Universities pursue green built environment practices

Universities as institutions of learning, research and engagement are strategically placed to drive sustainability issues through the evolution of green campuses and the adoption of sustainable built environment practices.

As such, educational buildings on university campuses can play a part in reducing institutions’ environmental impact, including carbon emissions.

According to the World Green Building Council, ‘buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions: 28% from operational emissions, from energy needed to heat, cool and power them, and the remaining 11% from materials and construction.”

Sustainable built environment, therefore, seeks to improve and protect the natural environment and is instrumental in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as in tackling the climate crisis by eliminating negative impacts emanating from design, construction and operation.

Professor Nicolaas Esterhuysen, the director of University Estates Engineering at the University of the Free State (UFS), South Africa, which is doing ongoing work in the field, said sustainable buildings align with the SDGs, notably promoting clean energy (SDG7), innovative infrastructure (SDG9), responsible consumption (SDG12), and partnerships (SDG17). They also support the African Union Agenda 2063’s aspirations for prosperity, resilience, cultural identity, social inclusivity, and global leadership.

There is a lack of funding to pursue green activities and projects, a lack of indicators to measure sustainability and sustainable buildings, a lack of construction standards and control from local authorities to ensure quality and safety, and a lack of supporting data on sustainable campuses due to limited research in the area.

In addition, there is limited knowledge and awareness among staff, students and local communities about sustainability and a lack of motivation from universities to encourage sustainability education and activities.

However, Esterhuysen pointed out that opportunities lie in leveraging solar energy, water-saving technologies, local materials, research benefits, partnerships and long-term savings.

A few universities have done so and have been successful in creating campuses that support the SDGs. In addition to the UFS, Strathmore University and Karatina University in Kenya have also been promoting green buildings.

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