The People-Environment Research Group organises the Seminar “Universities in transition to sustainability”.

On the 4th of last June, the University of Corunna hosted a seminar to discuss the possibilities for sustainability to be assumed as a central axis by universities and other institutions, also identifying barriers and ways for promoting it. The event, which brought together more than a half hundred people from various environments, such as the academia, trade unions, student body and green consultancy, was organized by the People-Environment Group and presented as an opportunity for an open dialogue between the researchers, civil society and high-profile staff from the academia, with the aim of increasing the effectiveness of environmental policies.

There was a general consensus in agreement with the outcomes of the LOCAW project that universities are still far from being examples of maintenance of high sustainability. Despite some action being taken to improve energy efficiency, fostering low impact mobility and promoting paper recycling, there still is a great potential for reducing the environmental impact and carbon emissions caused by universities. Starting with the analysis of how high levels of social desirability regarding the pro-environmental values are not yet being transformed either to major behaviour changes or to a stable criterion for assessing internal decisions, the session was further focused on identifying the causes of current situation, discussing possible solutions and drawing up recommendations for practical interventions.

The main barriers to implementing sustainability plans were identified as the shortage of material resources due to the budget cuts as well as lack of comprehensive measures and coordination among Departments and Centers. In addition, there are problems related to the current infrastructure in the UDC that depend on external factors. Also, the chances for promoting inclusion of environmental studies within the study programs offered at UDC are limited. The energy dependency issue and the fact that work places in Spain are not formally recognized as suitable for environmental action were also highlighted and defined as obstacles in the process of creating green workplaces. Finally, focusing on mobility and waste management was suggested as the main future direction for UDC.

The recommendations that were made had a strong emphasis on the need to promote bottom-up processes in decision making within the University by encouraging the sharing of responsibility, co-producing knowledge and increasing involvement, trust and receptiveness. When discussing communication, it was suggested that the information within the educational community should be arranged in a more direct way than it is now and avoiding saturation. The importance of monitoring these changes was emphasized and the means that were mentioned included distinguishing systems and designing analyses that are more advanced than the single economic cost-benefit reasoning as well as defining new social typologies based on lifestyles.

In conclusion, the work of People-Environment Group within the field of Social Sciences suggested that in order to introduce successful interventions, there is a great need for understanding the way social norms influence behavior changes. The discussions showed that analyzing various concepts, which result from interaction processes and from different disciplines, can help us to better understand the issues and design solutions for overcoming the barriers to progressing towards transformative social innovation, which is an area universities should pioneer.

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