As a result of its own actions, humanity is facing enormous challenges. Declining biodiversity, increasing inequality and climate change are global changes that require action both locally and worldwide. Universities* play a key role in combatting and solving climate change and other crises, creating the required expertise and fostering a safe and stable society.
The time for rhetoric is over. We need to move from words to action.
UNIFI’s theses on sustainable development and responsibility are 12 in total and they have been divided under five different themes. In addition to the universities’ basic tasks (research, teaching and societal interaction), the theses cover (campus) activities and the preconditions for the universities’ operation more widely. The nature of the preconditions for operation is such that they create the framework for the other theses.
Theses 1-11 have been intended as drivers of the activities especially for the universities themselves. Thesis 12, on the other hand, challenges universities to operate more sustainably and responsibly by focusing on the parties influencing them (e.g. providers of funding) and the national evaluation models.
Examples of necessary, concrete measures have been compiled under each thesis. The lists of examples are not exhaustive. Instead, they introduce the key measures that universities must take without delay. It is likely that the universities will rely on their strengths and special features and implement the measures in a different order. This makes mutual encouragement and different profiles as pioneers possible. The effectiveness of the measures, transparency and the sharing of good practices openly are the key.
Sustainable and responsible research
1. Research activities are aimed at solving great sustainability challenges.
2. Attention is paid to sustainability and responsiblity in the assessment and funding of research projects.
3. Universities support an interdisciplinary approach, the principles of open science and a multifaceted global perspective in finding solutions to sustainability challenges.
Teaching promoting sustainable development
4. Studies in sustainable development are part of all degrees and the continuous learning offered.
5. Universities promote the accessibility of higher education and a safe research and teaching environment.
Universities’ own functions and administration create a responsible and sustainable world
6. Universities’ management, administration and campus activities are in line with the sustainable development goals.
7. Universities follow the principles of a carbon neutral circular economy in their activities and take concrete measures to foster biodiversity.
8. Universities work actively to promote equality, equity and well-being.
Societal impact and cooperation as drivers of change
9. Universities are bold, committed and responsible partners that act and exert influence at both national and international levels.
10. Universities share sustainable and responsible practices openly and actively and develop them together.
The preconditions for responsibility and sustainable development are created in cooperation
11. Universities integrate sustainability and responsibility work in their strategy and allocate more resources and monitoring tools to it.
12. Sustainable development and responsiblity are strongly visible in the national funding model, evaluation and auditing of universities.
Conclusion: practical implementation of the theses
Bringing the above-mentioned theses into the societal debate and introducing them into practice requires cooperation between the entire academic community. Now is the perfect time for universities to set their strategic sustainability goals high and ensure sufficient resources and competence for the implementation of their strategies.
Universities have not only a huge opportunity but also an obligation to lead the change in our society.
The cross-cutting nature and diversity of the sustainability goals offer each member of the university community a number of opportunities to engage in active influencing, debate and taking action. A multi-voiced and participatory dialogue is the first step to introducing these theses into practice.
We expect the theses to widely lay the basis for the debate in the rectorates, boards and management teams of universities, in faculty, research and education committees, occupational safety committees, student unions and property companies as well as for discussions with other key partners.
You can be the one to start the discussion in your community. Start by sharing your favourite thesis, development proposal or a good example of how the theses can be promoted under the hashtag #UnifiKekeTeesit in the social media.
Together we will be a larger actor and influencer in sustainable development than our size would merit.