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Starting Sustainability from Universities - Gökberk Bilgin

The pace of change in our world has started to increase rapidly in recent years. While our living habits have changed with the innovations that technology has brought to our lives, we found ourselves faced with the problem of coronavirus and global warming, which affects the entire planet. Studies that have increased in number in recent years reveal that our current lifestyle will limit the years we can spend on this planet. We may think that these studies reflect reality entirely or ignore them. However, we cannot deny that we need to start preparations today to overcome the problems that we are likely to encounter in the upcoming period.

When faced with long-term problems such as climate change, solutions are generally offered under two main headings. The first of these aims to change our existing habits, and the second aims to reduce the damage we do to the environment by improving our technology. Universities, which provide human capital to people to take the necessary steps in both areas, have major responsibilities. The activities of the energy sector, which is shown as the main cause of climate change, is a very dynamic and exciting field that is affected by many different factors. The quality of our ability to work together in this sector, where different faculties in universities can be stakeholders somehow, will show the quality of the solutions we will produce when we encounter problems.

For this reason, students who will come to decision-making roles in the future should acquire the necessary skills at the university. The word sustainability does not have a universally accepted definition since different priorities can lead to different perceptions of the meaning. You can think of the sustainability used in this article as being able to carry an organization with its current resources according to today and the future's requirements and constantly improve the way it does this business.

In the report titled “ Solving the net-zero equation – 9 requirements for a more orderly transition ” published by McKinsey in the past months, besides the importance of technological transformation in ensuring sustainability, the importance of managing socio-economic effects, persuading the society to change and building strong institutions, are also mentioned. It will be important to take each of these steps correctly to transform states and companies in the coming period. Therefore, students who have been able to practice on finding solutions at the university will have the opportunity to start their business life with an important experience. While doing so, at the same time, they can turn university campuses into leading centers of transformation.

So, how should the university approach the event at this stage? It is possible to find many different opinions on this subject. The book The Sustainable Development Goals – A Transformative Agenda, written by Wendy Steele and Lauren Rickards, discusses four different approaches that vary according to the strength of the corporate commitment and innovation culture. When we examine the positive and negative ends of these, it is said that in the campuses where the institutional commitment is low, and the innovation culture is not widespread the interaction within the university will be weak and disconnected from each other. On the other hand, if the university is strongly committed to taking steps in this area and a suitable environment for innovation is provided, the activities to be carried out in this way will be transformative. Bilkent University administration declared this academic year the “Sustainability Year” and claimed that it would support activities in this field institutionally. Therefore, by providing an innovative environment, sustainability can be realized through transformative activities at Bilkent University.

In this context, as the Bilkent Energy Policy Research Center, we aim to create a platform covering our entire campus to support our university's sustainability activities, identify our problems together, and develop solutions by combining different perspectives. This platform will aim to develop detailed solutions to the identified problems by bringing together people who have received education in different disciplines in the light of recent the studies on design thinking, data analysis, problem-solving techniques, etc. For example, you might want to consider increasing the recycling rates of garbage at the university. Although there are steps regarding the separation and recycling of garbage on campus, we think an important area can be improved. When we deal with this problem with a sustainable approach, we can create a system that can solve different problems we will encounter instead of developing one-dimensional solution suggestions. If we need more trash bins for different trash bins to sort and collect the garbage on campus, instead of just putting them, we can design the whole process. For this, it can be started by studying the data of the daily garbage generated on the Bilkent campus and the areas of the campus where different types of waste are more concentrated. Then, the optimization work about how many trash cans should be in which region can be done by the students of the engineering department. In addition, psychology and interior architecture departments can contribute to the design of garbage cans and encourage people to separate waste. At the point of changing the habits mentioned above, instead of the restrictive or punitive approach that comes to our minds, an order can be created to encourage people to willingly exhibit the necessary behaviors in the light of scientific methods. These designed boxes can be produced by related companies such as Tepe Home, which is part of Bilkent Holding. On the economic analysis side of the operation, the Department of Economics can do the calculations. The students in the social sciences can contact the municipality’s garbage facilities to discuss how the garbage will be handled after the campus. Finally, the continuity of the contribution can be ensured by ensuring that the people who support the project can see the impact they have created. At this stage, the support of the Communication and Design Department can provide important support in conveying how the process is progressing, and they can show everyone that the process works by producing various content. The outputs of the work done will be followed, and a more effective system will be created by making marginal improvements at the end of each year. If such a platform is created, dozens of different problems will be considered, and solutions will be created. The good thing is that not all projects even have to be successful. Projects that we can show to be successful where our technical capacity will not be enough can be realized even after the university receives professional service.

In summary, while developing inclusive projects on campus, requesting voluntary support from all relevant departments ensures that human capital can be used most effectively. At the same time, focusing to details will strengthens the sustainability of the work for the future years. The participation of Bilkent members in this process related to the operation of the campus will enable them to be more committed to their work and increase projects’ chances of success.

Making this system permanent and making improvements on the campus with new studies every year develops the campus according to the requirements of the age and allows the students who contribute to these studies to have the equipment and experience they can use when they start working life. If other universities conduct similar projects, when the newly graduated students began to enter the business world, it can start to transform it and support the increase of steps taken against the climate change.

In the movie Don't Look Up, which has recently been shown on Netflix, it is show that people bring the world to an end with systematic insensitivity. When it comes to our way of handling the climate change, the reality is not much different from this situation. We believe that the solution is to gather people who want to work on this issue and make our lifestyle sustainable by making continuous improvements. On the other hand, university campuses are one of the best places to take the first step because while they host many highly skilled people from different disciplines, they also offer a small-scale environment where the things that need to be done to protect the planet can be tried. While wishing all our readers a good and healthy year, I would like to thank Erkin Sancarbaba, Halil Öztürk, Başak Bozoğlu, and Mustafa Eray Yücel for their support during the design phase of this project.


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