Universities have a binding, moral obligation to ensure that their graduates not only understand the dynamics of climate change but also are capable of dealing with its challenges, said eminent environmentalist and writer Jonathon Porritt CBE at an event on 13 October 2015 hosted by London South Bank University (LSBU).
The event, titled ‘Higher Education No Longer Needs to Protect the Environment’, started with an introduction by Professor Patrick Bailey, Deputy Vice Chancellor LSBU.
Jonathon Porritt started with a spiritual tone, referring to recent Pope Francis statement on the importance of nature. Before moving to sustainability in higher education, he talked about a range of environmental and sustainability issues in the wider world.
His commentary was followed by a Q&A session, run by Professor Bailey and Andrea Smith, Ethical and Environmental Officer of the student union. The evening of discussion came to an end with a networking session with refreshments.
The write-up below has been crafted using what Jonathon Porritt and Professor Bailey said in the event.
Jonathon Porritt is Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, Chancellor of Keele University, former Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission and former Director of Friends of the Earth.
Before joining LSBU as Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Bailey was Pro Vice Chancellor Environment and Sustainability at Keele University and received the Leadership Award in Green Gown Awards 2014.
We should get students excited about green innovation, says Jonathon Porritt
Over the last several decades, the environment agenda has moved from a minority fringe to a majority viewpoint. However, what we can see today is all key global environmental indicators going in the wrong direction. Moreover, climate change, which is the most formidable challenge, overshadows other critical environmental issues, such as air pollution and ocean acidification.
A reason for our failure in the environmental front is how we see nature. Nature has intrinsic rights regardless of its value to human beings but we continue to look at it through a utilitarian lens.
We in the West don’t usually ask deep, philosophical questions about nature but non-western cultures, particularly indigenous communities, have developed a deeper understanding of the human-nature relationship over generations. For example, drawing from his cultural thought, Bolivian president has called for an International Court of Climate Justice and Mother Earth in the run up to the Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris later this year.
Another reason for our failure is that no one in the UK knows how to do politics without economic growth; even Green Party is struggling here.
However, there are rays of hope, at least outside the UK. For instance, we can see an incredible surge of renewable innovation around the world, especially in Africa, South America, the Middle East and South Asia. This renewable energy revolution is unstoppable although unfortunately Britain seems to be heading backwards.
Moreover, we can be somewhat optimistic about COP21 Paris, particularly because two big players – the US and China – are stitching things up for good.
Turning to sustainability in higher education, universities have a binding, moral obligation to ensure that their graduates understand climate change and that they are capable of dealing with its challenges.
How are UK universities doing? Most are doing well in Estates and in their respective local communities. However, their performance is not equally satisfactory in their core business, i.e. Teaching and Research.
One reason is that universities are odd organisms. In a company, when CEO embraces sustainability, he or she can use their influence to get all aboard. In a university, however, although the vice chancellor looks equivalent to the CEO in a company, he or she would not be able to use the normal levers to drive the sustainability agenda in their institution. In universities, the command and control approach simply would not work and innovation is the way forward.
What can universities do? There are many opportunities to engage the university community with sustainability, particularly students. For instance, induction can be used to engage the news students with the environment agenda. Another is getting students excited about green innovation.
However, universities should first act as good examples. That’s why divestment (i.e. getting investment out of fossil fuels) is so important. Stepping beyond that, as the National Union of Students (NUS) advocates, what should follow divestment is socially responsible investment in, say renewable energy. Here, a wonderful motivator for universities is RE100, which is a global initiative that engages, supports and showcases influential companies committed to using 100% renewable power. In short, divest from bad stuff and invest in good stuff.
Sustainability can be built into any subject, says Professor Bailey
Having started at LSBU last year, I am initially engaged in somewhat ‘superficial’ projects, still signposting the way. Those who come to our university should get a sense that we are taking care of what is around us.
On making a university more sustainable, my advice is, start doing things that are relevant to different parts of the university instead of going for one big drive for making the university more sustainable. Three to four projects a year would be good.
Embedding sustainability in the curriculum is much more challenging but is possible because sustainability can be built into any subject. However, it is a long term project.
A university is a community, mainly comprising students and staff. So our students are not our customers. Finding the right ways to engage the student body with sustainability is critical for making a university more sustainable.
Note: Photographs by Asitha Jayawardena.
News post on LSBU website http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/about-us/news/higher-education-no-longer-needs-to-protect-the-environment
LSBU to host Jonathon Porritt lecture | ‘Higher Education No Longer Needs to Protect the Environment’ | #PorrittAtLSBU https://sunewsinfo.wordpress.com/2015/09/24/lsbu-to-host-jonathon-porritt-lecture-higher-education-no-longer-needs-to-protect-the-environment/
Jonathon Porritt | website http://www.jonathonporritt.com/, twitter @jonathonporritt
Forum for the Future https://www.forumforthefuture.org/
UK Sustainable Development Commission (archive site) http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/
London South Bank University (LSBU):
• Sustainability https://www.lsbu.ac.uk/about-us/sustainability
• Education for Sustainability MSc / PgDip https://www.lsbu.ac.uk/courses/course-finder/education-sustainability-msc
• Green Keele https://www.keele.ac.uk/greenkeele/
• Sustainability Hub https://www.keele.ac.uk/keelehub/
• Education for Sustainability https://www.keele.ac.uk/greenkeele/educationforsustainability/
Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en | #COP21
RE100 http://there100.org/ | @theRE100
Jonathon Porritt book | The World We Made http://uk.phaidon.com/store/general-non-fiction/my-world-your-future-9780714863610/
From The Sustainable University Library
Posts on The Sustainable University Library, tagged
• LSBU https://librarysu.wordpress.com/tag/lsbu/
• Keele https://librarysu.wordpress.com/tag/keele/
• ESD https://librarysu.wordpress.com/tag/esd-education-for-sd/
• Sustainable University https://librarysu.wordpress.com/tag/sustainable-university/
Sustainability in UK higher education | Ten great moments in 2014 https://librarysu.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/sustainability-in-uk-higher-education-ten-great-moments-in-2014/
LSBU MSc in Education for Sustainability | How it enriched my perspective
Education for Sustainability MSc at LSBU | A pioneer that brings together environment, development and education https://librarysu.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/education-for-sustainability-msc-at-lsbu-a-pioneer-that-brings-together-environment-development-and-education/
A PBL toolkit for Sustainability Education | A Keele-Manchester-Staffordshire collaboration https://librarysu.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/a-pbl-toolkit-for-sustainability-education-a-keele-manchester-staffordshire-collaboration/
UNEP Greening Universities Toolkit | A global resource for advancing green and sustainable campuses https://librarysu.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/unep-greening-universities-toolkit-a-global-resource-for-advancing-green-and-sustainable-campuses/
From The Sustainable University News website
ESD London Conference | Sustainability is a core theme in higher education today and will remain so tomorrow, says VC LSBU https://sunewsinfo.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/esd-london-conference-sustainability-is-a-core-theme-in-higher-education-today-and-will-remain-so-tomorrow-says-vc-lsbu/
Green Gown Awards 2014 | Leadership award to Professor Bailey; three awards to Plymouth https://sunewsinfo.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/green-gown-awards-2014-leadership-award-to-professor-bailey-three-awards-to-plymouth/
New TOOLKIT: Problem-Based Learning: A Case Study of Sustainability Education https://sunewsinfo.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/new-toolkit-problem-based-learning-a-case-study-of-sustainability-education/
Delivering ESD and graduate attributes through Hybrid Problem-Based Learning https://sunewsinfo.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/delivering-esd-and-graduate-attributes-through-hybrid-problem-based-learning/
Formally launched! QAA-HEA ESD Guidance for UK higher education providers
HEFCE wants Sustainable Development (SD) to be central to HE, says new SD framework will influence future funding https://sunewsinfo.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/hefce-wants-sustainable-development-sd-to-be-central-to-he-says-new-sd-framework-will-influence-future-funding/
The Sustainable University One-stop Shop | http://www.sustainableuni.kk5.org/
Sustainable University News & Info http://www.sunewsinfo.wordpress.com
Sustainable University Library https://librarysu.wordpress.com
ESD Group on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Sustainability-Education-Engagement-ESD-Planetshire-8102240
Asitha on LinkedIn | http://uk.linkedin.com/in/asithaj/