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Sustainability is an important issue for universities. At Trinity College Dublin, the current strategic plan articulates sustainability as a priority supported by two goals: alignment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and embedding this in all facets of university life. However, as Catherine McCabe and Michele Hallahan write, this has its challenges and, in addition to significant resourcing, it requires commitment and drive from all staff and students.

Sustainability has been at the heart of Trinity College Dublin for many years. The late Professor Simon Perry originally founded the university’s green campus committee in 1993 as a means for staff and students to raise campus environmental issues and to propose innovative solutions. Building on this initiative, the university published its first sustainable development policy in 2008 and, in 2013, it was awarded its first Green Flag award for campus sustainability. The Provost’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and Low Carbon Living has been meeting since 2017 with membership including key stakeholders from across the university, including representatives from the Student Union and the Graduate Student Union.

Trinity’s Strategic Plan for 2020-2025 includes research for impact and sustainability among its priorities. It also articulates nine cross-cutting goals relating to sustainability. The aim is to align Trinity to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), significantly increasing the extent to which research and teaching contribute to achieving a healthy and sustainable planet. In particular, Trinity commits to developing and inhabiting its space responsibly. It also commits to sustainability on a global scale, shaping the organisation and the focus of its research around the challenges at hand. By bringing different perspectives together, Trinity is working to find ways in which as many members of the university as possible can contribute to furthering the SDGs. It is also striving to prepare students to lead their lives as responsible global citizens.

More specifically, Trinity’s goals include: a strong ethical leadership throughout the activities of the entire university community; the creation of an SDG Hub with research data and monitoring in all fields linked to the SDGs; targets for the significant reduction of the university’s carbon footprint; improvements in energy use, waste reduction, sustainable transport and biodiversity, and ensuring all new buildings are based on sustainability principles; supporting and conducting civically-engaged research and increasing outputs connected to the SDGs by 20% by 2025; hosting public engagement events relating to the SDGs, highlighting the impact of the university’s work; building the teaching programmes and research projects of the CHARM-EU alliance around the grand challenge of “Humanity with the Planet”.

Trinity also commits to embedding the skills of independent thought and action throughout its curricula and promoting the values of pluralism, social justice and environmental sustainability in wider engagement. Universities also have a role to play in the creation and development of a more just and egalitarian society. Cultivating an academic culture that respects the dignity of people and promotes the sustainability of the natural world, enables us to ensure that all research, including that of students, is conducted to the highest ethical standards.

In five years, the Martin Naughton E3 Learning Foundry will be up and running, educating students in a radically different approach to the world’s resources. E3 is Trinity’s flagship project in sustainability, but all disciplines and schools will need to be aligned and involved to make a contribution to achieving the SDGs. And globally, we will be working with international partners, through alliances like CHARM-EU.

Trinity is also innovating campus facilities with two very significant near zero energy buildings. The E3 Learning Foundry will also be a near zero energy building. Heritage building projects are also in the pipeline, as well as buildings that will be substantially refurbished to near zero energy consumption. Notably, they will have renewable heating, without onsite fossil fuel, using ground source and air source heat pumps.

Lessons learnt
While Trinity College Dublin has made strides in some areas of sustainability, challenges remain. Of the 37 targets initially set, the university is close to achieving 27. While some remain off track or difficult to measure, Trinity is now in the process of updating its objectives and targets as it looks towards 2030. 

Increased resourcing will be required if we are to meet our aspirations. While sustainability and low carbon living are firmly embedded in the strategic plan, the challenges are becoming ever more urgent. We must continue to demonstrate leadership through action in our own universities, and through research and advocacy on a national and global scale.


Catherine McCabe

Catherine McCabe is the Dean of students at Trinity College Dublin and sponsor for sustainability.  She works with students and staff across the university to promote sustainability and climate action initiatives to meet targets identified in the strategic plan.

Michele Hallahan

Michele Hallahan is the Sustainability Advisor to the Office of the Provost at Trinity College Dublin. She also teaches at Trinity in the School of Natural Sciences, Business School and School of Engineering. Michele has worked in the fields of ecological design, environmental management and sustainability consulting for over twenty years. She co-wrote the book “Source – A Social Environmental and Holistic Directory” (2000) and created Ireland’s first Green Map™ of Temple Bar area. She is a lead certification auditor for international environmental standard ISO 14001 and has certified Fortune 100 businesses in the USA and Ireland to this standard. She worked with internationally renowned ecological designer John Todd on remediation of damaged bodies of water and is a certified permaculture designer.

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