Date: 26th June 2012
In an exclusive interview the executive coordinator of the Rio+20 conference on global sustainability, Elizabeth Thompson, told University World News why higher education is key to the international strategy she hopes will flow from agreements made at the event.
“Education is transformative. We must build learning societies around the concept of sustainable development and get people to transition from the brown economy to the green economy. And to change their practices and attitudes – that can only happen through education, both formal and informal.”
Speaking between events at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, nicknamed Rio+20, Thompson said the event’s higher education sustainability initiative was “a political step in the education effort”.
Targeted at universities and businesses schools, it has certain basic elements and strategies such as “to get universities and business schools to shrink their ecological footprint by greening their campuses, their buildings, developing strategies around water, energy, and waste management".
Also, the initiative aims to have institutions “greening their procurement and supply chains, not only for themselves but as an influence on the local economies where they are located; developing a body of literature information and research around sustainable development and green economy and sustainability issues”.
The initiative, according to Thompson, also focuses on “developing a body of case studies for the business sector and teaching sustainable development in the university and business school system across all disciplines, so that every graduate understands what sustainable development means in terms of their area of enterprise and activity – so that you build practitioners of sustainability".
Thompson said about 200 universities from 50 countries had already signed up to the initiative “and every day more and more universities are just buying into the concept and really giving it very good support and it has many endorsers across the UN system and beyond”.
Looking at the of the text of the conference declaration, The Future We Want, Thompson pointed out that language supporting the higher education sustainability initiative was in paragraphs 233, 234 and 235.
233. We resolve to promote education for sustainable development and to integrate sustainable development more actively into education beyond the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.
234. We strongly encourage educational institutions to consider adopting good practices in sustainability management on their campuses and in their communities with the active participation of, inter alia, students, teachers and local partners, and teaching sustainable development as an integrated component across disciplines.
235. We underscore the importance of supporting educational institutions, especially higher educational institutions in developing countries, to carry out research and innovation for sustainable development, including in the field of education, to develop quality and innovative programmes, including entrepreneurship and business skills training, professional, technical and vocational training and lifelong learning, geared to bridging skills gaps for advancing national sustainable development objectives.
“Education is therefore is one of the critical issues addressed in the text, both formal and informal education.”