13 Dec 2017

Piecing together a strong partnership for sustainability

With a theme of ‘The Sustainability Development Goals’ for the Winter edition of Forum, this issue is simultaneously intimidating and inspiring. The current state of our society, our consumption and our climate are all at risk. At the same time, much is already being done to improve the wellbeing of humankind as well as earth’s resources. As Forum Editor Laura Rumbley shared on yesterday’s blog, partnerships from all over Europe – and beyond – shared their initiatives for creating a more sustainable future. Today’s post highlights one of those mentioned: the U4 network.
 
The U4 network, founded in 2008, consists of four comprehensive European universities with similar profiles and of similar size:  Ghent University, the University of Groningen, the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University. All universities involved have an international reputation of excellence and share a history of cooperation, which has culminated in the U4 partnership. As a strategic network, U4 thus already embraces one of the 17 SDGs: forming strong partnerships to achieve common sustainable goals.
 
As research-intensive universities, all U4 universities already engage in international research projects which aim to contribute to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as stipulated by the UN in their 2030 Agenda, varying from the abolishment of poverty and hunger, to quality education as well as responsible consumption and production, to name but a few.

U4’s vision

Sustainability, comprising environmental, ecological and social sustainability, is one of the major concerns of the U4 network. Functioning as a living lab, U4 fosters sustainability in a reasonable and efficient manner. Using a Frontrunner Approach as a tool to capitalise on each other’s experiences, ongoing projects include working towards greater sustainability at the universities’ campuses. This approach is based on a best practice method, where comparing experiences from different projects and different ideas may lead to adopting new sustainability strategies for ongoing or planned projects.
 
Knowledge transfer is an important part of the U4 strategy: providing mutual support on policy decisions as well as evaluating each university’s sustainability ideas are core characteristics of the network. However, the network believes that sustainability can only be fully implemented if its messages are heard and acted upon. Therefore, the partners are committed to sharing their sustainability efforts and goals with all members of society, and with other academic institutions.
 
Moreover, the network champions new research and teaching-models at universities, focusing on sustainability in all disciplines, encompassing students as well as professors and staff members. This measure, therefore, raises awareness about the importance of sustainability in daily life. The universities also implement sustainable approaches in their own working environment, for instance adopting social hiring schemes.

Working towards a more sustainable environment

In order to contribute to the SDGs, interdisciplinary collaboration is highly important. Strategic networks, such as U4, are beneficial to fostering approaches to a more sustainable academic environment by offering a platform to join forces on projects encouraging a more sustainable use of resources. Different universities have the chance to work closely together, building networks between students and professors, which enables them to capitalise on synergistic effects in order to fulfil the SDGs.
 
Every U4 university is committed to implementing their own sustainability strategy, which specifies each university’s support of the respective sustainability goals. Over and above this, U4 intends to create an overarching joint declaration on sustainability advocating support for the individual sustainability measures, and in which the importance of the SDGs is highlighted. As a result, the individual universities assist each other in their respective endeavours concerning sustainable projects and development.
 
U4 recognises that it is also imperative to include students and other members of society in working towards more sustainability: this will raise awareness of, and lead to implementing specific projects concerning the SDGs. Motivation to contribute to the fulfilment of the SDGs is another important factor, without which the SDGs cannot be accomplished. It is vital to inspire young people to take concrete action. Universities, given their efforts to foster knowledge, represent a perfect environment to provide young inspired students and researchers with the freedom to think and experiment.

Frontrunner ideas

The individual universities are working towards a peer-reviewed joint roadmap, which will advocate an approach how to realise institutional sustainability measures, and the 17 SDGs. Implementing a frontrunner approach is important in this regard. ‘Green Offices’ have already been established by Ghent University and the University of Groningen, and the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University have adopted the idea of institutionalising ‘Green Offices’. These ‘Green Offices’ are now working to centralise the many diverse efforts and measures targeting sustainability in research, teaching, governance, university and purchasing management, as well as the university community.
 
The University of Groningen wishes to implement a Centre for Sustainable Education, inspired by the Studium Oecologicum, an interdisciplinary programme awarding a certificate in sustainability, at the University of Göttingen and the Centre of Environment and Development Studies at Uppsala University. The University of Göttingen has already carried out a highly successful international conference series on peace and sustainability, and intends to involve the U4 partners in planning and participating in upcoming conferences.
 
It is further hoped that the University of Göttingen, through its projects geared towards a more sustainable environment, for example in examining the possible use of deep geothermal energy as a way of supplying the whole campus with renewable energy in a more efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable energy supply, will act as a role model or inspiration for other institutions. Further to the successful implementation of this initiative, other universities will have the option to appraise their respective possibilities concerning green energy and compare measures for action.

Partnerships for the goals

Strategic networks such as U4 foster and contribute to the 17 SDGs by offering a platform to share expertise and communicate with the community more efficiently, and by broadcasting feasible ideas developed by different academic sources. In order to fulfil the SDGs by 2030, all members of society have to work hand in hand to ensure a sustainable future. A living lab in academia, such as U4, can show different approaches to sustainability and inspire others to join and create their own ideas. And it is in this vein that we propose to continue a collaborative venture towards safeguarding sustainability.
 
Marco is Coordinator of Sustainability U4 Network and Philippa is Coordinator of Partner Projects at the same institution. Anja Metz and Dennis Dellschow, graduate students from Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, also contributed to this piece. 
 
It is Forum Week on the EAIE blog, where we post articles not included in the magazine. Be sure to check in the rest of the week for more great content on the Sustainable Development Goals. Download your magazine now and be on the lookout for your printed copy in the mail soon. Not yet a member but want to see what the magazine is all about? Download the editor’s pick then join us today!