Science, education and social responsibility - sustainability is growing in importance in each of these areas. Today's university must not only respond to its objectives, but also create them. Prof. Paweł Strumiłło, Vice-Rector for Development, talks about the challenges facing TUL.
How should a university pursuing sustainable development look like? What new areas of activity should it open up to?
To begin with, it is worth defining briefly what we understand by sustainable development goals, which were adopted in the United Nations Agenda 2030. These goals are defined in five areas: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, and these are broken down into 17 specific objectives. In short, the aim is for us to live a healthier, safer, more prosperous, more peaceful and more enjoyable life on our planet. As a technical university, we identify the most necessary actions we can take in the field of research and education to achieve these goals more effectively. We are launching a green campus project, i.e. a series of activities aimed at building awareness and a pro-environmental community. We are beginning to assess the efficiency of electricity and heat use at the University. In the near future, electric car charging stations should appear on campus. Our actions are holistic and take into account both short- and long-term goals.
The road to change is a process. What actions does Lodz University of Technology take to develop sustainable development?
The first step taken by his Magnificence the Rector of Lodz University of Technology was to set up a Team for Sustainable Development, whose task is to plan and coordinate the University's activities aimed at achieving the objectives of sustainable development. It should be noted here that in international rankings, social responsibility of universities is an increasingly important indicator.
First of all, the Team conducted a survey among students and employees of TUL. Based on the results of these surveys, we have concluded that we need to meet challenges both in terms of awareness of the objectives of sustainable development and in terms of specific everyday actions taken in this regard. The team is working on issuing a document, a kind of roadmap, which we have named: Lodz University of Technology on the road to sustainable development. There we will define the goals we want to achieve by 2030.
You mentioned the survey conducted by the Sustainability Team. Which conclusions do we welcome, and in which areas do we need to act quickly?
As the survey showed, over 40% of employees and 60% of students have not heard of the UN's Agenda 2030. There is also poor recognition of the specific Sustainable Development Goals. We will soon announce the results of the surveys and their in-depth analysis. Thus, the first goal of the Team's activities should be to improve knowledge and awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals in our academic community.
The 3rd mission of the university is strongly emphasised. How can this area of activity be used to raise public awareness of sustainable development?
An important element of the forthcoming evaluation of scientific disciplines is the assessment of the impact of the university's activities on the functioning of society and the economy. We have emphasised the importance of this so-called third mission in the current rector's term by, among other things, organising a competition for the best prepared impact description. It involves pointing to evidence of practical benefits which the results of scientific work have brought in terms of improving people's quality of life, clean technologies, sources of green energy, among others.
This is not the only example of our involvement. Following the initiative of the Ministry of Climate and Environment, together with 14 other universities we are signatories of a letter of intent, in which we express our will to jointly undertake activities determining directions for counteracting the effects of drought and the shortage of water resources in Poland (szusza.gov.pl).
Which of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are priorities for TUL?
All 17 goals should be considered important. For Lodz University of Technology as a technical university, the priorities are those which we can really have an impact on in terms of education and science, such as: good quality education, clean and accessible energy, innovation, industry, infrastructure, good health and quality of life, clean water and sanitation.
How does the university's work to date fit into the goal related to innovation, industry and infrastructure?
It would take me a long time to answer this question. Lodz University of Technology can boast a large number of patents, material engineering technologies, such as production of graphene, new generation of dressings, chemical and textile technologies. We receive orders for industrial studies from companies such as Airbus or the European Organisation for Nuclear Research CERN. We are finishing a project financed by the European Union to develop a monitoring system for the Group Sewage Treatment Plant in Lodz, minimising emissions of pollutants to the aquatic environment. These are just some of our activities.
In achieving the objectives of sustainable development, partnership is indicated as being of key importance.
We have already undertaken such cooperation. In 2019, Lodz University of Technology together with the University of Łódź and the Medical University signed a declaration of sustainable development. The patron of the project is the Voivodship Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in Lodz. Unfortunately, the time of the pandemic slowed down joint activities planned in the area of renewable energy sources, energy advice and the impact of the environment on human health. Now it is time to return to them. Cooperation with the city and the region is also promising. I recently attended a conference entitled "The Past, Present and Future of Lodz" organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Lodz. Lodz University of Technology coordinates the cooperation of Lodz universities with businesses, the city and the region in the ICT Central Poland, LODZistics and Energy Wave clusters.
How do you assess the contribution of universities and researchers to shaping social change?
Scientific achievements have a huge impact on social changes. They decide what tools we use at work, how we communicate with each other and move around. Successive industrial revolutions bear witness to this. However, they leave their mark on the Earth's environment and climate. We are now more aware of these processes, but it can certainly be said that the Internet has greatly reduced the economic impact of the pandemic. In turn, advances in biotechnology have allowed us to rapidly develop safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19. It must be clearly emphasised that we are facing further global climate, energy and health challenges. The role of science and technological progress cannot be overestimated here. Lodz University of Technology, as one of the best technical universities in the country, actively takes up new challenges defined by sustainable development goals.