20 December 2019

Taking Sustainability from Campus to the Community

One year ago United Nations Academic Impact announced the inauguration of the UNAI SDG Hubs, UNAI member institutions selected as exemplars for their innovative scholarship and engagement related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who serve as resources for best practices for the UNAI network, currently composed of over 1,400 universities and colleges in more than 130 countries.

On the anniversary of the program launch, we’re taking this opportunity to check in with some of the hub schools to highlight their scholarship and activities over the past twelve months and look ahead to future initiatives. The next school profiled in our anniversary series is Carlos III University (Spain), hub for SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.   

Carlos III University (UC3M), established in 1989, is a Spanish public university committed to excellence in research, teaching and academic management. The Sustainable Development Goals are a key component of UC3M’s Strategic Plan, which sets the scientific production of the institution towards their advancement, focuses the research and existing academic resources on the 2030 Agenda and calls to increase awareness on campus around the SDGs as well.

UC3M encourages the active involvement of students in its SDG policy through initiatives such as the Global Challenge and a dedicated course on the 2030 Agenda in addition to various training programs. In its own region (the Community of Madrid), UC3M developed the project Energy Poverty Intelligence Unit (EPIU) in partnership with local governments and other stakeholders, to implement solutions to the energy poverty caused by economic and social exclusion.

While energy poverty is usually defined by the percentage of rent that a household dedicates to energy consumption, for EPIU energy poverty implies people unable to keep households in a comfortable temperature whether it is because they cannot pay for a sufficient amount of energy for its domestic needs and/or because it is forced to allocate an excessive part of its income. This situation is aggravated by the economic situation of the city of Getafe, whose average income is lower than the rest of the Madrid Region.

The project aims to establish a prediction system and mitigation programs that target different social groups. EPIU will collect information on energy consumption, income and other factors determining energy poverty based on data analytics in two vulnerable areas: Las Margaritas and La Alhóndiga. Almost half of the households in these areas do not have any heating system. EPIU will cluster vulnerable groups by their sociodemographic and physical characteristics and then tailor-made solutions will be proposed in coordination with local authorities.

Along the same lines, the university has adopted an environmentally responsible energy policy. Three dozen buildings have been refurbished to improve energy efficiency, water management and sustainability, and as the university campus keeps growing plans for new infrastructures have incorporated demanding sustainability requirements.

A commitment to sustainable cities and communities inspires UC3M’s policy of infrastructure investment and management. The university has contributed to the improvement of rundown urban environments, with the new Center for Postgraduate Studies housed in a rehabilitated, crumbling building that had been home to an old fish market, for example. The presence of the institution itself has boosted urban regeneration and connectivity by stimulating new investments.

UC3M’s Research Institute for Higher Education and Science, a joint initiative with other Spanish higher education institutions, recently launched the Science Shop, a project intended to create scientific knowledge in response to specific societal needs and problems. It is currently working on pressing issues such as urban pollution, mobility problems and possibilities to reuse public spaces for social uses.

UC3M also actively promotes recycling through various campaigns on campus, including ‘Libera’, to reflect on the impact of garbage in nature, tied with a comprehensive waste collection system that has been implemented across campus. Related to this, in November 2019 UC3M took part in the European Week for Waste Reduction by promoting the reuse of materials and products and organizing a visit to a recycling facility.

In other areas, university researchers are conducting studies on waste management and measurement of air pollution in urban centers. The latter include innovative metrology technology for the detection of pollutant gases. Previously, UC3M developed infrared and remote systems able to detect pollutants from cars on highways or high capacity roads of up to three lanes.

The Center for Environmental Education, with the participation of volunteer students, is running an ongoing ‘ecoaudit’ to ensure compliance with sustainability guidelines on campus. The university also offers a Master’s program in Sustainable Urbanism and Urban Policies, focused on the design, management, operation and control of urban and territorial activities that address environmental and economic sustainability.

This program is hosted by the “Pascual Madoz” Institute of Land, Urbanism and Environment, which is a research center dedicated to the study of land as a resource of strategic importance that demands an interdisciplinary perspective. The Institute looks to nurture specific professional and managerial skills connected to sustainability, rehabilitation of degraded areas, resilience and climate change.

UC3M has also implemented initiatives that address another critical target of SDG 11: access to public transport. The University has launched solutions on campus such as electric vehicle charging stations and an awareness raising strategy to encourage the use of public transport. In September 2019 it participated in the European Mobility Week to promote the health benefits of walking and cycling, through campaigns, seminars and workshops held on campus. 

To learn more about the UNAI SDG Hubs, including Carlos III University, visit the United Nations Academic Impact SDG Hubs.