Expo 2020 Dubai: a university mission to save the Earth

Circular economy, environment, and sustainability are the keys to Casa Italia, the 3,500 square metre Italian pavilion at the World Expo in the United Arab Emirates, which has welcomed thousands of people in recent months. To visit it for us, bringing their own contribution, the students of IUSVE and Cube Radio engaged in the dissemination and implementation of Laudato si'.

By Cube Radio* staff

Sixteen students from the Salesian University Institute of Venice (IUSVE), accompanied by the Director, Fr. Nicola Giacopini, flew to the Pearl of the Desert for the international meeting of sustainable universities as part of Global Goals Week. Their contribution took different forms: from the presentation of a social communication project linked to sustainability themes, to the fight against pollution, to integral ecology and the proposal of interactive installations in the field of visual green communication for Expo visitors. Vatican News was also present alongside IUSVE and RUS, to tell the story of the present and the future of the Common Home that belongs to not one but to each of us and that must be rebuilt, brick by brick, with the many new forms of "cement" that the Pope speaks of in his Encyclical, Laudato si'.

The group of IUSVE students in front of the Italy Pavilion
The group of IUSVE students in front of the Italy Pavilion

The Challenges

Seen from above, Expo 2020 is shaped like a flower, a symbol of beauty, with three main petals that correspond to three thematic areas, the heart of the exposition: mobility, opportunity, sustainability. The latter often translates into very concrete transformative practices given, for example, that within the 4 square kilometer area, people and goods are transferred exclusively by foot, by pedal or by electric means, while the solar panels installed on the roofs of the buildings produce a total combined energy capacity of 5.5 megawatts. In order to raise visitors’ awareness of carbon emissions, the organizers of Expo 2020 Dubai also created the platform "Seeds of change" which makes it possible, on the one hand, to narrate innovative sustainability projects and, on the other, to participate in their diffusion through online voting or sharing on social networks. Measures to make the World Expo more sustainable in the long term include, for example, the realization of many permanent buildings in compliance with criteria set out by the rigorous Leed certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and the study promoted by the Center for Sustainability through Research and Education of Modul University Dubai on the impact that tourism has had during Expo 2020 Dubai in order to determine ways to optimize visitor flows and consumption with a view to sustainable tourism.

Installation of the 17 objectives for the 2030 Agenda at Expo 2020 Dubai
Installation of the 17 objectives for the 2030 Agenda at Expo 2020 Dubai

RUS’s sustainability efforts

The University Network for Sustainable Development (RUS) was launched in 2016 with the help of a committee composed of Turin’s Polytechnic, Milan’s Polytechnic, the Università degli Studi di Milano, Università Bicocca, Università di Verona, Università di Bologna, Università di Parma, Università di Trento, Università Ca' Foscari di Venezia, Università di Bari and Bari’s Polytechnic, with the aim of spreading the culture and good practices of sustainability both within and outside the universities. Its presence at Expo 2020 Dubai is explained by its intense commitment to sustainability. "We are eight years away from achieving the objectives of the 2030 Agenda,” explains Patrizia Lombardi, President of RUS, “and we believe that universities have a fundamental role to play; they can make a difference thanks to the strength of the partnerships between universities."

But the activities of RUS do not end with the dissemination and sharing of guidelines and best practices, but rather they open up new energies, as in the case of the two-year preparation for the event "Universities in Action for the UN 2030 Agenda" held at Expo 2020 Dubai on January 18 at the Italian Pavilion.  The forum, sponsored by the Conference of Italian University Chancellors (CRUI) and the Ministry of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility, with interventions by Ministers Maria Cristina and Enrico Giovannini, Maurizio Tira, CRUI's Delegate for International Affairs, and Alyssa Gilbert, President of the COP26 Universities Network, offered strategies for the contribution that Italian universities can make to sustainability processes. In addition to their presence, the forum also presented a series of innovative and creative ideas proposed by a number of students representing over 600 peers involved in the planning of this event.

The forum "Universities in Action for the 2030 Agenda" at the Italy Pavilion
The forum "Universities in Action for the 2030 Agenda" at the Italy Pavilion

Sustainable mobility in the university environment

One of the areas in which action is urgently needed, partly as a result of changing habits and practices adopted as measures to contain Covid-19 infection, is sustainable mobility. "There are basically four types of interventions that universities can implement to improve sustainability in this specific area,” explains Matteo Colleoni, national coordinator of the RUS 'Mobility' working group. The first concerns agreements with public transport services, so that they are used more and more by students and staff. Then, there are restriction policies, in other words, limiting, for example, the use of the university’s public spaces to park private cars, to encourage use of these spaces for hybrid cars and electric vehicles in general. A third kind of policy we call 'political-organizational', that is, policies reorganizing campus areas and class schedules. Just to give an example, in this pandemic period: the importance of reorganizing the start and end times of lessons in order to avoid peak times for the use of public transport. The last type, concludes Colleoni, “concerns innovative policies and research on sustainable mobility. In this area, universities are carrying out research in general but also in collaboration with companies.”

Students from around the world participated in the forum "Universities in Action for the 2030 Agenda"
Students from around the world participated in the forum "Universities in Action for the 2030 Agenda"

RUS and Laudato si’

“The peculiarity of RUS," explains Paola Biglia, coordinator of the Network's organizational secretariat, "is undoubtedly its choral aspect at the university level, which makes it possible to share one's best experiences both in order to make the campuses more sustainable from an environmental and social point of view and to extend transformative proposals to adjacent territories that can encourage ‘third mission actions’ at the level of sustainability. It is also a matter of raising the quality of relationships, as recalled in Laudato si': in the awareness that we are all part of the same common home. With RUS, continues Biglia, “we would like to make everyone aware that they belong to the same network, starting from the technical-administrative staff to the teaching staff, each with their own responsibilities, joining forces in a common direction. The RUS working group 'Climate Change,' Paola Biglia concludes, “has prepared very clear guidelines to design de-carbonization plans, so that each university or any other institution can devise its own plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere".

16 students from the Salesian University Institute of Venice (IUSVE) were among the young people attending the forum "Universities in Action for the UN 2030 Agenda.” The director, Don Nicola Giacopini, explained the effort that the University of Venice has dedicated to this mission: "For two years now, IUSVE has been involved in the project "Integral Ecology, New Lifestyles" which aims to enhance the care and custody of our Common Home, following the invitation proposed by Pope Francis in Laudato si'. Thanks to the support of the Deutsche Post Stiftung project, we were also able to participate in this university mission with a representation of students who are part of the Green Team, an animation group that promotes transformative practices related to integral ecology."

Cube Radio - Istituto Universitario Salesiano Venezia e Verona

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01 March 2022, 09:48