What is a green university?

A green university is an educational institution that meets its need for natural resources – such as energy, water, and materials – without compromising the ability of people in other countries as well as future generations to meet their own needs. In this blogpost you will learn what a green university is and why it’s important.

Green university definition

Global warming, biodiversity loss, or plastic pollution in the ocean are global environmental problems that threaten life on planet earth. Already today, these challenges negatively impact agriculture through loss of pollinating bees, water safety through droughts and human health through micro-plastics in food.
As an institution of research and learning, your university can play an important role to help us address these problems. This is why it’s important that it becomes a green university.

A green university is an educational institution that meets its need for natural resources, such as energy, water, and materials, without compromising the ability of people in other countries as well as future generations to meet their own needs.

This definition requires your university to strive towards the following goals:

  • All students get in touch with sustainability topics through their studies or extra-curricular activities;
  • Zero CO2 emissions by purchasing renewable energy, promoting public transport or insulating buildings;
  • Zero waste by maximising recycling, composting leftover food, reusing water, or purchasing cradle-to-cradle products;
  • Maximum biodiversity by purchasing organic food, creating campus gardens or banning toxic chemicals.
Waste recycling is part of being a green university

Waste recycling is part of being a green university

How green is your university?

Your university uses energy to heat buildings, as well as power computers and lights. What are the environmental impacts of your university’s energy consumption? If the energy is generated from fossil fuels, then CO2 emissions pollute the atmosphere and lead to global warming.

Your university also buys food to serve in dining halls. What food is being served? Where does it come from? Cheap meat and dairy products contribute to animal cruelty. Coffee and tea companies that exploit farmers lead to poverty.

Your university also needs a lot of cement, wood, concrete, bricks, metals or glass to construct libraries, teaching rooms, and laboratories. What’s the environmental footprint of building, renovating, maintaining or demolishing all these buildings? Cement production is one of the most CO2 intensive industries worldwide. Wood production can contribute to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.

It’s about time that you start asking these questions!

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6 arguments for a green university

  • Social responsibility: Your university plays an important role to educate future leaders and find answers to societal questions through research. Since global environmental problems are among the key, long-term threats to life on earth, your university has a social responsibility to help society address those.
  • Student demand: As the Fridays for Futures climate strikes illustrate, more and more young people want society to address global environmental problems. Many of these youth will choose a university at one point. The sustainability of the university itself and sustainability-focused study offerings will influence their choice of study. (Furthermore, if your university won’t do enough on sustainability by itself, it’s likely that these students will mobilise their activist spirit to make sure it does.)
  • Don’t fall behind: A couple of years ago, only a few institutions cared about becoming a green institutions. Back then, the benefit was to become a sustainability leader. Today, as more and more universities act on sustainability, your university runs the risk of falling behind. The legal and societal pressure on sustainability laggards is likely to increase.
  • Cost savings: Your university can save money by reducing its resource consumption. Already simple measures like switching off lights overnight, reducing the brightness of computer screens, or shutting buildings down during the weekend and vacation can lead to energy savings.
  • Educational innovation: A green university leverages sustainability topics and sustainable education methods to make education more learner-centred, problem-based, and praxis-oriented. In this sense, education for sustainable development becomes a great way to prepare students for 21st-century jobs in the knowledge economy in general; in addition to allowing them to become sustainability leaders.
  • Income generation: As the importance of sustainability increases, so does the funding that’s available for it. Your university can benefit by doing paid-research for companies, writing funding applications for public grants or starting new sustainability degrees that attract more paying students.
More youth participate in climate strikes, also demanding that their educational institutions become more sustainable

More youth join climate strikes

Learn more or take action!

You, as well as your friends and colleagues, can do many things to create a greener university.

Students can take many actions to realise a green university

Students can take many actions to realise a green university

Photos by VUB Brussels Green Team, Ghent University and Leiden University

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