You might’ve heard that the University of Melbourne released its Sustainability Charter earlier this year. The Charter is a document that outlines the University’s “high-level principles” regarding sustainability. The Sustainability Plan, to be released in October, will turn these broad and ambitious principles into tangible initiatives. The Sustainability Plan will be in its consultation phase until the end of August, meaning that students are welcome to provide input. Clare Walker, the Principal Advisor on Sustainability, assures us that “student voices have already and will continue to have an enormous impact in shaping the Plan”. To get your creative juices flowing, I’ve compiled a list of inspiring initiatives from other universities around the world.
Sustainable transport, Université de Sherbrooke (Canada)
Students and staff at this institution travel free on public transport under a scheme financed by the university and a mandatory student contribution. This incentive to use less emissions-intensive transport has decreased congestion in the surrounding suburbs and has even meant that some of the on-campus carparks have been converted into green spaces.
Cool Campus Challenge, University of California (USA)
For ten weeks every year, UC’s campuses compete to see which one can be the most sustainable, raising awareness of environmental issues and providing the impetus to change habits. Individuals and teams make pledges to reduce their consumption through the Challenge’s website. They include simple actions such as turning off lights, carpooling and eliminating disposables. The impact of the pledges is calculated and displayed online so that individuals can see the combined effect of individual actions. Indeed, if the 19,000 participants from 2015 maintain their new habits for a year, they will be saving greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving 2000 cars for the same period of time.
Waste and recycling, University of Nottingham (UK)
Between 2005 and 2012, this university’s comprehensive waste management program increased its recycling rate from 5 per cent to 85 per cent of all waste. They have a general mixed recycling program that is similar to Unimelb’s, but in addition they have schemes to recycle batteries, clothes and bicycles, as well as to compost all organic waste from food outlets. They also maintain an online portal for swapping unwanted possessions and collaborate with on-campus builders to reduce construction waste.
Intelligent Building Management System, Plymouth University (UK)
In 2013, the University of Plymouth installed the world’s first smart Building Management System (BMS) that was integrated with their existing ICT network. Servicing 95 per cent of their buildings, the system monitors and controls operations such as power, lighting, ventilation, plumbing, security and fire alarms. The BMS optimises the supply of energy to meet demand and can send alerts when the energy usage becomes unnecessarily high. For instance, it adjusts lighting depending on how much daylight is already in the room, and turns on boilers according to the external temperature. In the first two years after installation, the system saved the university an astonishing £300,000 (around AU $550,000) by avoiding energy wastage.
On-campus farming, Shenyang Architectural University (China)
After enrolment numbers at this university ballooned, the campus was moved from the city centre to the outskirts. As it was relocated onto prime agricultural land, a section of the campus was designed to be integrated with rice and buckwheat crops. Engaging with agriculture has become an important part of the university’s culture, with students and staff planting and harvesting the crops on designated days each year. This allows the land to stay somewhat productive whilst being used as a learning space. The direct interaction with agriculture also enables the architectural students to gain an appreciation of food production’s role in the context of an increasingly populous and urbanised country.
According to Walker, although it is important to learn from other institutions regarding sustainability, each one is uniquely influenced by “various factors such as geographical location, research-intensity versus teaching-intensity and student culture”.
While this may be true, it shouldn’t stop us from peering over our borders and feeling a healthy kind of jealousy – the kind that can inspire us to do our own version of sustainability, but just as well.
An orchard on South Lawn? Anyone?