Vision of a Sustainable University' was the title of a lecture that I presented at the Environmental Management for Sustainable Universities Conference in Lund, 30 May - June, 1999. Afterward Walter Leal Filho invited me to write an article for a new international journal on sustainability in higher education. This journal was in the process of being launched and he would become its editor. I knew Walter because prior to that conference I wrote a chapter entitled 'Vision of the future' in the book 'Environmental Engineering: International Perspectives' (1998) of which Walter was the Editor. I considered it an honour that my article 'Towards a vision of a sustainable university' was published in Volume 1, Issue 1 of 2000, of the brand new International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education (IJSHE). I became a member of its editorial board, which I was for several years.
When I now, in August 2016, look back and search on the internet for the title of my article, I'm quite happy to see that it has been cited by 190 people. Based on LinkedIn and other messages I know that yet many more people took notice of my work and perhaps have been supported or even inspired by it. Nowadays I still regularly receive requests about the article. After so many years, I experience such ongoing response as a very rewarding indeed. Clearly the transition to sustainable universities continues. However, although many scientists have attempted to change the course of their universities, in order to make them more fit for the future, these scientific organizations often have shown reluctance to change. Many universities act as the dino's of our age. Obviously still much more work has to done in order to bring sustainability to the core of their mission.
Just as an example, I would like to draw your attention to the serious problem of what I call 'Global Plastic'. That is the ongoing proliferation of microplastic particles pollution of the oceans of the world. The face of the Earth is gradually being diffusely plasticized. Increasingly, international attention is devoted to the nature of this problem. Much research is directed at monitoring the plastic wastes that wash ashore on each and e3very beach of the world. Cleaning up marine plastic debris and beach plastic litters draws much media and public attention. Scientists have expressed concern about the toxic substances that are absorbed by the microplastics and are ingested by various marine species. UNEP recently published the report 'Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics'.
Numerous microplastic particles have already entered our marine food webs. As more than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. And more than half the world's population live within a 100 km or 60 miles of the coast. Consideration should be given to the projected growth of the world population to 9.5 - 10 billion people in 2050. The prediction is that developing countries will increasingly contribute to the introduction of plastic wastes into the oceans. And new plastic materials have been introduced into the markets of the world such as nano-plastics. Central questions then are: Where are the universities that address the issue of 'Global Plastic'? Which of those universities focus on solutions such as sustainable product development rather than on monitoring and cleanup of beaches? If universities don't deal with such pressing global environmental issues, who will?
I thank Emerald for providing, through its IJSHE, a platform for so many scientists around the world who strive for sustainable higher education. I hope that the world university community will become sustainable future oriented and thus transforms into a 'Sustainity' rather then remaining a 'University'. That some day in the near future the fundamental shift I envisioned in 2000 will begin to occur after all …