How does a university embody good environmental citizenship as
an institution, develop environmentally responsible decisionmaking
skills in its faculty, staff and students, and instill an ethic
of ecologically sound behavior at the individual level? The Royal
Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Melbourne, Australia,
has been addressing these very questions over the past two years.
The answer, explains Fred Saunders, RMIT's Environmental Coordinator,
is the integration of operations, academics, and motivational
strategies that cross disciplines to meet comprehensive environmental
goals. The starting point is a university-wide environmental policy
that includes input from all sectors of the university community.
Starting from the top
RMIT has a total of 44,423 students, faculty, and staff spread
among the urban Melbourne campus and the rural Bundora campus.
The institution states in its mission that it strives to be an
"environmentally responsible corporate citizen." To
this end, Vice-Chancellor David Beanland signed the Talloires
Declaration in 1995, establishing RMIT as the first university
on the continent to endorse the global initiative for environmental
literacy and sustainable development. RMIT's adoption of the Talloires
Declaration has provided an important framework for developing
and implementing environmental policies, explains Saunders. "The
Talloires Declaration also gives our effort a global dimension
which is a very important sustainability issue," he adds.
Support from senior administration is essential, notes Saunders.
"Formal approval legitimates action and in most cases also
provides a consistency of approach," he points out. This
is vital when environmentally- related activities stem from the
students or other non-administrative members of the community,
since the activity will eventually need to undergo a formal university
process to become an institutionalized policy.
"Membership in ULSF provides a rallying point and indicates
to faculty, staff, and students that management is behind their
collective efforts," explains Saunders. "The Vice-Chancellor
signed the Talloires Declaration which includes an aim to green
the curricula, so the university has made a formal commitment
to support and advocate this position."
A departmental approach
Whether in words or on paper, declarations are only as good as
their implementation. In order to raise awareness and make clearer
the connection between individual action and overall outcomes,
RMIT encourages each university department to design its own Local
Environmental Action Plan. This allows departments to implement
specifically targeted strategies that reduce waste, conserve energy,
and preserve natural resources.
Saunders provides assistance and resources to departments as
well as guidelines that emphasize both environmental and financial
benefits. These include concrete suggestions such as eliminating
fax cover sheets, purchasing refillable pens, distributing plants
around the office, and purchasing locally produced products.
Planning at the departmental level has fostered greater participation
and created a receptive atmosphere for academic, administrative
and physical change. The initiative is now beginning to see success.
"The extent of that success will rest on the degree of cooperation
and commitment of faculty, staff, and students," stresses
Establishing comprehensive policies
A small group of administrative and academic staff sparked the
initiative for a institution-wide environmental policy several
years ago. In 1994, the university adopted the RMIT Environmental
Policy, which was developed primarily by the administration in
consultation with faculty and students. This overarching policy
ensures that all of RMIT's operations are undertaken with consideration
for protecting the environment. The policy holds the university
- minimizing consumption of water, energy, paper, and other
- recycling and re-using goods and materials
- disposing wastes as safely and efficiently as possible
- designing and managing buildings to maximize natural sources
of lighting and heating
- promoting the use of materials for maximum durability and
minimum environmental impact
- preserving the heritage value of buildings
- planting indigenous species of vegetation
- developing transportation options to reduce greenhouse emissions
Saunders feels the environmental policy provides a good framework,
but he also relies upon the university community for assistance
in making necessary revisions. "The policy was framed in
conservative form purposely just to get something to work with,"
he explains. "We intend to revise it to reflect a sustainable
approach rather than purely a resource conservation approach,
i.e. include a philosophical base-biodiversity, advocacy, etc.-intent
to green the curricula, and a strategy statement."
Waste reduction and recycling
One example of reform is shifting the policy's emphasis from
recycling to waste reduction. Recently, many university departments
have adopted a policy whereby students are charged a fee for printouts
from the computer lab. Saunders anticipates this will help alleviate
waste and overconsumption.
Although waste reduction is a primary goal, the university still
needed to substantiate its recycling program. Earlier this year
RMIT adopted a formal recycling policy. The university currently
has a 30-35 percent recycling rate and hopes to achieve a 50 percent
recycling goal by 1998.
To improve rates, Saunders is working to increase participation.
Recycling and trash containers have been relocated to strategic
areas which has been effective in increasing collection volumes.
With input from faculty and students, Saunders plans to improve
and increase the distribution of educational material as well.
In addition, he hopes eventually to eliminate all desk-side wastebaskets
and replace them with recycling bins.
Currently, RMIT accepts mixed paper, aluminum, #1 and #2 plastics,
colored and clear glass, and corrugated cardboard in its recycling
program. RMIT also collaborates on recycling with the community
and an outreach program is being developed to solicit cardboard
from external sources, such as the surrounding food outlets that
students and staff patronize.
In cooperation with Melbourne Water, a state government agency,
Saunders responded to an initiative set by the City of Melbourne
to eliminate wastes flowing into waterways through the creation
of a Litter Control and Reduction Strategy. The document states
that "litter is the most visible sign of environmental pollution."
In order to overcome this problem, Saunders stresses it is more
effective to develop a campaign that emphasizes reasons not to
litter rather than simply instituting an anti-litter campaign.
Research from other universities in the region has found that
people are less likely to litter if they have pride in their environment,
have access to waste disposal facilities, create a non-litter
culture, understand implications of their actions, and minimize
disposable packaging. RMIT has responded by relocating cigarette
butt containers and recycling bins, improving signage, and placing
traps in storm drains.
An Energy Management and Conservation Policy was also instituted
in 1996. This policy commits RMIT to develop strategies for reducing
energy consumption. In addition to long-term financial and environmental
incentives, Saunders feels that proper energy management is essential
for developing a holistic approach for improving the campus environment.
Efficient management of facilities and transport vehicles is vital
for the achievement of RMIT's overall objectives, he points out.
Energy used on campus is generated locally (about 40 miles from
campus) using electricity, gas, and oil as its primary source.
The electricity is generated from brown coal, a relatively inefficient
fuel source. To evaluate changes in its energy consumption, the
Energy Management and Conservation Strategy evaluates alternative
sources of energy and contains suggestions and motivational techniques
to reduce overall energy usage. Techniques include:
- placing signs next to light switches, highlighting the environmental
and financial benefits of energy reductions
- soliciting input from Environmental Advo cates to assess the
effectiveness of commun ication strategies for faculty, administrators,
students, and staff
developing a measuring system to compare energy investments
on per capita and per building usage
- allocating five percent of the current energy budget for specific
RMIT is also evaluating the feasibility of installing solar-powered
lighting fixtures in some outdoor locations.
Despite many achievements, RMIT still faces obstacles to changing
attitudes and behavior. "The university is traditionally
a "working man's college" notes Saunders, and thus carries
a "technocentric and vocational culture" which often
conflicts with an environmental ethic."
Coordinating implementation of the policies across several physical
locations and among 82 departments also presents challenges.
"The fragmentation and scale of the university can be an
impediment," says Saunders. "The Melbourne campus has
little open space and many commuting students which contributes
to apathy and low participation in campus environmental initiatives.
In contrast, the Bundora campus has more open natural space but
suffers from the converse problem of the lack of a critical mass
of students to make change," he explains.
Saunders also identifies indifference from some areas of the
university and the need for new programs to be self-funding as
further hurdles to overcome.
To address these concerns, Saunders works closely the student
organization Ecology Action Group (EAG) to assert both political
and peer pressure for institution-wide environmental reform. EAG
is also vital in disseminating relevant information through an
active cross-campus network.
The student council is also a critical constituency. A third-year
student from the university's Socio-Environmental Assessment and
Policy program (SEAP) serves as the Environmental Officer reporting
to the Student Union Council (SUC). According to Saunders, this
has been critical for keeping students involved in campus environmental
issues. SUC recently altered its constitution to provide funding
for the position. "This move will greatly enhance the energy
and commitment for the environment on campus," he says.
In addition, Saunders collaborates with the Environmental Management
Advisory Committee (EMAC), a formal group comprised of administrative,
faculty, and student representatives established to evaluate and
coordinate RMIT's environmental initiatives. Deputy Vice Chancellor
of Resources, Dr. Peter Frost, who reports directly to the Vice
Chancellor, chairs EMAC. Saunders feels Dr. Frost's position is
key for the committee's access to upper administration and to
show senior support for campus efforts.
As a signatory of the Talloires Declaration, RMIT is committed
to student involvement across curricula, research, operations,
and partnership activities. Students have undertaken a variety
of intersectoral and interdisciplinary campus improvement initiatives
as class assignments, contract projects, and as voluntary efforts.
Some of these are highlighted below:
Undergraduate volunteers from SEAP are establishing a student-organized
campus food cooperative designed to promote concepts of cultural,
social, and environmental sustainability, provide a setting
for students and staff to work collaboratively, educate about
sustainability, and offer small business experience.
SEAP and Environmental Engineering undergraduates identified
the need to reduce campus traffic. Their voluntary research
project resulted in improved bike parking spaces and they
actively encourage biking in lieu of driving.
Environmental Engineering, Landscape Architecture, and SEAP
undergraduates are collaborating on a voluntary initiative
to create an indigenous rooftop garden to increase biodiversity
SEAP students conducted a staff/student study to evaluate
perspectives on recycling and attitudes toward waste reduction.
Findings were considered for the formation and implementation
of RMIT's recycling, waste reduction, and litter control strategies.
Undergraduate Accounting students received course credit
for evaluating strategies to integrated RMIT's Environmental
Policy into the university's strategic planning process and
proposing performance indicators.
Advocacy and communication are key
Motivating the university community, explains Saunders, requires
a system for feedback and an open forum to evaluate practices
and seek suggestions for improvement. Faculty, staff, and students
are encouraged to participate and actively assist in the implementation
of RMIT's environmental policies and programs through the Environmental
Advocates Network. Environmental Advocates are volunteers who
act as a point of contact for the Environmental Coordinator to
distribute information to departments. They are also responsible
for managing the collection and transport of recycled materials
to designated pick-up points.
Saunders encourages members of the university community to express
their ideas and feedback about environmental strategies through
their departmental advocates and via the RMIT environmental policy
pages on the Internet.
According to Saunders, not every initiative needs to demonstrate
a short term cost savings. In fact, most of the investments the
university has made, such as the $55,000 investment for the installation
of outdoor recycling and cigarette bins, have not yet reached
a "payback" point. The willingness of the administration
to support long-term payback projects is contingent upon the popularity
of the initiative and the level of support from the manager/department
designated to implement the project.
For example, Saunders notes that gaining support for alternative
energy investments is much more difficult than for outdoor recycling
equipment. "Recycling is mainstream while alternative energy
is still perceived as a 'greenie' issue," he says. "Further
implementation of environmental policies and strategies will hopefully
overcome this perception and allow more energy and other non-mainstream
initiatives to be adopted."
Saunders, students, and staff members have also proposed criteria
for evaluating environmental performance at RMIT, including financial
Recommended Performance Indicators
- number of articles in internal publications
- amount of information published on the World Wide Web
- number of student environmental stewardship projects
- number of staff/student environmental training programs
- Natural Resource Conservation and Landuse
- percent of open space per Effective Full-Time Student Unit
- percent of total open area at Bundora revegetated with indigenous
under story species
Energy and Transportation
- total energy consumption, cost per capita, and cost per EFTSU
- energy consumption per building
- level of investment in environmentally efficient technology
and renewable energy
- fuel efficiency and total energy cost
- greenhouse emissions level per capita (fleet vehicle)
- number of bicycle parking spaces and their use
Resource Conservation and Use
- total annual weight of solid waste and cost of waste disposal
- percent reduction in water use by volume per capita and EFTSU
- cost savings achieved through waste minimization efforts
- percentage of solid waste recycled
- percent of recycled and environmentally sound materials purchased
Furthering a conservation culture
RMIT's achievements thus far are indicative of how a multidisciplinary
approach toward education, research, and partnership activities
integrates with the development of environmentally sensitive institutional
operations. Saunders has succeeded in identifying many of the
barriers to implementing campus-wide environmental initiatives
and he continues to devise strategies to meet those challenges.
He attributes RMIT's accomplishments to date to the support and
involvement from faculty, staff, and especially students. In addition,
he stresses that support from upper administration has been critical
for the implementation of environmental initiatives at RMIT. "Enlisting
someone at the executive level of the university to advocate the
cause to the power brokers is a proven approach," Saunders
By focusing on an institutional culture of conservation and environmental
literacy, RMIT aims for a greener curriculum in both environmentally
and non- environmentally related degree programs. Saunders suggests
that institutions of higher education should not separate environmental
operations issues from curricula reform.
"The curricula is the core business of the university even
though in many ways it is more difficult to address [because of]
academic sovereignty," says Saunders. "We have to send
consistent messages out to students, industry, and the wider community."
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