Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Campus Greening and Sustainable Development

  • Rolando M. Rodríguez LimaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63951-2_69-1


The sustainability of the planet is something that concerns all inhabitants of the Earth. The consumption of natural resources is accelerating. It implies that we must consider that water scarcity is severe. On the other hand, ocean warming is affecting its own streams, and elsewhere environmental pollution does not stop. For this reason, friendly environmentally initiatives are warranted. They range from the reuse of water to the collection of rain and placement of bioluminescent trees to reduce energy consumption. Actions undertaken by universities should not only be directed to preparing professionals with technical resources, but it is necessary that they could be engaged in a more active manner, either preaching by example or getting involved in the issues that affect life on the planet. One of the approaches of greening is linked to the perception of students and professors in relation to sustainability. This approach will be reviewed in the present article as well as the experience in greening university facilities.


Greening, Sustainable development, Higher education, University campus 


The term “greening” may have a direct meaning. A viable definition might refer to the action and result of its effects, over plants, fields, meadows or when pastures that were dry turn green in color (Definicióna 2018). This intervention might be expanded to cover campus greening at the universities. For instance, Jiménez Martínez (2017) indicates that it may encompass ideas or concepts or activities such as:
  1. (a)

    Recording of ecological practices carried out in daily university operations (energy consumption decrease, reuse of water, waste classification, etc.), which are regarded as efforts to institutionalize sustainability through the implementation of new relationships among the university community and its environment

  2. (b)

    The consideration of practices and perceptions of students and professors regarding sustainability

  3. (c)

    Incorporating sustainability as an academic discipline and as a study program of higher education



Whether due to the pressures to which they have been subjected or by the conscious taking of an indicative posture, universities have neglected – to a lesser or greater degree – their social objectives, such as the education of socially conscious citizens, capable of linking scientific knowledge to social needs and providing inclusive ideas that contribute to the larger society. Hence, it is necessary to analyze the interests and approaches to sustainability within these institutions, beyond guiding documents that express their political commitment. A congruent articulation between the institutional vision and academic activities and the social environment is necessary (Reyes Escutia 2006). Becoming aware of university campus greening requires transforming not only the academic aspect (curriculum) but also the entire context that surrounds teaching, including rethinking and redesigning learning spaces.

Perceptions of Sustainability and Greening and the Difficulties that Arise

Incorporating sustainability in universities continues to be a challenge. Ensuring its adoption and diverse paths to achieve it has not been easy. It also allows us to recognize that sustainability requires mandatory elements such as professional development of university teachers as well as university self-transformation and capacity building to create a process of knowledge construction in all its members (Jiménez Martínez 2017). Despite growing attention to the greening of the curriculum and the greater urgency to do so, the usual barriers to curriculum development and transformational education still obstruct fulfillment of the final objectives for the actualization of a sustainable world. Such barriers include financing, bureaucracy, academic territorialism, a fear of innovation that might risk the established reputations, inadequate leadership, lack of skills regarding an authentic sustainable curriculum, hesitance to interdisciplinary curricula, concerns about alienating conservative students who view an ecological study plan as political, personal alienation from nature, and what Haigh (2007) calls “persistence of obsolete mentalities from the industrial age.”

Greening on campus combines academic content, administrative policies, and facility management practices. It enables a deployment of education for sustainability in the entire campus. Many Latin American universities are prioritizing sustainability and environmental conscience at present and are measuring themselves to improve their performance in these areas. According to evaluations carried out by 228 institutions in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru, a 54% increase has been registered since 2014 in regard to sustainability objective compliance (Las universidades de América Latina dan prioridad a la sostenibilidad 2017). In Central America, Universidad Galileo of Guatemala created the Sustainable Development Institute (IDS by its name in Spanish) in January 2014 and includes within its objectives the environmental policy of the university, accompanied by a strategic plan which outlines actions in the short, medium, and long term. Incorporating sustainability in the university continues to be a challenge. Drawing from the social sciences, the relationship between this concept and the university engenders, at least, the following three approaches following previous systematic elaborations (Jiménez Martínez 2017):
  1. 1.

    Documenting the “greening” of campus operations (Carlson 2015), that is, to register ecological practices carried out in daily university operations (energy consumption decrease, reuse of water, waste classification, etc.), which are regarded as efforts to institutionalize sustainability through the implementation of new relationships among the university community and its environment.

  2. 2.

    Considering practices and perceptions of students and professors regarding sustainability (Harring et al. 2017, p. 159).

  3. 3.

    Greening of the curriculum and incorporating sustainability as an academic discipline and as a study program for higher education (Heiskanen et al. 2016). In this task, professors seek two elements: self-training and using educational tools for teaching.

Ensuring these adoptions and diverse paths to achieve results has not been easy throughout time. It also allows us to recognize that sustainability requires mandatory supports such as professional development of university teachers as well as university self-transformation and capacity building to create a process of knowledge construction in all its members (Jiménez Martínez 2017). In order to achieve this, it is necessary to have policies regarding university management in relation to its surroundings (environmental impact). The following courses of action may be considered:
  • Promote a university environment that constitutes a model for the care of the environment, health, and safety

  • Foster responsible use of water, energy, and resources, waste management, and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and other sources

  • Contribute to establishing an environmental protection culture among members of the university community, through campaigns and other means of awareness

  • Include environmental issues in study programs

  • Contribute to the realization of environmental awareness and education actions aimed at an external audience, especially communities located in influence areas near the university

In order to investigate the knowledge of professors regarding the environmental policy of Universidad Galileo and its strategic plan (Política Ambiental de la Universidad Galileo y su Plan Estratégico 2015–2019 2015), a survey was made to a simple group of professors from the Faculty of Education, in order to learn their perceptions about it (see Annex). The sample of respondents was 35 professors, belonging to different programs offered by the Faculty of Education (from both the weekday and Saturday programs). The results obtained from the survey are the following:

Survey Results

The following analysis made be inferred from the information presented in Table 1:
  • The majority of professors surveyed do not know if there is an action plan but consider that “there should be,” based on observing the gardens and cleanliness.

  • Although they point out that the action plan does not exist because it has not been communicated, they consider that because the university is a technological university, “there must be a plan.”

  • Since they can observe three types of garbage bins in the corridors − to place paper and cardboard, organic waste, and aluminum and plastic, respectively – they think that planned environmental actions exist.
    Table 1

    Percentage distributions of sample’s answers facing the three main questions asked (see Annex) to 35 respondents. (Source: Created by the author)



    Don’t exist

    It exists but without any application

    It exists and it’s applied in practice








    Existence of an Action Plan in which the University has defined control and improvements actions of its environmental impact








    Existence of a planned environmental evaluation and control of interventions








    Existence of a program with activities addressed to environmental sensibilization at the university’s internal level







As we can see, there has not been proper communication, despite the fact that the communication strategy of the environmental policy and its strategic plan (Política Ambiental de la Universidad Galileo y su Plan Estratégico 2015–2019 2015) states the following: Both the environmental policy and the 2015–2019 strategic plan of Universidad Galileo will be made known to the entire Galileo community, through the different communication channels that the university has. Internal level knowledge of its existence and discussion requires active participation, in good measure, of all the entities that make up Universidad Galileo. Involvement of entities that execute internal and external communication of the university and its personnel will be a decisive factor for the knowledge and appropriation of the policy and its strategic plan (p.20). All of the above allows us to be an example and to be taken as a lesson for other universities and countries.

To establish the feasibility of carrying out the Strategic Environmental Plan 2015–2019 of Universidad Galileo, let us analyze its purposes and progress achieved so far:

Strategic Objective 1

Establish mechanisms that allow the modernization of the curriculum in all university programs, educating professors and students to create knowledge and university awareness on the protection of natural resources and their sustainability, allowing education to integrate economic, social, and environmental aspects in the process.

Reviewing the activities, indicators, means of verification, and assumptions, we see with concern that being in the year 2018, what was proposed in the short and medium term has not been accomplished completely. Nevertheless, there is an exception that refers to the following activity/indicator: “Introduce courses on the environment and sustainable development in university programs, preparing professionals in all disciplines with an education that allows them to incorporate natural resource and environmental preservation in their future jobs/2 courses implemented within the curriculum of the careers offered by the university.” The Faculty of Education has included in its curriculum the environmental preservation course in all its programs, and the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry, and Pharmacy teaches environmental pollution and its prevention in all its programs as a way to raise awareness.

Strategic Objective 2

Create an environmental protection, care, use, and continuous management of natural resources focus, offering teacher training programs that allow them to transfer to students knowledge, practices, research processes, and sustainable development, in order to achieve comprehensive education of the university community.

Reviewing the activities, indicators, means of verification, and assumptions, we see with concern that being in the year 2018, what was proposed in the short and medium term has not been accomplished there is an exception. An early alert system for floods created by the Faculty of Systems Engineering and Computer Science/Area of Mechatronics and Telecommunications, which was placed in five different points of the Coyolate River, in the Suchitepequez Department at about 3 h from the university premises, this system sends the alert via message to mobile phones, preventing the loss of human lives. They have also developed a system to measure real-time energy consumption in the eight stories of the university building. This is part of the initiative to reduce energy consumption, which began with installing LED lighting throughout the campus.

Strategic Objective 3

Promote the sustainable use of material, technological, and financial resources so that the academic administration may enhance their use, thus reducing negative environmental impact as well as costs.

Reviewing the activities, indicators, means of verification, and assumptions, we see with concern that being in the year 2018, what was proposed in the short and medium term has not been accomplished. Again there was an exception in the following activity/indicator: “To develop a volunteer program for the environment and sustainable development, which allows university professors and students who wish to contribute, to generate the social projection of the university / Professor and student volunteer and social projection program, approved and functioning.” To this end, the Universidad Galileo Network for Environmental Responsibility (RedGRA by its name in Spanish) was created. This network holds monthly meetings and has implemented some actions leading toward campus greening. This organization is based on the voluntary contribution of professors, students, and administrators at the Universidad Galileo.

Strategic Objective 4

Promote applied research to the creation of an environmentally sustainable campus through the implementation of programs that allow the inclusion of doctoral research, supervised professional practices or other variations of graduation exams in bachelor’s and master’s degrees, thus allowing the linking of university education with the environmental commitment to our country and the society to which the acquired knowledge is to be transmitted to.

Reviewing the activities, indicators, and means of verification and assumptions, we see with concern that being in the year 2018, what was proposed in the short and medium term has not been accomplished entirely. There was, however, the following activity/indicator: “Construction, development and implementation of technologies that contribute to the efficient use of natural resources / Number of technological prototypes or designs developed, tested and implemented.” Through RedGRA and its Energy Working Group, an inventory of lighting types was made in order to quantify the impact of the LED lighting that was installed. A real-time automated energy monitoring system has been set up.

If we rely on the concept of project feasibility to determine if the idea will deliver the benefits that are initially expected from it, and observing the progress and achievements that the Environmental Strategic Plan 2015–2019 has had, we consider that it is feasible. However its progress has been limited, and in order to be able to carry it out, the Institute of Sustainable Development, ISD, should undertake actions that enable the fulfillment of its objectives. Up to 2018, the ISD and RedGRA have considered that voluntary work on behalf of faculties and of the different areas of the university might avoid the implementation of the plan to be considered an intrusion in the academic freedom of the different areas of the university, but this strategy requires longer deadlines. This experience might be useful to other universities seeking the greening of their institution.

Campus Greening

As stated by “Transforming universities intro green and sustainable campuses” (United Nations Environment Programme 2013), universities could play a key role in the development of metrics to measure the progress of the green economy initiative and efforts made toward the greening of university campus and the community in general. Campuses could be considered pilot tests for the collaboration among different disciplines, scholars, workers, and students. As universities play an increasingly essential role in achieving the desired future, greener campuses should contribute in greater measure to the wider effort to achieve sustainable universities. In particular, universities have historically been safe havens for innovators and artists.

In “Chalmers University of Technology” (Kjällstrand 2008), the objectives of a group of ideas depict how to increase the number of university courses that have an element of environmental science, sustainable development, or both and how to use the campus as a teaching tool. The task assigned to students here was to use design to communicate a reduction in energy and resource use. Some examples of this were the signs placed on elevators which encouraged users to take the stairs instead and signs which encouraged opening doors manually instead of relying on automatically operated doors. These messages were combined with other messages such as “Climate change impacts all of us,” “Small changes in our daily lives can make a difference,” “Think about saving energy,” and “Use the stairs instead of the elevator, it is better for you and the environment.” Other examples of environmentally adaptable strategies, which were planned for Chalmers, were lower energy consumption rays in conference rooms or circuit breakers that shut off electricity when people leave public rooms, like dinning and copy rooms.

From “Green guide for universities” (Sustainia and IARU International Alliance of Research Universities 2014), a number of measures might be applied which highlights the importance of defining, programming, and implementing that could improve the greening of university campuses. The most important measures cover the following dimensions:
  1. 1.

    Though we may love the outdoors, on average, we spend approximately 70% of our lives inside. Buildings have become our natural habitat and have a profound impact on our lives and a great impact on the environment, both locally and globally. Buildings account for nearly 40% of total energy use, and our resource consumption and the waste generation attributed to construction of buildings are also very significant. So campus buildings offer one of the greatest opportunities for improvement when it comes to making universities more sustainable.

  2. 2.

    Informing building users on the optimum usage is key to guaranteeing that the buildings have maximum performance in their use.

  3. 3.

    The costs associated with maintenance and operations are often higher than construction, so investing in energy efficiency as well as waste and water management can bring significant savings.

  4. 4.

    A building’s energy use, whether electrical or thermal, remains one of the largest sources of CO2 emissions in any given university and thus requires significant attention.

  5. 5.

    Identifying key stakeholders who have the greatest level of influence over building design and operations, and getting their buy-in, is critical to making significant reductions to planned and ongoing energy consumption.

  6. 6.

    Engaging building occupants is also critical. The full potential of energy-efficient design and technology can only be realized if the occupants and operators are informed and committed.


Universidad Galileo has initiated an entrepreneurship project for aluminum and paper waste, proposing that project management be handled by the administrative staff. Garbage from the different buildings is classified, separating paper and aluminum. When the necessary volume is reached, the product will be sold to companies that collect paper and aluminum for recycling or resale to recycling companies. The proceeds from the sale shall be equally distributed among the staff in charge of the project.


  1. 1.

    The inclusion of the concept of sustainability in the curriculum of the different academic programs of a university will be achieved more efficiently if it is done voluntarily by those in charge of the said programs.

  2. 2.

    The involvement of internal and external university communication entities and its personnel shall be a decisive factor for the communication and ownership of the strategic plans of the institution.

  3. 3.

    Student and faculty commitment to campus greening is essential; it is necessary that they are informed about institution policies and plans on this matter.


Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Education of Galileo UniversityGuatemala cityGuatemala

Section editors and affiliations

  • Nelson Amaro
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Sustainable DevelopmentGalileo UniversityGuatemala CityGuatemala