Student - March 26, 2009

‘GREENING THE IVORY TOWER STARTS IN THE CLASSROOM’

The new Radix building is – if the sunblinds are down – unmistakably the greenest building at Wageningen UR. But that is not what greening the ivory tower is all about: sustainability is not just a question of green wrapping. ‘Not green on the outside, but green on the inside’, says British Professor Daniella Tilbury.

Sunblinds down on Radix.
And she should know. Tilbury comes from the University of Gloucestershire (UoG), the most sustainable higher education institution in Great Britain. On Thursday 19 March, Tilbury was at the Forum as the guest of honour at the symposium on greening the ivory tower organized by the student club Morgen.
Tilbury says sustainability is in the DNA of UoG. This shows in, for example, Fair Trade articles in the campus canteens and shops, bicycles that students can borrow to get around campus, and groups of students doing eco-gardening. And if you are on the campus, don’t be surprised if an Eco Power Ranger jumps out in front of you to tell you how you can live more sustainably. These are students who have formed a sort of evangelism team to spread the eco gospel.
But where do you start if you are not the UoG? With yourself, says Cees Anton De Vries, founder of the RnR Group that advises companies on sustainable entrepreneurship. ‘Take initiatives. Make it personal’, he urged the symposium audience. ‘It’s not that difficult. Go up to the boss, for example, and ask why he doesn’t drive a hybrid car. Stop saying it’s difficult. Do something beautiful. Be daring. You don’t need a lot of people for that.’
There are certainly plenty of nice ideas. Morgen secretary Anna Harnmeijer put together a sort of recipe book for the symposium, with fourteen innovations in it. For example: an installation to make biodiesel out of all the used frying oil in the canteen. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston wants to run the campus shuttle bus sustainably on such diesel.
But for real change, what you need above all is a new kind of education, thinks Wageningen’s Dr. Arjen Wals of Education and competence studies. Wals calls his approach to translating sustainability into learning processes ‘deep learning’: ‘starting from existential sustainability questions and making use of the diversity that is naturally present among your students.’ In his class, Wals gets students to ‘deconstruct’ a McDonald’s Happy Meal, for example. ‘One group gets the hamburger, another the fries, a third the toy, and so on. Then you get them to find out what is in it and where it comes from. Through the diversity in the group you get a mass of information.’
Wals says that deep learning aims to develop students’ competencies in four areas. They need to learn to think across cultures, across disciplines, in time and in space. ‘That is how you translate sustainability into learning processes. Like this you take sustainability a lot further than just greening the outside of the ivory tower.’

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