Observatory of eco-campuses

Building a Sustainable World

Solar panels cover the roofs of several townhouses on Georgetown’s campus.

Since 2015, both the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement have led to the widely recognized urgency to deeply reorganize our societies towards inclusive and sustainable modes of living. Our current systems of production and consumption produce inequalities, damage the environment and seriously compromise the chances for future generations to live in peace and in good conditions.

Restoring this broken relationship with our ecosystems as a whole, both human and natural, then requires a strong commitment from actors of all sectors. Higher education has its share in this global shift towards environmental and social justice, as it represents the first steps for young people who will be tomorrow’s leaders and advisors. If today’s young generation is not trained and prepared to implement this global and cross-sectoral ecological transition, how could we prevent resistances and lock-ins that we observe in people currently in decision-making positions from being repeated? However, few higher education institutions offer comprehensive training in terms of content, but also in methodologies to teach it.

Teaching for Sustainability

Teaching sustainability is not an easy task that could rely on only theoretical and conceptual knowledge. In the footsteps of Greta Thunberg, an increasing part of the global youth expressed the desire to have the means to change the world and, for that, to change the way education is delivered: the methods of the latter are considered inadequate to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

It is then high time to revise the traditional epistemological border between the subject (who studies) and the object (supposedly passive and independent of the gaze carried on it): it is illusory to hope to study an object without having the personal, intimate experience of sharing something with it. Indeed, our understanding of humanity as fundamentally separated from the world in which we live fuels an exploitative, destructive relationship with an environment perceived as a passive sum of resources.

In this context, higher education institutions have taken on the task of renewing academic content and teaching methods. They may be located in the United States, South Africa[1], Egypt[2], France[3], United Kingdom[4] or Switzerland[5]: they share the same commitment to sustainability both in what they taught and how they taught it. Because societal changes will not happen until individual behaviors have not either deeply shifted: students now reclaim an education that teaches to live and learn at a single pace.

But what does this concretely mean in terms of pedagogical environment and content? Even if their objective is comparable, these institutions work in very different ways from each other. They are deeply context-dependent, and each of them carries, consciously or not, the legacy of the wider education system.


In this context, our program will review these committed and already functioning initiatives around the world, in order to design a conceptual framework that addresses the definition of an eco-campus. It will examine their characteristics, in terms of academic content and pedagogical methods. Drawing from the fields of education sciences and psychology, It will assess their articulation of social and environmental justice issues with economic requirements, in the footsteps of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We will also study their relationship with local and global contexts, and their taking on the historical and social legacies carried on the national education system.

The concern for implementing social and environmental justice at the university level is growing as well among the network of Jesuit universities (International Association of Jesuit Universities) around the world. In 2021, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is launching a project seeking to invite communities from all around the world to make a 7-year Journey toward Integral Ecology, inspired by the message of Pope Francis’ 2016 encyclical Laudato Sì. The GEJP will be part of this journey, by participating in the definition of Laudato Sì Goals dedicated to universities and the higher education system.

The Observatory’s ambition is to identify and bring together initiatives at different levels around higher education. This platform will allow all parties to know which institutions can be considered eco-campuses. It will also serve to share their good practices concerning higher education, and will become an academic and practical place of reference for the ecological transition of campuses.

[1] The Sustainability Institute near Stellenbosch, Western Cape: https://www.sustainabilityinstitute.net/

[2] In the city of Sekem: https://www.sekem.com/en/index/

[3] The Campus for Transition near Paris: https://campus-transition.org/

[4] The Laudato Si’ Institute in Oxford: http://www.laudatosiinstitute.org/en/about-the-institute/

[5] The coming Lasalle-Haus in Bad-Schöbrunn: http://www.lassalle-haus.org/de/