Working for sustainability at USiena

The following piece is going to appear on World Student Environmental Network‘s website as we officially introduce Greening USiena as their partner organization. It contains a brief recap of University of Siena’s track record on sustainability and a summary of our activities and ideas.

by Dario Piselli – Greening USiena coordinator

University of Siena is one of the oldest and leading publicly funded universities in Italy. Apart from being located in a city whose centre  thumbtrue1358783745048_710_472has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it also lies in a territory that is unanimously considered a maximum example of the ideal interaction between man and nature, with Siena’s hills and countryside attracting millions of people every year not just for its famous vineyards, but also for its wonderful landscapes. Given this unique geographical and morphological context, it is not surprising that this community has (consciously or not) shaped itself mainly following the concept of ‘local self-sustainable development‘, as it was later defined by great Italian architect and scholar Alberto Magnaghi; moreover, it is definitely not surprising that, in the last few decades, University of Siena has been a crib for pioneering research on environmental issues, providing leading figures in many academic fields, such as environmental economics and ecology.

Starting in 2011, a new wave in the sustainable development challenge has hit this institution, and students are looking forward to play a key role in the process. In the first place, a group of researchers and professors decided to come together and form Ne.S.So. (Network Siena Sustainability), an interdisciplinary network aimed at sharing separate competences and practices in order to enhance the standard of teaching and research, shape the sustainability debate at the national and international level and also make an impact on the local community. Then, in late 2012, it was revealed that University of Siena was about to get involved in United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a project developed by the United Nations and headed by author and economist Jeffrey Sachs, professor at Columbia University and founder of The Earth Institute, which is now on the launching pad.

This is when a group of students (us), combining different backgrounds and interests (from environmental economics to international riccaboni_sachslaw, from wildlife and wild habitat protection to engineering and biology), decided to step up and ask our Rector to make them part of the ambitious task of making University of Siena a regional and international hub in sustainability. In other words, we wanted to be actively committed to the radical change that was unfolding in our school, not mere spectators of a top-down approach; we wanted to show the entire community that it was possible to join forces with professors and employees in order to enhance the study experience at USiena from an environmental perspective and also the impact of our actions on a broader context; we wanted, if possible, to make that change even more radical, merging advocacy and bold ideas with a wholehearted dedication to transforming policies from the inside, in cooperation with each willing stakeholder.

Thankfully, we found a lot of those willing stakeholders, who listened and responded to our request. From the Rector to researchers and so on, we managed to establish a strong collaboration which will hopefully contribute to deliver big improvements and establish University of Siena as a reference point on the defining issues of our time.

And there we are. Greening USiena has now been active for four months or so, and we are working as hard as we can (without losing universita_degli_studi_sienasight of our degrees, of course), putting our best efforts into this great task we put upon ourselves. The pathway we decided to undertake is not the easiest one, as criticalities remain at both local and national level: just to give you an example, we study in a place in which historical buildings dominate the urban landscape and the university infrastructures themselves are usually beautiful but centuries-old, making it more difficult to achieve energy efficiency and limit waste heat; in addition, the situation of education in Italy is not the most encouraging one, being affected by long years of mismanagement and funding cuts operated by almost every government, not to mention the economic crisis and the international context as well, which undermine sustainability talks in our country but also on the global stage.

But we strive for success, as we are simultaneously embarking in both local and international initiatives (as University of Waikato’s Professor Alexander Gillespie told us during an interview we conducted with him during the launch of our network, “if you get too global, your feet don’t touch the ground; but if you get too local, things just pass you by“), thus abiding by the idea that just a local self-sustainable development could spark a change in international policies and influence the switch to a different global development model. As a consequence, we are working with the university’s personnel to reduce waste, achieve a better record on energy sdsn_logo_finefficiency, provide drinking fountains in order to eliminate plastic bottles from our buildings and boost the separate collection of rubbish, while at the same time we focus on students’ involvement in the Mediterranean Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the regional part of UNSDSN project of which University of Siena has been appointed as a Centre, and try to broaden our vision by organizing activities and events with the goal of sharing knowledge and distinct perspectives with other student groups or experts (i.e., we recently participated to a Google+ Hangout on energy issues with the London School of Economics Energy Society, as well as having the privilege to host, along with Alexander Gillespie, marine ecologist Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and an Australian Student Environment Network‘s representative during the official launch of Greening USiena).

All that said, when we got to know about World Student Environmental Network, we immediately reached out to their core team, to express our intention to join forces and become their first italian partner student group. We deeply appreciated their warm response and want to thank them for the opportunity they gave us to share our experience on this website and hopefully encourage more young people to embrace the challenge of sustainability (both on campus and in the world) first-hand.



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