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Making Learning Institutions in Africa More Sustainable

13 Nov 2023

Sustainable operations are beneficial to the environment, education of students’ generation, attraction of environmentally conscious applicants, and savings in the long term.

The sustainability question, as it were, has become one that organization of all types needs to concern itself with. 

This presents itself as a unique opportunity and obligation for learning-oriented institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities to show and train in sustainability practices among their learning student base. 

Sustainable operations are beneficial to the environment, education of students’ generation, attraction of environmentally conscious applicants, and savings in the long term.

Sustainability in learning institutions.

Sustainability in learning institutions.
Sustainability in learning institutions.

There are several key reasons why learning institutions should prioritize sustainability:

Environmental Stewardship

Many environmental impacts are connected to educational institutions such as energy and water consumption, transport systems, food service, and waste among others. Hence, schools and campuses can significantly contribute to global warming through the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. 

Graduates with teaching backgrounds regarding sustainable development are also trained to ensure they incorporate environmental awareness in their future fields of practice. Financial Savings

There are many sustainable solutions as mentioned above such as energy efficiency, proper water conservation and management, and reduced wastage of resources among others that lead to long-term financial savings after the initial investment. This will enable learning institutions to save costs and possibly reinvest them in sustainability or other education activities.

Attracting Students and Faculty

Students seeking institutions in which to enroll as well as potential faculty tend to take into account issues to do with an institution’s environmental commitment or sustainability tract record. Significant sustainability programs can give a competitive advantage to learning institutions to enroll leading students who appreciate environmental care.

Learning Opportunities

Fields such as environmental science, public policy, business, and engineering among others have real-world learning possibilities in sustainability initiatives for students. The development of useful skills among students comes as a result of hands-on learning through sustainability projects.

Key Areas for Improvement

Key Areas for Improvement
Key Areas for Improvement

There are several areas that learning institutions could use in assessing how they can make their operations sustainable in a bid to enhance sustainability. Here are some of the key areas where schools, colleges, and universities should focus their efforts:

Energy Use and Efficiency

From heating and cooling buildings to powering labs and data centers, campuses use a lot of energy. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings through upgrades like insulation, lighting, HVAC systems, and smart sensors can significantly reduce energy demand. Switching to renewable energy sources like solar power also decreases reliance on fossil fuels.

Water Conservation

Campuses use extensive amounts of water for uses like restrooms, dining halls, housing, landscaping, and research. Installation of low-flow fixtures, efficient irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and changes in water-intensive research can promote substantial water savings.

Waste Reduction and Recycling

Schools generate a lot of waste from paper, food, electronics, lab materials, and more. Enhanced recycling programs, composting of food waste, moving to paperless systems, and reducing waste at the source are strategies institutions can use to minimize waste.

Sustainable Transportation

Commuting students, faculty, and staff can significantly contribute to a campus's carbon footprint. Promoting public transit use, implementing campus shuttles, installing EV charging stations, creating bike infrastructure, and locating housing near campus help lower transportation emissions.

Sustainable Procurement

Schools make extensive purchases for supplies, equipment, food, and services. Adopting procurement policies that take sustainability into account encourages vendors to offer greener choices that minimize lifecycle impacts.

Green Building Standards

Constructing new buildings to meet sustainability standards like LEED certification or pursuing retrofits to improve existing buildings creates high-efficiency facilities. Features like smart lighting, optimized HVAC, automated shading, and passive solar design drastically reduce energy use.

Initiatives for Learning Institutions to Become More Sustainable

Initiatives for Learning Institutions to Become More Sustainable
Initiatives for Learning Institutions to Become More Sustainable

Here are some specific initiatives that learning institutions should consider implementing to build comprehensive sustainability programs:

Create a Sustainability Plan

Develop a sustainability plan that establishes goals, targets, strategies, and timelines across sustainability focus areas like energy, water, waste, transportation, etc. Plans help coordinate initiatives and measure progress over time. Plans should be updated periodically to expand efforts.

Green Energy Purchase and Generation

Purchase renewable energy through utility providers or install on-site renewable generation like solar panels to supply clean electricity. Purchasing carbon offsets for unavoidable emissions can also negate environmental impacts.

Green Labs and Research

Develop guidelines and best practices for labs, IT centers, and other research facilities to integrate sustainability into their operations, from energy use to material sourcing and disposal.

Sustainable and Local Dining

Provide healthy, sustainable food options in dining halls and campus restaurants. Prioritize locally sourced food, plant-based choices, fair trade, and organic ingredients while minimizing waste through trayless dining and food donation.

Green Student Housing

Construct and operate student residences according to leading sustainability criteria for factors like energy, water, materials, and indoor environmental quality. Pursue green certification for housing.

Sustainability Education and Research

Offer degree programs, individual courses, and research opportunities focused on sustainability across fields to equip students to solve real-world environmental and social issues.

Campus Sustainability Department

Create a dedicated department tasked with directing sustainability programs with roles like a Chief Sustainability Officer and student internships. Departments oversee progress and expand initiatives.

Student Sustainability Programs

Support student clubs, initiatives, and activities focused on sustainability through funding or other resources. Encourage students to take peer-to-peer sustainability actions like move-out waste drives and sustainable living education.

Benefits of Becoming a Sustainable Learning Institution

Benefits of Becoming a Sustainable Learning Institution
Benefits of Becoming a Sustainable Learning Institution

Pursuing comprehensive sustainability programs provides learning institutions with many educational, environmental, financial, and community benefits:

  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions and environmental footprint.

  • Cuts costs for energy, water, and waste disposal over time.

  • Incorporates sustainability into curriculum and research.

  • Produces sustainability-competent graduates.

  • Attracts students and faculty interested in the environment.

  • Enhances the institution’s community engagement.

  • Aligns operations with organizational values.

  • Improves health through sustainable food and transportation.

  • Creates collaborative learning opportunities.

  • Positions school as a sustainability leader.

The importance of sustainable development will only grow moving forward. By taking steps now to deeply integrate sustainability principles into their campuses and culture, forward-thinking learning institutions can lead by example and maximize benefits for the environment, their students, and communities.

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