APRU on World Economic Forum: Universities can be 'living labs' for sustainability
July 20, 2021
01

Original post in World Economic Forum

  • Cross-disciplinary research in universities functioning as ‘living labs’ can produce more effective sustainability solutions.
  • The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has launched around 30 sustainability-related projects.
  • It also aims to be a multistakeholder hub with local, national and global impact.

The massive social and economic disruptions caused by the recent pandemic should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who finds a false sense of security in stability and predictability. The pandemic highlighted that in the 21st century, change happens at unprecedented speed, is often unpredictable, and can be fundamentally transformative. This new normal is placing increasing pressure on higher education institutions to accelerate discovery and innovation in the interests of society, especially in the global mission of building a sustainable future.

Like many of our fellow universities around the world, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) embraces sustainability as an integral part of our strategic development plan. This starts with the recognition that the principles embedded in sustainability thinking – creating the conditions for people to thrive, focusing on long-term value instead of short-term gains, and living within our planetary boundaries while appreciating the varied stages of development of different regions – are the fundamental touchstones that allow us to measure progress in terms of positive global impact. These principles influence hard sciences, engineering, business and policy development, as seen in our leadership of an international team identifying how China can adjust its overall energy mix strategy in order to reach a carbon peak around 2030, a target for the Paris Agreement.

Most universities now recognize that training students to be prepared for 21st-century challenges means transitioning away from traditional content-based instruction, and embracing active experiential learning where students gain skills to help them solve the kinds of challenges they will encounter during their careers. A sustainability roadmap is essential: Skills like life-cycle analyses, systems thinking and scenario-planning are cross-disciplinary competencies rooted in sustainability thinking.

In 2019, the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) launched a Campus as a Living Lab collaborative to share ideas and case studies as a way to facilitate hands-on sustainability training and skill-building. In the same vein, HKUST launched the Sustainable Smart Campus as a Living Lab initiative in 2018. The concept is simple: We need smart technologies to address sustainability problems, and we need to develop and encourage the right mindset to set the guardrails to create them.

This approach has resulted in the launch of 30 or so university-funded projects, including the installation of indoor air-quality sensors to improve well-being, AI-driven tracking systems for inventorying tree and bird species, self-cleaning multipurpose nano-coatings to improve photovoltaic panel efficiencies, autonomous greywater treatment processes that streamline water recycling, and a digital twin of all campus buildings for a digitized platform for streamlined operations. The goals of such projects are two-fold: to move innovation out of research labs to the campus as a testing ground, and to assess the scalability of these ideas from campus to our city and beyond. For students, the projects provide a clear demonstration how to combine innovation with a sustainability mindset.

COVID spotlighted our great challenges in view of disparate states of different regions regarding wealth, development, access and technology. We take this to mean that our educational efforts cannot support only HK and the Greater Bay Area, but also other less developed regions in the world. This is an important mission of the university; to transform research into real solutions, and to educate future solution-providers. Universities can act as strong convening forces that connect business, industry, government and entrepreneurs to address challenges collaboratively.

We do this by working with local authorities on formulating science-based policies for reducing roadside and ship emissions to improve Hong Kong’s air quality, providing evidence for developing strategies, and being a trusted resource for policy-makers developing our citywide target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Our contributions to government regulations on pollution controls for ocean-going vessels led to wider influence on similar regional regulations for China’s coastal ports, benefitting 20 million people. These collaborations have the potential to improve lives irrespective of wealth and economic status, and showcase what is possible when using sustainability principles as a lodestar.

As institutions where reflection on society takes place, it is the responsibility of universities to empower our students with a deeper awareness of how they can help shape this rapidly changing landscape. Instead of being passive observers, universities can stimulate students to become “activist consumers”, recognizing the power of their consumption patterns to drive markets towards more positive social and environmental outcomes. In collaboration with the seven other publicly funded universities in Hong Kong, we are facilitating an ambitious new initiative called the Sustainable Consumer Program, aiming to engage over 100,000 students to adopt responsible consumption patterns in food, energy, water and other consumables. Similarly, joint programmes developed in partnership with the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) and Asian Universities Alliance (AUA) aim to nurture responsible global citizens with an aspiration to safeguard and advance the welfare of all. From food upcycling to urban beekeeping, we encourage our members as change-makers and enablers.

This recent pandemic has made it clear how global health hazards impact everyone and can literally bring our global community to a standstill. No country, no society and no one is exempted from these impacts. Similarly, the grand challenges of climate change also force us to focus on the availability of and access to resources, wealth distributions, and equity between regions and societies. Universities are at their best when they engage stakeholders across the spectrum for collaboration and partnership, empower and enable future leaders, and foster novel ideas, innovations and practices. Sustainability is more than a priority for universities; it is a responsibility, a commitment and a key to the betterment of mankind.

Related Articles
Highly Cited Researcher Prof. Yong Sik Ok’s Groundbreaking Work in Sustainable Plastic Management
more
Advancing Circular Economy Initiatives in Australia for a Sustainable Future
more
APWiL webinar highlights the many roles women academics juggle while gaining ground in leadership
more
APRU SWM Forum 2023: Advancing UN SDGs and ESG for a Sustainable Future
more
IESGA's 6th Global Conference Forges Pathways to Empowering Sustainability
more
Indigenous Knowledge Has the Power to Help Address the Climate Crisis
more
APWiL Mentoring Program keeps growing, 4th Cohort takes off
more
APRU Indigenous Knowledges Network meets in Melbourne
more
SDG4GC - How a growth mindset can open a world of opportunity
more
APRU Open Dialogues tackles Gender-Based Violence Prevention in Learning Environments
more
APWiL Mentoring Program 3rd Cohort concludes, having promoted teaching and learning in both directions
more
Routes Towards a Sustainable Society: Forum with Springer Nature Editor-in-Chief
more
Towards a Sustainable Biochar Market in Korea
more
APRU Steering Committee 2023-2024
more
AI for Social Good Summit Gathered Academics and Gov’t Representatives to Showcase Joint Research Outcomes Enhancing Wellbeing in Southeast Asia
more
Public Agencies from Thailand Participated in AI for Social Good Summit
more
2023 Global ESG Forum in Singapore Underscores Biodiversity and ESG Reporting as Key Drivers to Sustainable Development
more
CUHK Hosts APRU Undergraduate Leaders’ Program on Sustainable Cities Development
more
The University of Hong Kong hosts APRU Presidents’ Meeting on Sustainable Future Solutions
more
Keio University News: Keio University Launches 2023 Mentoring Program to Promote Female Faculty Member Empowerment and Leadership
more
APWiL Third Cohort & Professor Freshwater as new APWiL Presidential Champion
more
Country Workshop Aims to Turn AI Research Results into Actionable Public Policy
more
Global Climate Change Simulation Offers USC Students New Perspectives on Worldwide Fight
more
UO Students Co-host APRU Global Climate Change Simulation
more
World BOSAI Forum 2023 facilitates forward-looking visits to Japanese APRU members
more
UP News: UP participates in APWiL Mentoring Program 2022
more
APRU on Bloomberg: The next stage: APRU-Google-UN ESCAP AI for Social Good Project now working directly with government agencies
more
Tec News: APRU universities meet in San Cristóbal de las Casas to hold dialog on indigenous knowledge in the Pacific Rim
more
UMelbourne News: An international focus on Indigenous knowledge
more
APRU Sustainable Waste Management Program Director Is Selected as a Highly Cited Researcher (HCR) in the Three Fields: Environment and Ecology, Engineering, and Biology and Biochemistry in 2022
more
The APRU Climate Change Simulation- Preparing Students to Lobby Leaders for Vital Actions
more
APRU MetaGame Conference 2022 Successfully Concludes in Hong Kong With Academics Pushing New Ideas on the Application of Esports in Education
more
Students from Tongji School of Medicine Enrolled in the Top 10 Entries of the APRU Global Health Virtual Case Competition 2022
more
APRU Brings Universities into the World of Esports with MetaGame Conference 2022
more
CUHK Biologists Unveil the Genetic Histories of Centipedes and Millipedes to Contribute to Studies of Biodiversity and Ecology
more
APRU Steering Committee 2022-2023
more
APRU ends pandemic hiatus with first physical meeting at NTU Singapore and highlights urgency to collaborate through international university networks
more
APRU Readies for Looming Book Launch with Springer on Safety and Resilience of Higher Educational Institutions
more
APRU on Bloomberg: APRU Readies for Looming Book Launch with Springer on Safety and Resilience of Higher Educational Institutions
more
APRU on The Fiji Times: FNU Students Join Global Climate Change Simulation
more
APRU Global Sustainability: Waste & The City Seminar Course Helps Graduate Students Shape Green Leadership Concepts
more
Tec News: Tec Professors, in a Global Mentoring Project for Women
more
UBC News: 2 UBC Esports undergrads win industry research scholarships
more
APEC Healthy Women Healthy Economy Prize Accepting Applications 2022
more
APRU on AAAS EurekAlert!: Sustainability in Times of COVID-19: Converting Face Masks into Valuable Fuel
more
APRU on UNESCO News: New report “Moving minds: Opportunities and challenges for virtual student mobility in a post-pandemic world”
more
APRU on SCMP: Covid-19 wrecks exchange programme plans, as record low number of Hong Kong university students went overseas in last academic year
more
APRU on HKMB: Digital games exercise minds
more
UC Davis News: APRU, UC Davis and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Launch Second Cohort of Asia-Pacific Women in Leadership Mentoring Program
more
UCLA News: Building the foundation — and networks — needed to diversify university leadership
more
APRU on Nikkei: COVID has made a bad situation worse for women academics
more
APRU on SCMP: Virtual foreign exchange allowing students to ‘study abroad’ without leaving home will outlast Covid-19
more
UH News: Esports fellowship creates global opportunities for UH students
more
APRU Metagame Conference 2021 Returns at Cyberport’s Annual Digital Entertainment Leadership Forum
more
Times Higher Education Awards Asia 2021: winners announced
more
APRU Steering Committee 2021-22
more
The 16TH APRU Multi-Hazards Symposium 2021: Transdisciplinary Collaboration for Disaster Resilience
more
APRU Celebrates Successful Completion of Its APWiL Mentoring Program’s First Cohort
more
APRU on The Jakarta Post: A Mounting Battle that Starts at Home
more
New APRU Member – Tongji University
more
Ideas from the interface between habitats
more
New APRU member - Simon Fraser University
more
APRU on UWN: Long way to go for parity for women in HE leadership
more
APRU on Associated Press: APRU partners with United Nations ESCAP on The Asia Pacific Mayors Academy to Empower Mayors as Regional Leaders for Sustainability with Training Tailored to Unique Urban Challenges for a More Resilient Future
more
Asia Summit: ‘penalty systems’ and ‘male allies’ address gender gap
more
Cyberport Brings Together Hong Kong and Pacific Rim Youth for Esports Exchange
more
YESPORTS ESPORTS APPRENTICESHIP Recipient Announced
more
ASPIRE Science Prize Spotlights Diverse Knowledge for a Sustainable Future
more
APRU on Nature: A Private University with a Global Outlook
more
APRU Sustainable Waste Management Program Records Fruitful 2020 And Enters 2021 With Many Events
more
APRU on JUMPSTART: How Esports Fellowships Can Pave the Way for A Stable, Ethical, Diverse Industry
more
Good-bye 2020, Welcome 2021!
more
APRU Launches the First Global Inter-University Esports Conference and Fellowship Program
more
APRU Quarantunes Competition Connects and Uplifts Student Communities through Music, Boosting Spirits during Ongoing Pandemic
more
Civic Resilience and the COVID-19 Crisis (Part 2 of 2)
more
TEC News: Song of Tec students wins 1st place among universities worldwide
more
Quarantunes Student Music Competition
more
COVID-19’s unsustainable waste management
more
APRU’s Sustainable Waste Management Program highlighted in Nature’s May issue
more
Collaboration, technology and global health policy
more
Asia-Pacific Mayors Academy concludes first cohort
more
New Member Spotlight: Shanghai Jiao Tong University
more
New Member Spotlight: Universidad San Francisco de Quito
more
Upgrade needed for universities’ workplace wellness programs, new APRU survey shows
more
UNU-IAS and Partners Launch Asia-Pacific Mayors Academy
more
Cities and Refugees – 2019 Global Student Design Ideas Competition
more
Sustainable Urban Development Mayors Fellowship
more
APRU Inaugural Sustainable Cities and Landscapes Design Field School
more
Invitation to the 6th APEC Conference on Cooperation in Higher Education
more
APRU at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
more
APRU-IRIDeS Multi-Hazards Summer School 2014 Report is out now
more
2nd Multi-Hazards Summer School 2014
more
9th Multi-Hazards Symposium 2013
more
Partnering for a less hazardous planet: Interview with Professor John Rundle
more
1
94