What are net zero behaviours and how do you encourage them on a University campus?
As the effects of climate change become increasingly evident, many organisations are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and become more sustainable. In the case of universities, the challenge is even greater, as campuses are often large and complex environments with numerous buildings, transportation options, and other infrastructure that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Monash University has made a commitment to net zero emissions by 2030. This means changing the infrastructure that it uses to power, heat, and cool buildings and equipment, transport goods and people, and significant behaviour change across its campuses by students, staff, and management. This is no easy task. Monash University is the largest University in Australia, with 6 different campuses, and the second oldest University in Victoria.
To achieve this goal, Monash University launched the ‘Monash Net Zero Initiative’, which focuses on deep decarbonisation through technology development and deployment, as well as behaviour change. It can be challenging to identify which behaviours are most important to achieve net zero. We partnered with Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash Net Zero Initiative, ENGIE Lab Crigen (Paris), ENGIE Lab Singapore, Monash University Buildings & Property Division and ClimateWorks Centre on a research project to identify priority behaviours.
A key challenge is that there are many different behaviours and practices that could change in order to get to net zero emissions, but these have not been identified in a systematic and comprehensive way, so some might be missed. It's also not clear which behaviours will have the biggest impact for reduced emissions, which ones staff and students are already doing, and which are easy or difficult to change. What was needed is a project to identify and prioritise net zero behaviours on campus.
Our aim was to identify and prioritise net zero behaviours on university campuses, so that these could guide universities and other university-scale urban districts and precincts in their efforts to achieve net zero.
The focus was on identifying behaviours that any university or urban district could use to plan behaviour change campaigns for net zero, with the intention that other universities or urban precincts could copy or adapt the approach used for Monash University. Although, we expect that the results of a prioritisation for an urban university in the heart of Singapore would be quite different to a sprawling campus in the US or for universities that are far from cities.
The research project used a combination of methods to identify and prioritise behaviours. First, a long list of possible net zero behaviours was created through a rigorous evidence review. Next, experts were surveyed to estimate the carbon emissions reduction potential of different behaviours, and staff, student and university management were surveyed to understand the current participation in these behaviours and ease of behaviour change. The results of this survey were then analysed and visualised using a decision-support tool called the Impact-Likelihood matrix.
The research identified several key net zero behaviours that can be encouraged on university campuses, including:
Encouraging staff and students to travel around campus using active transport (such as walking or cycling) instead of private vehicles, carpooling, and using public transport. Remote attendance at events and activities can also help reduce emissions from travel.
Enabling energy-saving features on computers and other equipment, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and equipment, turning off electrical appliances when not in use, and using digital documents instead of printed documents were all identified priority behaviours. Also, shifting the time of day that energy-intensive equipment and services are used to match renewable generation periods or off-peak periods.
Purchasing plant-based food on campus instead of animal-based food and sorting recyclables and food waste on campus instead of putting it in general rubbish are key behaviours in this area.
These staff can also contribute by compressing work or study into fewer days to reduce travel to and from campus, purchasing electric vehicles for the university fleet, creating or managing programs to increase active transport, and reducing private vehicle use. Staff and students can also work together to create a culture of sustainability and encourage others to adopt net zero behaviours.
In conclusion, the ‘Monash Net Zero Initiative’ shows that universities can make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by adopting net zero behaviours. By identifying and prioritising these behaviours, universities and other university-scale urban districts and precincts can focus their efforts on the most important behaviours in order to achieve net zero.
The research also highlights the importance of collaboration between staff and students, as well as the need for leadership and support from university administration in order to create a culture of sustainability on campus.
The links below provide further details about the primary outputs of this project
Written by Peter Slattery
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