Green all over

Australian universities are looking for ways to teach sustainability across the curriculum. By Louis White
An understanding of the importance of sustainability is gathering momentum within the higher education sector in Australia, as universities around the country are seeking ways to embed associated knowledge and skills across their programs.
Whilst sustainability has previously been a topic included in built environment programs such as architecture, science and engineering studies, universities are now expanding this focus to create a culture of sustainable thinking across the campus.
“That is the biggest challenge,” says Donald Bates, chair of architectural design in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne.
“We want students to embrace sustainability as part of their natural thinking, especially in the area of design,” Bates says. “It shouldn’t be an afterthought or as an add-on; the issues of design and sustainability must work hand in hand.”
Bates, who is also a director of the award-winning Lab Architecture Studio and one of the designers behind Melbourne’s Federation Square, has been with the University of Melbourne since June 2012, in what was then a newly created role to build upon the faculty’s strong foundations in architectural design.
“We embrace sustainability … in our master and undergraduate programs and what we emphasise is the thought process in the design construction to ensure that sustainability becomes a natural way of thinking,” he says.
Subjects taught within the faculty include regenerating sustainability, environmental building systems and building sustainability. The university is also practising what it preaches as it constructs the multimillion-dollar Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning centre, to be completed by 2015.
The new building has received the endorsement of the Green Building Council of Australia in 2012 and is registered under the 5-star category “Australian Excellence” for its design.
Building services such as mixed-mode heating and cooling, increased ventilation provisions with heat recovery, a unique ground-source pre-cooling system and high-efficiency dynamic lighting are controlled by an array of sensors and controls that optimise settings to meet the dynamic needs of the centre.
“But its real sustainability performance will be experienced by the user in the light-filled, airy space with healthy, natural materials that cocoon the occupant in an environment conducive to specialised learning and concentration,” faculty lecturer Chris Jensen says.
“The mixed-mode nature of the building services, combined with the adaptable architecture, allows it to breathe fresh air … but retain warmth and comfort across seasons,” Jensen explains. “Upon completion, this new living laboratory will contribute to the body of knowledge of sustainable design philosophies and technical application with real performance data – a field test to last in excess of 50 years.”
The University of Melbourne has also entered into a historic agreement with sustainable building advocates the Holcim Foundation to collaborate on supporting initiatives that combine sustainable construction with architectural excellence and enhanced quality of life beyond technical advancements.  
Monash University is also committing to sustainability as part of its ethos within its charter of learning, for its students and its staff as well.
The Monash Sustainability Institute is a new professional learning development program for academic staff from all faculties at the university. The program explores sustainability, examines its relationship to contemporary university academic practice and prepares staff to embed Education for Sustainability in the units they teach.
“Sustainability is critically linked to improving our teaching and learning at Monash University,” says associate engineering professor Geoff Rose. “We need to improve our learning regarding sustainability at every level right across the university. We need to embed it as part of the educational DNA at Monash. The challenge as I see it is to get an overall strategy in place to embed sustainability in the curriculum while at the same time getting some runs on the board to advance sustainability in some specific programs.”
Queensland University of Technology, which built a $230 million science and engineering centre powered in part by solar trees, is also waiting on federal government funding to incorporate sustainable subjects into its engineering degree courses.
“Sustainability knowledge and skills are growing in popularity,” Dr Cheryl Desha, senior lecturer in sustainable development, says. “For example, we have a postgraduate course on sustainable business practice that consistently has more than 100 enrolments.
“Embedding sustainability into science and engineering undergraduate courses is critical, to address not only emerging employer needs and student demand, but also increasing accreditation requirements by professional bodies.
Desha is part of a six-university consortium (Queensland University of Technology, University of Adelaide, University of Wollongong, RMIT, Victoria University and La Trobe) – an unprecedented level of collaboration – that is developing open-source and online resources that are curriculum-ready on the subject of “energy efficiency education resources for engineering”.
“It is important to emphasise the opportunity to embed energy efficiency knowledge and skills as a priority and also as a leverage topic for driving curriculum renewal for sustainable development,” she says. “We will be discussing this at the Australasian Association for Engineering Education conference later this year.”
Curtin University has also taken strong steps to embed sustainability into core teachings in its architectural science degree.
“Sustainability is now built into the bachelor of applied science (architectural science), rather than being taught as a discrete discipline or topic, reflecting the way in which issues around sustainability are now seen as part of everyday practice in the professional environment,” says professor Peter Davis, head of the School of Built Environment, Curtin University.
“First-year units include an introduction to the principles of relationships between built, natural and human environments and issues of environmental, social and economic responsibility.
“While the more technical aspect of sustainability is addressed in the architectural technology stream, the issue is also emphasised in the studio and culture streams. This will continue in the revised master’s course, planned for implementation in 2014. As students develop their own positions on architecture, they will have the opportunity to explore sustainability issues in greater detail and focused options will be made available.”
But for students to be able to see sustainability in practice, it helps when the university puts the theory into play, as the University of NSW did with the Tyree Energy Technologies Building, which obtained a 6 Star Green Star rating – the highest possible score – from the Green Building Council, providing independent verification that the design achieved international best practice with regard to sustainability.
Its features include a gas-fired tri-generation plant for power, heating and cooling that can provide 800kw of power (the balance will be fed into the campus grid) and a photovoltaic (PV) array system installed across eight separate roof surfaces. It also has a northern skylight area incorporating purpose-built modules that provide the aesthetics of glass paneling. And finally, it boasts a 300,000-litre rainwater tank and treated borewater system so it can recycle for toilet flushing, cooling towers, landscaping and non-potable laboratory water.
Breakout 1
The Holcim Awards
The Holcim Awards were created to reward sustainable construction by celebrating projects and visions that contribute to a more sustainable built environment. They feature total prize money of US$2 million.
“I was involved in the first Holcim Foundation Awards and I thought it would be great for The University of Melbourne to be involved,” says Donald Bates, chair of architectural design at the University of Melbourne. “There are universities from all over the world involved in these prestigious awards and I thought the University of Melbourne would be a perfect fit.
“I really think we can add to the conversation and we hope to host the awards in the future. Sustainability is a core issue in buildings going forward and awards like these bring it to the forefront of the conversation.”
Holcim Foundation general manager Edward Schwarz says the awards’ Next Generation category, targeted at 18- to 30 year-olds, aims to capture the thoughts and ideas of young minds around the world so they will view sustainability as exciting.
“By engaging with the next generation, not only does the Holcim Awards competition seek to capture the concerns of young professionals about the critical issue of sustainability, but also, more importantly, we have the opportunity to recognise and promote remarkable innovation, and challenge established professionals to raise the bar higher,” Schwarz says.
The fourth Holcim Awards are open for projects in architecture, building and civil engineering, landscape and urban design, materials, products and construction technologies. The competition has two categories with different requirements:
Holcim Awards (main category)

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