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Developing Green Universities 8 February , 2007

Posted by eugene in 4 Spread Message & Influence Others.
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Would like to share an essay that I wrote for the Asia and Pacific Student Essay Competition on Sustainable Development.

“The first aim of education should not be to prepare young people for careers, but to enable them to develop a respect for life.” – Norman Cousin 

To develop sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, there is a need to engage the public (government), private (companies), and people (public, students and non-governmental organisations) sectors. As a university student, I feel that universities can play a major role in developing sustainable development and doing its part for the environment. In my essay, I will explore how we should develop green universities. Let me begin with some questions. 

What is a green university? To be green is to develop a respect for life and to protect the environment as described in The Earth Charter – “Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings” and “Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people”. My idea of a green university is an environmentally friendly university with a strong green culture where management, staff, undergraduates, postgraduates and alumni are environmentally aware and do their best to reduce their impact on the environment, whether it is on campus or in their daily lives. After graduating, the alumni would still keep the environment in mind when making decisions at work and ensure that any projects would have no or minimal impact on the environment. 

Why should the university be green? Universities produce graduates such as government officials, architects, engineers, scientists, lawyers, businessmen and teachers. They hold key positions in society and their actions or behaviours influence more than others. Their decisions could affect the environment whether it is directly or indirectly, positive or negative, big or small. Furthermore, a university itself is a large institution with a big ecological footprint. Imagine its water and energy usage, the waste it generates, and the number of vehicles travelling through the campus. Therefore, the influence and impact of a university, its occupants and graduates on the environment are tremendous and far-reaching. As such, universities have a responsibility to be green. 

What are the benefits to the university? The obvious benefit is of course to the environment. For example, the university is able to reduce its consumption and wastage of resources, thus reducing its impact on the environment. Besides that, being a green university would enhance the reputation of the university and attract more foreign students. Also, the conscious use of resources would help to cut costs and keep expenses low. 

How does a university become green? To be a green university is not a simple task, the following are some recommendations that I hope would make the task easier. The recommendations should involve students playing a major role in the efforts to be a green university.  

First, develop an environmental policy in the context of a green university. The scope should identify all aspects of the university and the environmental impacts in terms of water and energy usage, and waste generated, and how to measure these impacts. This could be done through an environmental audit by existing staff in the environmental field or by students as a final-year project. This review process should aim to involve all the stakeholders where possible, including top management, staff, student representatives, alumni, suppliers, canteen and stall operators, etc. The draft policy after the review should be circulated to staff and students, and their feedback taken into consideration before finalising the environmental policy. The environmental policy is important in setting the direction and targets for the university. 

Second, ensure that the campus is environmentally friendly. The environmental audit done earlier would serve as a guide to identify aspects of the university that need to be rectified to ensure a more environmentally friendly campus. A good approach is to follow the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in order of sequence). Reduce by not creating the waste in the first place. This means good planning to prevent wastage, switching to more efficient equipment, using durable materials to prevent frequent wastage, etc. Reuse by using resources several times or for another purpose. This means buying reusable materials, sharing of equipment, etc. Recycle by not disposing the waste. This means setting up recycling bins for depositing waste such as paper, cans and printer cartridges or selling them to used item traders so that the waste can be sent for recycling. In addition, the university should encourage the use of innovative green technology and green design on campus. It could also be the first adopter of green technology and serve as a test-bedding site for new technologies that would benefit the environment. 

Third, build a green culture by spreading the green message such that everyone is aware of it. This is one of the hardest steps in building a green university. Students should play a main role in spreading the green message. In the book, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, he explores how a message can be spread and then tipped so that everyone is aware of it. There are some lessons that could be learned from his book – The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. 

The Law of the Few says that a selected group of people are essential to spread a message. Students could be recruited to spread the green message but not just any student. We want students who know lots of people such as those involved in student groups or staying in hostels (Connectors); students who have good knowledge of environmental issues such as those in the environmental engineering, environmental management and geography courses (Mavens); and students who can promote and persuade others to adopt the green message such as those in the marketing and law courses (Salesmen). These selected groups of students would be in-charge of spreading the green message to their fellow students. With the support of the university management and staff, the students would organise innovative activities to spread the green message. 

The Stickiness Factor says that the content of a message should be personal and practical so that it can be remembered. The environmental policy should be made available to all students, and the green message should have clear, relevant and practical advices on what the students can do. For example, using both sides of the paper, recycling used paper and drink cans, switching off lights when leaving tutorial and lecture rooms, etc. State the benefits of a green university in terms of how the students can reduce impacts on the environment and cut costs, and the possible reduction in school fees, increased subsidies or more student welfare resulting from the cost reduction. It should be made clear to the students what they can do, how they can do it, and what benefits they can gain from their actions. 

The Power of Context says that a message may be tipped by small changes in context. Awareness on environmental issues and efforts to spread the green message can be incorporated into the context of the university education, which helps student understand that the environment is not something abstract and may be relevant to their daily lives or what they do in their future work. To increase environmental awareness, there could be compulsory courses on environmental awareness for first-year students, increased talks and seminars on the environment, and competitions for students to give suggestions on reducing wastage.  

Students could also be involved in spreading the green message through projects and case studies during their coursework. For example, Business students could be involved in projects to market the green message. Engineering students could be involved in projects to explore new environmental technology or improve the efficiency of existing equipment on campus. Science students could be involved in monitoring the ecology on campus and conducting surveys on environmental awareness. Arts and Social Sciences students could be involved in studies on the behaviour and psychology of green students, and how to increase participation in the green message. 

My last recommendation is for the university management to provide regular updates on the progress towards a green university and celebrate any success along the way with students and staff. This would help students and staff understand that their efforts can and will make a difference in improving the environment, and helping the university achieve the green university status. 

My vision is for universities in Asia and the Pacific to go green with environmentally friendly campuses, use of innovative green technologies and design, and a green culture apparent in its management, staff, students and alumni. Universities can and should go green because it is the responsibility of everyone to protect and improve the environment. 

“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” – Buckminster Fuller

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1. AsiaIsGreen: An online green resource guide for Singapore and Asia - 29 February , 2008

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