Green universities as catalysts for transitioning to a sustainable green economy: a bottom-up approach

Ali E.B., Anufriev V.P., Starodubets N.V.

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Вопросы инновационной экономики (РИНЦ, ВАК)
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Том 14, Номер 3 (Июль-сентябрь 2024)

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Ali E.B., Anufriev V.P., Starodubets N.V. Green universities as catalysts for transitioning to a sustainable green economy: a bottom-up approach // Вопросы инновационной экономики. – 2024. – Том 14. – № 3. – doi: 10.18334/vinec.14.3.121216.



Introduction

Relevance. Climate change and its effect on the environment has continued to cause serious concerns among researchers and policymakers globally, Meleshko V.P. et al. [1]. Carbon emissions, the most prominent of all greenhouse gases has been the major contributor to environmental damage, Klimenko V.V. et al. [2], thus re-igniting the discussion around finding viable ways to address this problem. This has raised global awareness about the need to pursue environmental sustainability. Indeed, the sustainable development concept dates back to the 1987 Brundtland report, Ozdemir Y. et al. [3]. The report delineated the notion of sustainability, subsequently influencing various global sustainability agendas, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, Leal Filho W. et al. [4]. Universities by their setup play a very important role in attaining environmental sustainability Ragazzi M. & Ghidini F. [5] and Velazquez L. et al. [6] as defined by the the 1972 Stockholm Declaration and the 1990 Talloires Declaration Ikegami & Neuts [7]. Md Imtiajul A. [8]

Literature Review. Prizzia R. [9], Thai K.V. [10], Loiseau E. et al. [11], Georgeson L. et al. [12], Khor M. [13], Bilgaev A. [14], Glazyrina I.P. and Zabelina I.A. [15], Karieva E [16] have examined the historical overview, concepts, and development of environmental sustainability. Geng Y. et al. [17], Dagiliūtė R. et al. [18], Finlay J. and Massey J. [19], Yuan X et al. [20], Kyrychenko K.I. [21] have investigated the models, concept, principles, elements and strategies of green universities. Morgunov B.A. et al. [22], Iakimovich D. et al. [23] have made significant contributions to the green university literature in Russia. Kolokotsa et al., [24], Lozano R. [25], Leon I. et al. [26], Evans J. et al. [27] have studied the importance of universities in training future leaders in sustainable development, emission reduction strategies in universities. Ferrer-Balas D. et al. [28], Amaral A.R, et al. [29], Ali. E.B. and Anufriev V.P. [30] examined the effect of green university on the environment.

The scientific gap is the absence of a comprehensive study that develops a comprehensive model for the transition to green economy from the view point of the development of green university initiatives.

The purpose of the work is to examine the concept of green universities, the role of green economy development in attaining environmental sustainability, the principles and benefits of green economy, and to develop a conceptual model to serve as methodological approach to the interaction between the green university initiatives and the transition to a green economy.

Scientific novelty consists of the establishment of the relationship between green university initiatives and environmental sustainability and the development of a conceptual model that recognizes green universities as catalysts for the transition to a green economy.

The author’s hypothesis implies that universities play an important role in the overall economy and thus the development of green university initiatives can form the catalyst for transitioning to green economy in the long term.

The research method is based on the assessment of the concepts, principles, and definitions of green university and green economy.

The concept of green university

The concept of a green university is nested within the broader framework of sustainability and thus aligns with the three pillars of economy, society, and environment Faghihi V. et al. [31]. Consequently, the definition of green university, regardless of its specific dimension, is intertwined with these pillars, as universities are tasked with advancing environmental, economic, and social development while safeguarding human health and well-being in both internal and external environments Alshuwaikhat H.B. & Abubakar I. [32]. Moreover, since the primary mission of universities is to disseminate knowledge and cultivate future managers, experts, and leaders, a fourth dimension—education and research on sustainability—is prioritized. This aspect lies at the heart of every university’s sustainability initiative, as they aim not only to enhance the sustainability of their immediate surroundings but also to extend their influence to the broader external environment where students will exert significant impact upon completing their academic programs. Figure 1 illustrates the concept of university sustainability, which is grounded in three distinct dimensions, namely, environmental efficient operations, social engagement, and well-being for internal and external campus uses. However, highlighted within this concept is the pivotal role of universities in spearheading the initial stages of the implementation process. Given university’s advantageous position to foster collaborations, generate and disseminate new knowledge, and engage students and staff in social experimentation regarding sustainability issues, universities effectively transform their campuses into dynamic “living laboratories.” Within these environments, students and staff absorb sustainability attitudes and attributes, ultimately contributing to the long-term transformation of both their campuses and societies.

Figure 1. The concept of campus sustainable

Source: Ikegami M. & Neuts B. [7]

While the concept of “green” university encompasses the three dimensions depicted in Figure 1, its interpretation can vary significantly depending on the context, thereby posing challenges in developing a singular theoretical framework Beringer A. & Adomßent M. [33]. Consequently, various initiatives, commitments, and agreements have emerged to facilitate the implementation of “green” university within defined contexts or scopes, often involving collaborations that extend beyond university boundaries to encompass global organizations. For instance, UNESCO's declarations on education for sustainable development underscore the imperative of integrating sustainable development into education systems Barth M. et al. [34]. Similarly, the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development mandates collaboration among parties, UN agencies, the private sector, and educational institutions to embed sustainable development principles into education. University leaders also signed the Talloires Declaration in 1990, emphasizing the importance of enhancing sustainability efforts on university campuses.

The role of the “green” economy in promoting sustainable development

The notion of a “green” economy, which diverges from traditional models of economic growth, has been extensively deliberated by international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), civil society groups, academia, and in literature Kaminov A.A. et al. [35]. According to Barbier E.B. [36], the term “green” economy is at times used interchangeably with “green” growth, encompassing a spectrum of ideas related to various economic and environmental concerns, spanning from low-carbon development in industries and institutions like universities to the broader economy. Central to this concept is a heightened focus on valuing ecosystem services, achieving energy efficiency, and decoupling resource utilization through technological advancements and innovation. Jänicke M. [37] links the concept of a “green” economy to positive shifts within the “Eco-industry” sector, which transitions from conventional environmental protection technologies to resource-efficient alternatives. Furthermore, there has been a growing call for a re-evaluation of lifestyles beyond mere sustainable consumption programs, emphasizing the necessity to transcend the traditional dichotomy between individualistic and systemic approaches, while acknowledging the influence of technological, cultural, and innovative factors Backhaus J. et al. [38]. Consequently, much of the academic discourse surrounding “green” economy integrates environmental and sustainability considerations with industrial and economic policy, seeking mutually beneficial outcomes. Among international entities, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) [39] has taken a leading role in shaping and advocating for the “green” economy as a catalyst for a sustainable economic growth. UNEP [39] defines a “green” economy as one that fosters enhanced human well-being and social equity while significantly mitigating environmental risks and deficits.

Advocates and scholars of the green economy contend that while the existing economic framework has contributed to enhancing human welfare, it is riddled with numerous deficiencies. Hence, as observed by Hawila D. et al. [40], the current economic paradigm has engendered a host of environmental issues, including climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, depletion of natural resources, and, notably, a rise in the average global temperature.

Global organizations such as UNEP [39] consider the “green” economy as an economy that leads to improved social justice and improved living standards for people without harming the environment. Some of the “green” economy development goals are to help reduce carbon emissions and pollution, improve energy and resource efficiency, and stimulate economic growth and development UNEP [39]. In addition, the development of a “green” economy aims to support the progress of social development International Chamber of Commerce [41]. Thus, a “green” economy is an economy that improves human well-being, increases employment through public and social investment, reduces emissions and pollution, ensures energy and resource efficiency, and preserves biodiversity and ecosystems

Promoting the concept of a “green” economy to improve human well-being and social justice while reducing environmental risks and achieving a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economy Backhaus J. et al. [38] is highly recommended by experts. Therefore “green” economy undoubtedly leads to sustainable development Ohotina A. et al. [42]. However, it is necessary to continue the implementation of certain tasks to develop global models and scenarios for assessing the strategies of the national “green” economy, Kasztelan A. [43]. Like the “green” economy concept, the three dimensions of sustainable development - environmental, social and economic - are included in the definition of a “green” university.

Principles of a “green” economy and elements of transition to a “green” economy

The concept of a “green” economy has principles embedded in the economic, environmental and social sphere, Ali E.B. & Anufriev V.P. [44]. Table 1 summarizes the principles of a “green” economy.

Table 1. Green economy principles

Type
Principles
Economy
1. Recognizes natural capital and values.
2. Creates decent and “green” jobs.
3. Integration into models of economic development and growth.
4. promotes resources and energy efficiency.
5. Internalizes external effects.
Environment
1. Protects biodiversity and the ecosystem.
2. Invests in and supports natural capital.
3. Recognizes and respects planetary boundaries and ecological limits.
4. Promotes international environmental sustainability goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Social environment
1. Poverty reduction, wealth, livelihoods, social protection and access to basic services.
2. Socially inclusive, democratic, open, accountable, transparent and stable.
3. Fair, fair and just.
Source: Author compilation from Ali E.B. & Anufriev V.P. [44]

Crucial elements of the shift towards a green economy encompass the recognition of natural capital, the establishment of fitting economic regulations and incentives, the implementation of pertinent environmental guidelines, the promotion of sustainable production and consumption practices, equitable income distribution and social standards, and investments in training and environmental education World Resource Institute (WRI) [45]. The valuation of natural capital underscores the importance of preserving ecosystems to harness their economic worth, particularly pertinent for developing nations heavily reliant on natural resources and disproportionately affected by pollution and environmental decline World Resource Institute (WRI) [45]. Moreover, it underscores the aspiration of a green economy to cultivate incentives for economic endeavours that prioritize environmental sustainability and social inclusivity World Resource Institute (WRI) [45]. This argument is also supported by the report of GIZ [46]. Globally but especially in many developing nations, “green” economy endeavors primarily target the judicious utilization of natural resources. Advancing towards a “green” economy holds the potential to augment a country's gross domestic product (GDP) and diminish unemployment rates, fostering heightened economic expansion. This can be realized through heightened diminished reliance on energy imports, enhanced efficiency in land, water, and natural resource utilization, and curbing the economic toll of pollution. Embracing a green economy necessitates the adoption of novel work methodologies, demanding the acquisition of fresh skills by the workforce. For instance, the German government aids developing nations in executing programs for beneficial environmental management GIZ [46], often prioritizing the secure and effective resource usage to bolster companies' profitability. Investing in green development entails the advancement of innovative technologies and essential knowledge to enhance efficiency and ensure sustainability, consequently bolstering productivity. Green economy initiatives contribute directly to improving human health as it supports the reduction of pollution and improves the quality of the natural environment. Table 2 summarizes the benefits accrued from the transition to green economy.

Table 2. Benefits of a green economy

Economic benefit
Social benefits
Environmental benefits
1. Reducing poverty and inequality.
2. Increasing economic growth and employment.
3. Improving training and skills.
4. Development of new markets and specialization.
5. Increasing yields and increasing the yield of goods and agriculture.
6. Improving energy security.
7. Increasing competitiveness and trade balances.
1. Reducing poverty and inequality.
2. Reducing social inequality.
3. Increasing employment.
4. Improving training and skills.
5. The best public service.
6. Improving health.
1. Sustainable management of natural assets and resources.
2. Reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions.
3. Better adaptation to climate change and resilience to natural disasters.
4. Improving the quality of the environment.
Source: Author’s compilation from Ali E. B. et al. [47]

Relationship between green university and green economy

Although, the concept of green economy has long existed in the literature as discussed in the earlier sections, it got a heightened acceptance as the long-term solution to development strategies after the 2008 financial crisis. The problem of environmental destruction and economic challenges still persist, suggesting that a holistic approach need to be adopted to address the problem. Indeed, several efforts in the past have been adopted, however, the major challenge has always been the adoption of a top-down approach. This approach only seeks to impose environmental and economic policies on end-users rather that engage them from the end-user’s understanding and perspective. It is therefore imperative that for such endeavours, a bottom-up approach is adopted, starting from smaller institutions like the universities before scaling up to the larger economy.

In this regard, we consider a simplified university system that generates negative environmental externalities (Fig. 2). It is observed that through its activities, a university’s energy use combined with the campus environment, including administration, teaching and learning, student accommodation, canteens, etc., contribute significantly to a university’s carbon footprint that have a negative environmental impact. In order to address this problem and create a sustainable environment, universities must implement environmental sustainability initiatives under the guise of “environmental protection” (see Fig. 2). The establishment of environmental sustainability initiatives to address environmental challenges, must evolve through 5 stages (Fig. 2). The stages include:

Stage 1: In the first stage, universities develop a sustainability policy within the framework of the UI GM ranking. That is, these policies should be based on the six (6) UI GM Ranking metrics: (i) energy and climate change; (ii) environment and infrastructure; (iii) waste management; (iv) water resources management; (v) education and research; and (vi) transport. By developing these policies, universities will need to join the UI GM rankings.

Fig. 2 Simplified diagram of a university campus and its relationship to the environment [1]

Source: Author’s compilation

Stage 2: In this stage, the university’s management develops a comprehensive plan that will ensure the proper implementation of the policies developed in stage 1. For example, this stage includes the establishment of a green university management commission, the organization of financial support for the project, etc. This phase includes putting the policy into practice and ensuring that the necessary resources and structures are in place to achieve the policy objectives

Stage 3: At this stage, the implementation of the developed policies is required. That is, universities must put the policy into action. In other words, projects and programs must be implemented that will ensure the practical implementation of policies to ensure the sustainability of the university environment. For example, once a sustainable development policy has been developed, universities must implement it effectively. This involves the implementation of projects and programs that ensure the implementation of policies and the sustainable development of the university environment.

Stage 4: This stage is mainly used to analyse the implemented initiatives. That is, the effectiveness of implemented initiatives is evaluated and the necessary adjustments are made to ensure the best environmental outcome. This step evaluates the effectiveness of the initiatives implemented in the previous steps to determine if they have achieved the intended environmental outcomes. This involves collecting and analyzing data on the performance of initiatives, as well as feedback from stakeholders, and using this information to identify any gaps or areas for improvement. Based on the results of the assessment, corrective actions can be taken to address any issues identified and optimize the environmental performance of the initiatives.

Stage 5: A general analysis of the implemented initiatives is carried out and an annual report is prepared. This is actually an evaluation stage that allows you to understand the progress of implemented initiatives. The evaluation phase is an important step in the process of implementing initiatives. It includes evaluating the progress and effectiveness of initiatives to determine if they are achieving their intended goals and results.

Following the development of green university initiatives proposed under “university’s environmental protection” (see Fig. 2), we proceed to discuss the proposed relationship between environmentally oriented universities and green economy. Figure 3 shows a conceptual model that draws the relationship between environmentally oriented universities and green economy.

Fig. 3. A conceptual model depicting the transition from green economy of the key point of which is the green university

Source: Author’s compilation

As shown in Fig. 3, the relationship between environmentally oriented universities and green economy transitions through 5 stages with each stage performing a unique function which influences the other. The various stages are discussed as follow:

Stage 1. Educational system: This subsystem is defined in terms of academia, universities and other systems of higher education. In this model, the most important human resources are students, teachers, scientists/researchers, academic entrepreneurs.

Stage 2. Economic system: It forms the second subsystem and consists of industries and firms. This spiral focuses on economic capital or resources such as entrepreneurship, machinery, products, and technology of the economy.

Stage 3. Natural environment: As the third subsystem of the model, it is the most important for sustainable development. It is responsible for providing natural capitals such as natural resources.

Stage 4. Media and culture based public: This fourth component of the model combines two forms of capital or resources. First, the subsystem has a social capital component through a culture-based public such as traditions and values. Secondly, the public based on mass media such as television, the Internet, print media contains the capital of information such as news, communication, social networks.

Stage 5. Legislative system: As the fifth and final component of the Five Helix model, the political system is important because it articulates the economic ambitions of the economy by defining, organizing and managing the general conditions of the economy. Therefore, this subsystem consists of political and legal capitals, such as politics, ideas, laws and plans.

Conclusion

In recent decades, the push for a green economy has become increasingly prominent in both scholarly discourse and global leadership circles. Organizations like the United Nations have thrown their weight behind this movement, crafting roadmaps through sustainable development goals to guide the transition. However, traditional top-down approaches outlined in these roadmaps have often fallen short, unable to curb the escalating environmental degradation.

To tackle this issue, it is essential to pivot towards a bottom-up approach, initiating environmental sustainability efforts from grassroots organizations like universities before scaling up to encompass the broader economy. To facilitate this shift, this study advocates for the development of a model that connects green initiatives at universities with the broader green economy agenda.

This model is deemed necessary in light of the concerning upward trajectory of carbon emissions over recent decades, exacerbating climate change and environmental decline. Embracing a bottom-up green economy paradigm, starting with proactive measures at universities, emerges as a promising strategy to safeguard and enhance environmental quality.

Moreover, the study delves into the foundational principles and components of a green economy, categorizing them into economic, environmental, and social domains. Finally, it explores the manifold benefits associated with transitioning to a green economy, underscoring its potential to foster sustainability and resilience across multiple fronts.

[1] The left side of the figure shows actions reflecting environmental and climate impacts, while the right side shows an algorithm to address this problem (reducing environmental and climate impacts) proposed by “green” universities).


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