The Guild’s universities lead the change towards sustainable behaviour
With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, taking place in Glasgow, The Guild’s universities are stressing the critical contributions universities can and must make to accelerate action towards the Paris Agreement goals. The Guild shares highlights from its member universities on how the institutions, researchers and students are leading the change towards environmental sustainability, connecting the institutional, social, economic, technological and scientific responses needed to respond to the climate crisis.
Besides providing excellent research and teaching to tackle climate change, universities are responding to the increasing thread of global warming by reducing their own carbon footprint. By making practical changes to reduce energy consumption and encouraging sustainable mobility, the universities can lead by example and act as catalysts for lasting change among their students and staff.
Being the first university in Europe to commit to fully divesting from fossil-fuel-industry companies and the first university in Scotland to declare a climate emergency, the University of Glasgow has committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The institution’s ‘Glasgow Green’ strategy lays out interim targets over the next decade. The strategy sets practical actions on how the university aims to cut its emissions from improving energy efficiency by developing lighting and insulation solutions to installing solar panels and water source heat pumps in campuses.
The University of Bologna is among the top ten universities in the world regarding environmental sustainability, according to the global GreenMetric ranking. The university's commitment to sustainable development is manifested in the Multicampus Sostenibile (Sustainable Multicampus) project. It consists of multiple initiatives related to reducing consumption of environment and energy, for instance by encouraging public transport and bicycle use. Similarly, Pompeu Fabra University has laid out several specific measures to mitigate the impact of the university’s environmental footprint, encouraging the staff and students to reduce, reuse and recycle. The university is committed to reduce paper consumption, provides sustainably produced vegan and vegetarian meals in its cafeterias, and uses presence detectors and LED lighting, just to mention a few of the actions on how the institution is cutting down its carbon footprint.
Sustainability is an integral part of teaching and research at Radboud University. On 18 November, for instance, the university organises ‘Radboud Impact Day’, a one-day national campaign to encourage students, staff and the wider public to think about their consumption behaviour and how they can influence the future through education and research.
With digital transformation sweeping through the sector, universities’ carbon footprint is also connected to the storage and management of data. For two years in a row, the University of Tartu has participated in the Digital Cleanup Week, aiming to encourage staff to delete unnecessary data from their devices and get rid of external data carriers. During the campaign week this year, the university staff cleaned up 3.1 TB of digital trash which equals 40 million emails on average, resulting in saving about 11.6 tonnes of CO2.
What links these actions is the commitment by universities to lead by example, to address climate change not just through teaching, research and innovation – but also through the commitment of its own communities. For students and staff, addressing climate change is critical not because of the priorities of policy-makers. The science and our shared sense of ethics and responsibility unite us across Europe’s universities that addressing climate change through our own practice is the right thing to do.
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