International Dimensions to Sustainable Universities and Campuses – Part 1

I am attending the ISCN annual conference at The University of Hong Kong hoping to make links with those undertaking similar roles in universities across the globe. There are representatives here from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe. This is an attempt to live blog the discussion within the sessions I attend over the course of the conference.

The ISCN Charter sets out principles for sustainable universities, working to embed the principles of sustainability into operational (principle one), planning and target setting (principle 2) through to the panacea of true integration into research, teaching and, ostensibly, the core business of universities (principle three).

Sharing good practice between universities is a key objective of the ISCN and there is an emerging network of networks from the continents.  

Melissa Goodall, from Yale University, is representing IARU, the International Alliance of Research Univerities, which was established in 2006 by 10 universities that ‘share similar values, a global vision and a commitment to educating future world leaders’. From the UK, Oxford and Cambridge made up the 10.

There are several points of collaboration including ‘sustaianability’ with some current focus on laboratory use and energy consumption. In the research field there is work being undertaken on future cities.


IARU has developed a Green Guide to Universities covering 10 topics, with 23 case studies, which is now live and downloadable via the IARU website. 9 chapters were published.

  • Sustainable Campus Organisation – reflects the ‘ownership’ and governance of the sustainability leadership role within a university.
  • Campus-wide operations – with case studies across a wide range of operations on universities, including energy and complexity of services.
  • Buildings – included case study from The University of Oxford’s sustainable building policy.
  • Laboratories – recognises the impact labs has in terms of energy, waste and the opportunity for behaviour change.
  • Green Purchasing – led by Zurich with support from Yale. Recognised the different approaches taken to commodity purchasing. Included life cycle assessment and material flows.
  • Transport – was included late in the publishing cycle.
  • Communication – focusing on social media for sustainability communications, recognising the different audiences within universities.
  • Employee and Student Engagement – explores how to reach staff and students through effective engagement.
  • Univerities as Catalyts for a Sustainable Society – recognises the important role that Universities play in shaping society and its future leaders, employees, politicians and decision makers, parents and citizens.
  • A conference launched the guide at The University of Copenhagen and a network formed. 4000 downloads of the book have already been made.

There was some discussion about the whole sustainability approach and the focus being largely in environmental issues rather than the wider sustainability issues of social and economic guidance. It is clear there is still a journeyed transition from environment to true sustainability. There was some discussion about where the leadership was on the wider sustainability approach. Melissa Goodall felt that the U.S. universities were showing leadership on the social dimensions whilst European examples were moving more slowly. It’s my feeling that this needs to be better understood and from a small group of members in IARU it is difficult to draw too many conclusions. Certainly, it’s my view that universities in the UK, at least, are more increasingly embracing this.

The issues of embedding sustainability into satellite campuses was raised. Noted that Yale and Singapore are collborating in this way and that ambition to integrate this in the future.

Global University Climate Forum will take place in Paris in December 2015.

The relationship between IARU, the Global Universities Leadership Forum (GULF) and ISCN and the synergies between them is recognised as important. But there are other networks out there who need to be engaged.

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Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

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