Five ways to promote sustainable development in universities

For our highest educational institutions to create experts that practice and promote sustainability, they should offer a greater amount of sustainable development knowledge and skill training.

Sustainable development should be a way of life that permeates the entire higher education field. Actual steps towards more sustainable universities could comprise of the following:

  1. More sustainable development-related content produced for universities. Sustainable development-related content should also be taken note of in continuing professional education. The concept of sustainable development has already become general knowledge. If not starting in day care, universities should be the ultimate place to tackle sustainable development topics.
  1. Universities should join sustainable development networks. International networks can deploy sustainable development practices to higher education institutions and create interest in them. Networks are a good way to gain practical hints on what has been done around the world to promote sustainable development and how to use those ideas here at home.
  1. Universities should be encouraged to committing to sustainable development. Public commitments create pressure for actual performance and highlight universities' responsible activities.
  1. Sustainable development should be on the agenda of the Ministry of Education and Culture's negotiations on results with universities. If promoting sustainable development is included in the criteria for receiving funding, universities would be more enterprising in promoting sustainable development.
  1. The creation of an environmental management system or programme should be required of Finnish universities. For example, Swedish legislation requires all government authorities, including universities, to have an environmental management system. Finland has a voluntary system, which means measures promoting sustainable development and commitment to those measures vary between universities.

Education has an integral role in promoting sustainable development. Sustainable development topics should, then, be presented in course content in a period-appropriate way. Among others, Swedish KTH Royal Institute of Technology offers their teachers a possibility to take a course on how to include these topics in single courses.

It is also important to ensure that the sustainable development material and courses are made available for everyone. Providing sustainable development courses to a larger audience as online courses or public lectures is also worth it.

Taking sustainable development into account and its promotion is starting to be a significant public image factor for universities. There are more than a few universities that would be happy to declare themselves as models for promoting sustainable development. A real pioneer in promoting sustainable development is, however, going to be the university that can actually prove it. Roll up your sleeves — and get to work. Feel free to contact me!

Further information:

LUT environmental coordinator Essi Römpötti,