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Beyond greening universities
  - Comment -
By: Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abd Razak
Source: New Sunday Times - April 13, 2014

WORKING TOGETHER: Education for sustainable development entails active collaborations between tertiary institutions and the community

CAMPUS sustainability got a boost last week when three campuses — Universiti Malaysia Sabah, University of Malaya and Palawan State University of the Philippines — jointly sponsored and co-hosted the 1st Regional Conference on Campus Sustainability in Kota Kinabalu with the support of The Higher Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT).

The theme Building Sustainability Edge through Institutional Strategy was  appropriate given that sustainability is a key concept in embedding programmes to transform universities into  eco-friendly institutions. The conference aimed “to provide a platform and catalyst for finding a long-term solution to environmental problems and the formulation of policies on sustainable development to be enforced on universities and their communities”. Such a platform can lead to new mindsets on  sustainability in line with  various existing networks such as the International Sustainable Campus Network and the Southeast Asian Sustainability Network.

  Indeed, education for sustainable development entails active collaborations between universities and the community to share experiences and learn from each other in making sustainability a reality in everyday life. The fact that the three campuses are able to come together across territories and borders is a good indication of a deeper understanding of sustainability.

The next step is bringing lay communities into the fold because, unlike most tertiary institutions, there are many communities — especially the indigenous ones — that still practise sustainability as part of their lifestyles which are yet to be tapped as knowledge sources as part of mainstream education. This goes beyond just formal learning through prescriptive curriculum, rather it involves learning by doing through continuous community engagement designed on the fly so that it is relevant and fresh.

Sustainability demands different approaches and mindsets that challenge the status quo to make it happen. Universities have to recognise that they face a steeper learning curve vis-à-vis what have been practised by indigenous communities since time immemorial.

 One important “sustainability edge” that must be incorporated into any institutional strategy is the co-creation of knowledge that promotes sustainability practices. The motivation is to (re)learn such practices  to preserve what has been lost as the modern consumerist lifestyle becomes dominant. We need to reinforce the notion that sustainability is not only about meeting the needs of the present generation but also not  compromising that of future generations. Invariably this means behaviourial changes that foster a long-term view to accommodate intergenerational concerns which are often not seriously taken into consideration.

It is not surprising to note that even the country’s 30-year strategic plan — Wawasan 2020 —is ecologically blind since none of its nine challenges focuses on the issues of sustainability. It can be assumed that the course of “development” in the country will be “business as usual” with the imperatives of sustainability as a mere afterthought.

Likewise, the earlier understanding of multiple intelligences was also devoid of  “ecological intelligence”, which was only recently recognised as a vital aspect that should  demand equal attention like kinaesthetic and interpersonal intelligences.  

 The same lacuna exists in most institutional strategies that make no reference to or have any inkling of sustainability. It is also not acceptable to add campus sustainability as “band-aid” for existing institutional strategies. While recycling and greening the campus are laudable, they by themselves are not sustainable if the entire system is predicated on a contrasting philosophy. Therein lies the challenges of transforming the system so that sustainability concepts and practices can nestle comfortably as key initiatives.

We need major policy shifts that put sustainability at the cornerstone. This calls for  enlightened leaders who walk the talk. Sustainability leadership requires risk-taking and being courageous enough to pursue transformational strategies without fear or favour. After all, universities have always been regarded as custodians of future generations by virtue of the fact that education is a lifelong process. A small misstep could spell a prolonged disaster as what we are witnessing today and are desperately looking for solutions now.
The writer was the keynote speaker at the conference.


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