a plan to transform their built environment in the name of minimising environmental damage.
Before being applied to institutions of higher education, this concept existed for cities. Like large urban centres, universities struggle to completely transform their campuses to be 100% sustainable in one sweeping motion. For this reason, eco-campuses aim to sustainably modernise as quickly as possible, but in a gradual fashion.
Why Sustainability is a Mandatory Teaching Theme
Teaching environmental sustainability is essential to progress in the climate activism movement. Sustainability is much more than lifestyle behaviours like recycling, using less water when you brush your teeth and cycling or taking public transport.
Sustainability means rethinking the way we do things at all levels of society and in all fields. For this reason, teaching about sustainability in each of your modules is extremely important. If you’re studying business, you should learn about sustainability practices in your supply chain class, finance class, economics class and so on.
The point is to train the professionals of tomorrow in how to revolutionize their respective industries. This is where a generic sustainability module becomes a bit limited. It’s important to teach industry- and field-specific best practices for sustainability.
What to Consider When it Comes to Green Universities and Environmental Teaching:
In this section, we’ll discuss topics to consider when looking for green universities and environmental teaching. Of course, you should first determine if the course of study you’re passionate about is offered by an institution. From there, you can assess how green a university is with the following factors.
University campuses can have large carbon footprints. Logically, it requires a lot of energy to house, feed and makes learning spaces for so many people. In addition, university campuses are social spaces, which requires another level of consideration to make sustainable. In order to achieve campus sustainability, universities should be committed to a long-term strategy of transforming their physical spaces.
Typically, you should be able to find whether a university has such a strategy on its website. In addition, institutions should have some sort of campus sustainability task force, charged with planning and executing the strategy.
Finances are another important consideration to make when it comes to finding a green university. Oftentimes, large institutions like universities invest their financial resources in order to generate revenue. While there’s nothing wrong with an investment, many universities decide to invest in fossil fuel industries, as they often result in impressive returns.
The problem with this financial model is that it helps perpetuate the fossil fuel industry’s dominance in the energy sector. There are plenty of other lucrative industries universities can invest in which lead to far less environmental destruction. As such, you should look into a university’s investment portfolio as a way to assess how green it is.
As we mentioned above, green research is another essential part of being a green university. Asking questions like, ‘Does this university prioritise environmental and ecological research?’ or ‘Will I have the opportunity to learn about the environment, sustainability and climate change at this university?” will help determine how green an institution is.
If you would like to participate in green research in university, be sure to into the accessibility of such opportunities. Ideally, all levels of students (including undergraduates) should be able to participate in green research. To dig even deeper, you may consider contacting a professor tasked with green research at a university to gain more insights and express your interest.
Another positive of a university’s commitment to green research is that the results of such research can inform its environmental teaching curricula. Tying into what we said about teaching sustainability across all subjects, a university’s research output can help transform course content within the university itself. This is another important consideration to make when looking for a green university.
Finally, researching the climate activist opportunities at a university is another good gauge of how green an institution is. Student organisations fighting climate change are widespread and can be a good indication of where a university is along their sustainability journey. Moreover, student activism can expose any problematic elements of universities’ sustainability strategies and provide another side of the story.
If you’re interested in getting involved as a climate activist, the university is a great time to do so. Be sure to check out whether your university has a climate activism group, if they partner with a larger organisation, or if it’s on you to start one!
Institutions at all levels of society are called on to implement sustainable changes to their operations in the name of slowing climate change, and universities are no exception!
Hopefully, this article has given you an idea of what makes a green university and how to find one that suits you.
For help with finding the perfect university for you, reach out to EDUopinions’ free, personalised advisors!