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WHAT MAKES A GREEN UNIVERSITY IN VIET NAM ?
Defining Tri Viet University's Green Ambition
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December 3-4, 2010
This is a recapitulation by the Tri Viet Center for Education Research & Development (the Center) the Conference's Organizer and developer of Tri Viet University of the ideas and experiences partaken at the Conference. The Center is indebted to the Conference's participants for their contribution and hopes this initial outcome is the first of many more to assist it in the shaping and realizing of Tri Viet University's "Green Ambition".
A. WHAT WE AIMED FOR
This conference is a follow-up to the Center's 2009 international seminar What University for the 21st Century?, on the roles of university in the new age. We determined then that the 21st century university must be not just a transmitter of knowledge but also a leader of ideas and opinions and a socially responsible actor in the community. We then asserted that, to be effective in the fulfillment of that mission, the university should it self be sustainable, or "green". Most higher education institutions in the world agree with that premise, but in Viet Nam the underlying rationale for embracing sustainability has yet to be clearly formulated.
Since the signing of the Talloires Declaration in 1990, the concept of campus sustainability has grown over the years, altering campuses across the world. An increasing number of campuses have "
, embedding sustainability into all aspects of a university's conception, creation and operation. In Viet Nam, the environmental threats posed by Climate Change have brought sustainable development and environmental protection to the top in national development programs1
And yet, education, a key component of any nation's development, has remained largely untouched by the trend in Viet Nam. To date the concept of Sustainable/Green University is still unfamiliar not only to the public at large but even to practitioners in the field. Our principal purpose in convening the Conference is to learn about the sustainability trend in education in the world and acquaint ourselves with successful green university building practices. Another purpose is to help mainstream the Sustainable/Green University concept so it could integrate the ongoing debate on education reforms in Viet Nam. To the Founders of Tri Viet University, Sustainable/Green University is no longer an option at this point of the country's development, but "the right thing to do". For that reason, the Conference was structured purposefully not as a conventional academic exercise but a down-to-earth exchange of practical viewpoints, experiences and recommendations, which, we hope, will constitute a "blueprint" for the conception and creation of Tri Viet Sustainable/Green University.
B. WHAT WE LEARNED
SUSTAINABLE / GREEN UNIVERSITY: THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES
1. The Green University a Holistic Novel Concept
2. Green Design & Green Construction
3. The Green University a Space for Green Studies and Innovations
4. Tri Viet Green University a Mainstay in Viet Nam's Civil Society
1. The Green University a Holistic Novel Concept
While there are differences in the ways Sustainable Development and Green University are defined, a consensus has been growing on the holistic nature of the Sustainable/Green University (GU). A Green University, in layman'
s terms, is the sumof a variety of dimensions and activities ranging from construction and operation of physical facilities, management and governance, teaching, learning and research, to the institution'
s linkages with the economy and connections to the community and society. In view of this complexity, any business decisions by a GU must be sustainable on a "
Triple Bottom Line"
: community, environmental, and financial2
; 1) Community bottom line: A GU has to affirm its civil society and global citizen'
s standing with sustained contributions to the world'
s efforts on Sustainable Development (SD) and Environmental Preservation (EP) (e.g. via its academic/training programs, published research, practical works, number of graduates pursuing a career in SD and EP); 2) Environmental bottom line: A GU is a hub of people with the ability and opportunity to impact on the ecosystem; hence, the imperative to measure that impact; 3) Financial bottom line: as required of any enterprise, even a social one, a GU must be able to balance revenue/benefit and cost; in this context, it should be kept in mind that the benefits of being green should not be confined within savings made in the immediate from green technology but considered on a long-term perspective (e.g. over the life cycle of aphysical facility).
Nevertheless, reality has shown that, even in developed countries where GU is more in the mainstream, the major focus has been on the sustainability aspects of facilities
, for the primary reason that the targets and benefits of sustainability in these areas are of a technical and economic nature, thus easier to identify, set, and measure, and the opportunity to cut back on operation costs is particularly enticing (e.g. savings in electricity, water, materials, labor, etc). In other areas of the university, institutional commitment to sustainability has been more modest, and more a concern of the academic and student population (in developed countries students'
commitment to SD and EP has been surging). In sum, it seems safe to say that, at this stage, the Sustainable/Green University as a holistic endeavor is still a novel concept on most campuses3
Our GU project, Tri Viet, is fortunate in the sense that its Founders have had a green mindset right from the inceptive stage of master planning and design. A green vision and determination are instrumental to the success of a GU. For sustainability to become Tri Viet GU's signature, one of its main differentiators and niches, and for Tri Viet GU to become a reliable base from which sustainability will spread onto the community, sustainability must be embedded in Tri Viet consistently and harmoniously, pursuant to a sensible roadmap with clear benchmarks in each phase of development4
. In this context, it should be reiterated that a Sustainable/Green University does not come ready for servicebut is the result of an arduous process in the course of which the GU's Founders will be called upon to make hard choices and complex decisions to balance the resources available with the costs of their green vision.
The majority of views and arguments presented at the Conference followed a holistic approach consistent with the multi-dimensional nature of the GU concept. And yet, in the real world a genuine debate has still to take place between GU practitioners across the board. In view of this reality it was recommended that a pioneer like Tri Viet should have, right from inception, an advisory body of multidisciplinary experts to help set priorities and trouble-shoot in the GU creation process. Given this crucial role it might be wise that Tri Viet establish its Center for Sustainability Studies prior to opening the University so the Center can serve as this advisory body early on.
2. Green Design & Green Construction
A GU's green design/buildings are usually what impress students and their parents first. In the strive for these assets GU developers commonly perceive that a GU demands strict adherence to costly world standards and technology. This is actually a myth, which we were happy to learn about at the Conference5
. The true value of a green building is reflected not just in its construction costs but also in its life cycle as well as that of the green technology and materials used, and the resulting savings in operational costs. Of equal relevance is the green building'
s impact on the behavior of its occupants and on the local eco system - including people, all of which are factors that are not easy to measure.Such a comprehensive tally right from the design and construction phase will provide an accurate way to highlight the superiority and effectiveness of green building practices.
A recently-built university in Viet Nam was mentioned in connection with conventional designing tools being used with creativity to make the most of local conditions (site, climate and materials). Thus, whether a GU works or not does not have to depend solely on state-of-the-art, high operating costs technology (e.g., a green design will favor natural ventilation over air conditioning). In other words, while modern technology is necessary it is not the only and omnipotent tool available in the pursuit of sustainability and environmental preservation6.
Despite its underlying wisdom the concept has still to gain ground in Viet Nam where current designers and builders have not shown great interest in less costly but equally effective alternatives7
. Tri Viet will have to consider the country's realities on a par with its fund availability to make the right choices right from the start. Various criterias are currently used to guide and rate a GU's performance in certain areas, e.g. energy use (especially renewable energies), waste treatment and recycling, etc. The Vietnam Green Building Council has built LOTUS, a set of green rating tools attuned to the particularities of the country8
3. The Green University a Space for Green Studies and Innovations
Although sustainability has not really permeated academia, as mentioned above, there still exists in the world a range of green teaching, research and learning experiences that Tri Viet can draw from in the process of incorporating Sustainability in its general knowledge curricula and/or building programs and courses on Sustainability.
It should be noted that the notion of "
in the GU context extends beyond the campus to include the community, businesses and socio-economic and cultural institutions in and out of the country that are partnering with the university in projects executed by the university'
s stakeholders. These projects constitute the channels through which the GU demonstrates its social responsibility, and, in so doing, instills its students with the much-needed sense of reality that students need as they prepare to join the workplace. This space should be viewed as a "
where faculty,researchers, students and the community can jointly experiment with and benefit from the knowledge imparted on campus and co-produced with the community9
Effective teaching and learning about Sustainability and the Environment take place not just in the classroom – even when case studies deal with subjects close to the students - but by ushering faculty and students into specific contexts to raise their awareness and cognizance of sustainability and the environmental, and allow them to experiment and supplement school theory with actual practice. That is the gist of the experiential learning
method, which aims to narrow the gap between theory and practice by bringing reality into the classroom and sending classes out into the real world10
. This method might be what is needed in Viet Nam at this juncture, when, as was noted at the Conference, most young people seem to be still "
in sustainability and environmental matters. Experiential learning in a number of countries has shown to have enriched students' knowledge while helping "
their mindset, attitude andbehavior11
Besides experiential learning, service learning
, and cooperative learning12
are also methods combining theory and practice and built on two fundamental principles:
a) The "Co-production of Knowledge" Principle: knowledge learned in class is experimented on and re-produced with project partners; this method allows for tapping into the community's know how - a treasure of wisdom which the academia should be aware of, appreciate and draw from when appropriate.
b) The "Interdisciplinary Solutions-based" Principle
: itself, a reflection of the multidimensional nature of the sustainability and environment issues. Projects are good opportunities for students to experience for themselves the advantages of teamwork and of the interdisciplinary approach, from preparation to execution.Solutions-based, or use-inspired, research should be the rock bottom for a debuting GU. Almost all the Conference presentations and discussions recommended that a young university like Tri Viet focus research on pursuing "soft solutions" to specific issues, which would not demand huge investments in cash and manpower13
. A judicious advice, indeed.
It was also advised that, as Tri Viet undertakes the promotion of the GU concept and eventually becomes its flagship in Viet Nam, Tri Viet might consider joining the network of like-minded universities and research centers in and outside the country14
. Tri Viet University does not intend to have a department dedicated to the Environment, like many of its predecessors, but will have a Center for Sustainability Studies (CSS); beside research, the CSS will act as the University's right hand in sustainability matters, e.g.advise the management, design strategies and solutions, create space and structure cooperation between departments, and coordinate execution of projects with SD and EP contents. And as the University'
it seems logical that the CSS' first task is the drafting of the Sustainability Framework, a "handbook" for the creation of Tri Viet Green University.
4. Tri Viet Green University - a Mainstay in Viet Nam's Civil Society
Although the concept of "civil society" is still being debated in Viet Nam, Tri Viet should position itself as an integral part of that civil society, i.e. the community, businesses, socio-economic- cultural organizations, the media and policy making circles15
. It is through the interaction and cooperation with that civil society that Tri Viet will have opportunities to demonstrate its social enterprise self by fulfilling its social responsibilities, in this case, the commitment to sustainable development and environmental preservation. As a "
entrepreneur, Tri Viet has to take into consideration its stakeholders' inputs and interests and structure their participation in the enterprise. To enable and sustain this participation would be one of the best ways to showcase Tri Viet's leading edge. In this context, a group of students was invited to participate and express their views at the Conference since students are a university'
s target audience as well as its stakeholder par excellence.
Education in Viet Nam is in a peculiar situation today, where the inauspicious coexists with the auspicious (e.g. public low awareness of the need for sustainable development and environmental preservation, expecially among young people; lack ofsustainability investment in education versus national policies increasingly having a sustainability component). That very duality is an advantage which Tri Viet University is trying to make the most of, when opting to make the shaping of people's mind and behavior its long-term commitment and strategic guideline. Although the endeavor willnot necessarily demand huge investments – as presented at the Conference, the pioneering nature of a GU in today's Viet Nam requires a multifaceted and multidimensional alliance with all components of the civil society. Only such a synergycould help Sustainable Development, Environmental Preservation and Sustainable/Green University take root, thrive, and spread.
C. WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED
There can be no complete assessment of a conference's true impact until after some of its outcomes have materialized. In the meantime, the Center has identified the following benchmarks through analysis of the participants' composition, responses to the conference evaluation questionnaire and subsequent media fallout:
126 participants, including:
• By origin: 55% Vietnamese nationals, 13% Overseas Vietnamese, 32% Non-Vietnamese
• By occupation: 41% faculty/researchers, 16% professionals, 27% businesses, 8% civil society, 8% officials
90% were satisfied with the organization
95% thought the content appropriate and comprehensive; 80% found it practical, reality-based; 55% thought the realities in Viet Nam should have been reflected more in-depth
Media fallout: more than a month since the Conference there have been 29 news items, articles and stories in 6 paper press, 21 online press and 2 television channels.
Given the Conference's main purposes – to learn from the world about GU building and from sustainability-experienced university administrators, faculty, researchers, and other actors– the fact that almost all of the Conference presentations and discussions dedicated a part for practical recommendations to Tri Viet University is, in itself, quite meaningful. Even more encouraging is the fact that two-thirds of the responses to the evaluation questionnaire expressed willingness to consult for Tri Viet University when needed and participate in curriculum building, teaching/research, and drafting of the Sustainability Framework, the handbook to the creation of Tri Viet Sustainable/Green University.
In brief, the Conference has been instrumental in reasserting to the Founders of Tri Viet University that.
• A Sustainable/Green University is the right choice, one reflecting world trends and national priorities, and one with a better chance to attract the public's support and contribution.
• A Sustainable/Green University is an attainable goal with high socio-economic promise provided the road to it is a holistic and consistent process.
• The commitment to Sustainability and Being Green is a rare differentiator for Tri Viet University, providing it with a unique opportunity to assert its prominence amongst Vietnamese universities.
1.Trần Thục: Climate change and Việt Nam: Options for
2.Kosnik, Thomas: Integrating Green Technology in a
New University in Viet Nam: a Sustainable Business Decision.
3. Armstrong, Lloyd: The Rationale for and the
Challenge of Embedding Sustainability into Higher Education Institutions.
4. Shin-Cheng Yeh: Suggestions on the Planning and
Operation of a Green University.
5. Kishnani, Nirmal: 5 Myths of Greening –
Understanding the Design Process and Green Outcome.
6. Ngô Viết Nam Sơn: Developing a Green Campus in Viet
Nam: Lessons from Master Planning for two American Campuses.
7. Merryweather, Melissa: Natural & Built
Environment & Lifestyle: Correlations; Vietnamese Case Study.
8. Millet, Yannick: Driving Towards a Sustainable Built
9. Allen, Jennifer: Building Sustainability
Scholarship: Lessons from Portland State University.Võ Đình Thanh: Physical
Asset, Governance & Sustainability Learning. Implications from the Fields.
10. Surendra, Lawrence: Educational Institutions’
Activities within UNESCO’s “Decade of Education for Sustainability
11. Đỗ Vân Nguyệt: From
Sustainability Awareness to Action – How to Build a Green Generation in Viet
12. Armstrong, Lloyd, Enhancing the Sustainability of
both University and Community through Interactive Learning, Service, and
13. Nguyễn Việt Anh: Sustainability Teaching and
Research in Viet Nam’s Higher Education.
14. Shin-Cheng Yeh: Suggestions on the Planning and
Operation of a Green University.
Đặng Văn Khoa: Building a Long-term Relationship between the Green
University and Civil Society.