Envisioning green solutions for reducing the ecological footprint of a university campus

Chiara Genta, Silvia Favaro, Giulia Sonetti, Caterina Barioglio, Patrizia Lombardi, (2019) “Envisioning green solutions for reducing the ecological footprint of a university campus”International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-01-2019-0039

Purpose
This paper aims to report strategies towards a green campus project at Politecnico di Torino University, a 33,000-students Italian higher education institution (HEI), and estimate the avoided ecological footprint (EF) of different scenarios accounted for open spaces.

Design/methodology/approach
A consumption-based study has been developed to analyse the current EF of the main campus site. Data were collected from different departments and administrative units to identify the measure of the pressure exerted by the campus activities on the ecosystem. Then, possible scenarios were accounted for open spaces along five different design layers: energy, water, landscape, food and mobility. Acting on the spaces by means of biophilic design and user-driven design requires complex considerations on university’s anticipated future needs and a wide-ranging evaluation of the most appropriate pathways forward according to all university stakeholders, far beyond the mere accounting of avoided EF.

Findings
A reduction of the 21 per cent of the current EF can be achieved through the solutions envisaged in the green campus project along the open space layers. Moreover, universities have the opportunity to not only improve the sustainability of their facilities but also demonstrate how the built environment can be designed to benefit both the environment and the occupants.

Research limitations/implications
The acknowledgement of predicted behavioural change effects is a question left open to further researchers on methods and indicators for social impact accounting and reporting in truly sustainable university campuses.

Originality/value
This is the first research that estimates the EF of an Italian HEI. The research represents also an innovative approach integrating the EF reduction scenarios in the design process of the new masterplan of open spaces, trying to identify the connection between environmental impact reduction and improvement in users’ perception.

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