“We need a far-reaching change in values in society, and here universities and colleges need to rethink their position and take active social responsibility to a higher extent,” says Stehpen Barthel, environmental researcher at the University of Gävle.
Stephan Barthel says that people and animal depend on nature’s ecosystem in many different ways. Trees and plants produce the oxygen that we breathe, and pollinated insects indirectly give us our food, and so on. This perspective can be summarised in the concept of ecosystem services.
“We need a high degree of biodiversity, because it makes our society stronger and more resilient when facing climate change,” Stehpen Barthel says.
Campuses as positive examples
Researchers Stephan Barthel and Johan Colding underline that higher education institutions, because of their mandate and power in society regarding advanced learning, should take a special responsibility for new thinking for a more sustainable world.
“Campuses should become used in new ways and in this manner, they could become positive examples and powerful engines of change for a sustainable society,” Stephan says.
Students as agents of change.
The researchers give us a few practical examples:
- Create easy accessible spaces and natural areas for increased biodiversity on campus and encourage citizens to take part in the development and preservation of these.
- Conceive of students as co-creators of knowledge and places, while being agents for change for a sustainable society.
- Follow up the results of the ecologic design on each campus to enable students to document and monitor change every year when it comes changes in biodiversity over time.
- Create an international ranking system for innovative examples at sustainable campuses, which for example compare use of climate-smart technologies, biodiversity, urban agriculture and sustainable consumption
- Promote gardening and hold farmers’ markets on campus for local farmers. Here non-governmental organisations like allotment societies or transition networks may play a key role in supporting projects for change in partnerships with universities.
- If there is no suitable campus land, students should be engaged in active ecosystem stewardship of natural areas close to campus, or in creating and experimenting with energy saving innovations.
- Assess the natural environment close to campus and inform staff, students and the local community about its ecological strength and shortcomings.
- Combine the ideas listed above with measures aimed at increasing access to higher education for economically and socially disadvantaged groups in society.
“The transition to a sustainable society must be supported by norms and behaviours which promote the global ecological system with all its living creatures. We want to show how higher education institutions can contribute by reconnecting people to the biosphere through this kind of thinking,” Stephan Barthel says.
For more information, please contact:
Stephan Barthel, reader in geospatial information science, University of Gävle.
Phone: 076-360 57 05
Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Foto: Barthel, S., Colding, J., Ernstson, H., Erixon, H., Grahn, S., Kärsten, C., Marcus, L., Torsvall, J. (2013). Principles of Social-Ecological Urbanism - Case Study: Albano Campus, Stockholm. TRITA-ARK Forskningspublikationer 2013:3, Stockholm.
Education and Research at a Scenic Campus.
The University of Gävle has approximately 17 000 students, more than 50 study programmes and second-cycle programmes, about 1 000 courses in humanities, social and natural sciences and technology.
Built Environment and Health-promoting Working Life are the general research profiles of the higher education institution. Important parts included are Spatial Planning with a specialisation in Sustainable Built Environment and Musculoskeletal Disorders with the purpose to prevent work-related injuries. In 2010, the higher education institution received permission to carry out third-cycle programmes in the profile area of Built Environment.
The higher education institution has applied for permission to carry out third-cycle programmes in technology, humanities and social sciences.