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Sustainability must be part of day-to-day university life

Every one of us can take small steps towards behaving responsibly towards our plant and thinking about future generations. And the university gives us excellent opportunities to do so. We sat down with MU bursar Marta Valešová to talk about these issues.

MU bursar Marta Valešová.

In respecting and developing the principles of sustainability, Masaryk University is following the path towards a sustainable university and a shared responsible internal culture. The objectives of Masaryk University’s Strategic Plan for 2021–2028 are closely intertwined with the notion of sustainability, which should be ingrained in a growing number of university activities.

What does the concept of sustainability at Masaryk University mean to you?
Sustainability is a cross-cutting theme. It is mindset in everyday decision-making. We want to keep the planet sustainable for our children. In my position, I personally perceive the duty and responsibility to apply a responsible system of managing the university, operations, investments, water, waste, and energy use. And mainly in cooperation with people. I also think that as a university we have the opportunity to reach out to and collaborate not only with our students and employees but also with the general public, to share examples of good practice, and to learn from each other. We are an educational and research institution. We can give simple examples of how each of us can behave sustainably, what individuals can do themselves, and how people can contribute to sustainability by making minor changes that can lead to major big-picture changes. Therefore, I would be glad if we could create an environment where students and employees can behave sustainably and set an example for people around them.

What energy-efficiency measures has Masaryk University adopted?
Three years ago we began conducting an energy audit focusing on operations management. We are analysing the energy performance of each of our buildings. We are seeking out opportunities for reducing energy consumption in our day-to-day operations and through investments. We are also trying to work with the people who manage our buildings to achieve savings through good energy management and personal responsibility. We are gradually replacing traditional energy sources with greener, more economical ones. For example, we are in our second year of renovating heating and cooling sources at campus. This year we will also continue installing solar panels, changing lighting sources, etc. I must add, however, that it is not buildings that use the most energy, but research equipment and IT infrastructure, especially at the University Campus in Bohunice. For this reason, I view the personal responsibility of researchers to be critical. When they are purchasing goods and services, they should respect the principles of social responsibility and sustainability. Sharing infrastructure, that is, efficiently using both equipment and space is also a topical issue. Waste and recycling are other major issues.

How does the university manage waste?
We have been recycling waste for years, and we are trying to procure goods and services rationally and responsibly. But that’s not enough today. We must be better decision-makers when it comes to purchasing. We have to think about whether waste needs to be created at all, and if it does, how can it be minimized. We need to change our mindset. So, if our procurement process produces waste, we need to have a plan for how to responsibly deal with it. Based on an amendment to the Waste Management Act we are now preparing a public tender, and we want to redefine how waste is managed, especially in terms of exporting and processing waste. I’m glad that we have people at the university we can ask about the best way forward and that we can rely on our experts. For example, our colleagues from the Sustainability and Circularity Institute of the Faculty of Economics and Administration are excellent partners.

Masaryk University has adopted many measures related to sustainable procurement. How are public tenders written? And are the quality and prices of the services and goods taken into account?
It is now a legal requirement to take sustainability into account when awarding contracts. Using common sense is also important. With some contracts you can give more detailed criteria: you can look at what particular goods are made from, think about the materials used and about how and by whom they were produced, about the technology and labour used to make them. For some commodities and goods, you must think about these criteria well in advance and include them in the conditions of the tender. On the other hand, there are some contracts, where, if well defined, price is absolutely the decisive factor. It is important to approach each contract rationally and monitor and make sure that sustainability principles are being respected as required by law.

Another topic that is often brought up when discussing universities is water management. How is water managed at the University Campus and are students involved in efforts to save water?
Water is another important strategic priority for Masaryk University. I’ll mention at least one aspect – water in the landscape. The University Campus in Bohunice was planned in such a way that green roofs and green “swales” retain water, which then does not run off via the sewerage system. Now, we want to move this concept forward even further. This year, after having monitored precipitation runoff for an entire year, we will create two rainwater retention basins that will be used to irrigate and expand greenery at the campus. Having greenery nearby our faculties is important. It contributes significantly to the microclimate, and we want to support this trend. We welcome students getting involved everywhere, not just when it comes to water. There are many opportunities. All you need to do is join in.

Do Masaryk University’s canteens purchase food products from local suppliers, who are often located close by, and in the process save on transport?
This is another big issue that we have been discussing intensively with the new director of Accommodation and Catering Services, Kamil Kulíšek. We are primarily focused on improving the quality of catering and accommodations. As far as food is concerned, we are committed to purchasing it from local producers to reduce transportation time and ensure it stays fresh. We have involved students in the discussions surrounding sustainability in dining and food. We listen to their ideas and opinions. Director Kulíšek welcomes every suggestion and all feedback. But it’s a surprise to find that the biggest critics don’t eat at the canteens at all. Their critical words are based on experiences from years ago! In this connection, I would encourage employees as well as students to go to university canteens. I eat at a canteen regularly. I test the quality of the food, and I am very satisfied with it.

How is the university doing meeting clean transportation goals?
We support all options that allow for clean transportation between faculties. Therefore, we are holding discussions with the city of Brno about installing bicycle stands. Or in some cases, we are installing them ourselves near our buildings. We are also in contact with the public transport company, with which we are talking about the possibilities for using electric buses to connect different university buildings or campuses in the future. We have begun collaborating with providers of electric bicycles, with whom we would like to discuss more how to enable students to move as greenly as possible between faculties and in general when travelling around Brno.

Since we are talking about transport, how do you rate the Tram to Campus project?
We are looking forward to the trams and maybe even soon to a cable car from Hlinky Street, which will connect the faculties at the campus to the Faculty of Economics and Administration.

What are the main principles of green construction at MU? And does the university have any low-energy buildings?
When we construct new buildings, we try to use green technologies. Besides green roofs and retaining rainfall where it lands, we are also trying to use grey water, that is, wastewater from sinks. We also work with green facades and maintaining the microclimate inside buildings. We want to increase our reliance on photovoltaics; that means another source of energy. We don’t have any passive buildings because thus far the conditions we have had for building infrastructure have not allowed them. But I believe that the land on the slope across from University Campus and CEITEC will allow us to build a passive building, which will be partially submerged in the ground. On the other hand, it must be said that the technical demands that we, as a university, have on buildings and their interiors are so great that reconciling them with energy-efficiency standards is a difficult task.

Will sustainability efforts at the university be better communicated to students and employees in the near future? Could a more modern website help?
I am very happy about the new website, which we want to improve further, and we believe that it will showcase Masaryk University and its approach to sustainability and that our employees and students will help meet sustainability goals. Another communication platform at the university is the new Sustainable Development Board, an advisory body to the rector, where all faculties as well as students are represented. At regular meetings we expect members to be highly active and expect topics to be communicated across faculties and the university, which will help us move forward as a university that feels a responsibility for future generations.

You can find information and news about MU’s sustainability-related projects here