Sustainability is etched into activities at Ain Shams

At Ain Shams University in Egypt, sustainability has been etched into the institution’s educational and research activities, environmental strategy and operations, and its vision which seeks to create pathways for innovative mitigation and adaptation solutions and collaboration for Egypt and the region.

Part of the work on sustainability has included collecting critical data through tracking and recording a carbon footprint report and developing annual sustainability and climate change reports.

Developing carbon footprint reports is part of the university’s commitment to innovative research in greenhouse gas emissions and the transition to sustainable societies which follow the potentially profound consequences of climate change and global warming in Egypt and North Africa.

Sustainability has been an integral part of the university’s operations using local and sustainable building materials, water, energy efficiency, and waste management systems, including water-efficient landscaping, rainwater harvesting, water-saving devices, and grey-water treatment systems.

As part of its energy efficiency ambitions to reduce its impact, the institution also adopted HVAC (heating) systems, high-performance glazing windows, interior and exterior efficient lighting, solar energy, and roof insulations.

During the launch of the institution’s Carbon Footprint Report May 2021, Professor Mahmoud El-Meteini, president of Ain Shams University, emphasised that some of the pressing challenges in Egypt include the impact of climate change and global warming on institutions and communities and it was critical for higher education institutions to help bridge the science-policy gaps through impactful research and engagement.

He said the institution, which was established in 1950 and has a current student population of 146,668, was keen to contribute effectively to solving community problems through its environmental activities and research. Carbon footprint reporting and student engagement were important components.

“We believe that institutions who measure their carbon footprints are better able to understand, quantify, and manage climate change-related impacts, risks and opportunities,” he said.

Creating a baseline for mitigation efforts

Professor Noha Samir Donia, dean of graduate studies and environmental research at the university, told University World News that determining the university’s carbon footprint was a critical step in achieving the goal of reducing its environmental impact and long-term vision to achieve net zero status. In 2021, through the faculty, the university measured and produced its first carbon footprint report.

“Knowing the university’s carbon footprint will not only give a tangible value that can be compared to that of other academic institutions, but will also provide a much-needed baseline against which future mitigation efforts on campus will be measured.

“The greenhouse gases in our analysis are those covered by internationally recognised Greenhouse Gas Protocol and include, where available, carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20), hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). All the gases are converted to CO2 equivalents (CO2e) to calculate the carbon footprint,” she said.

The data collected covered Scope 1 emissions from sources the organisation owns and controls, for example, natural gas-fired boilers and vehicle fleets; Scope 2 emissions include indirect emissions from electricity, heat or steam; and Scope 3 emissions from business travel, employee commuting and public transport.

The institution also established a faculty of electricity consumption which factors in electric power to carbon emitted into MTC02e (the unit of measurement that means a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent).

Out of the collated data, the faculties of medicine, pharmacy, engineering, science and agriculture were seen to have the highest emissions. Ain Shams’ specialised hospital and medical centres that provided emergency activities during the COVID-19 pandemic also recorded high emissions. On the other hand, departments with more theoretical and less practical activities had fewer emissions, for example, foreign languages and childhood studies.

“We have been building a green transition unit as part of our sustainable projects which will be used for all types of waste recycling, using clean energy solar and wind. This project also demonstrates our institution’s water-saving and energy-saving strategies.

“We have also extended our sustainability work to include an initiative with African universities to develop a climate change curriculum for undergraduate students. The impact of climate change not only affects Egypt and North Africa, but the entire region and global community.

“This project amplifies our work in terms of adaptation, mitigation, and building resilience,” Samir said.

The project, which is under way, is implemented in collaboration with Gaia Education, the Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa, the Association of African Universities (AAU), and the All-Africa Students Union.

In 2022, the academic institution hosted The Climate Initiative (TCI) Ambassador Programme for students across Africa and Egypt, in collaboration with the AAU and the Volunteer Team Foundation for Humanitarian Action. At least 3,500 students graduated from the programme which covered courses such as renewable energy, green economy, electronic fingerprint, agriculture and climate change, water and climate change, and climate adaptation as well as innovation and design for net zero in the 21st century.

“They are our climate ambassadors within the Egyptian society and Africa who are raising awareness about climate-change concepts, effects, causes, mitigation and adaptation measures,” Donia said.

Promoting circularity and sustainability

In 2022, the institution became host to the Centre of Excellence for Sustainability (CoES) which has been creating and managing sustainable systems for the university’s educational, research and community activities, including supporting the green-economy initiatives and fostering global partnerships.

Some of the key focuses of the centre are promoting circularity and sustainability at the faculty and university level, as well as streamlining the sustainability theme across national and regional educational institutions.

Professor Ali Hassan from the faculty of higher studies and environmental research told University World News that the centre provides science-based guidance for Egypt and regional institutions’ efforts towards the transition to low-carbon economies.

“We are focusing on the role of tertiary education and looking at how we can build and transform ourselves so we can contribute to the transition to low-carbon and sustainable societies. In our faculty, we have been working on carbon neutrality and, in March 2023, we also launched a diploma on calculating the carbon footprint of different sectors and businesses,” he said.

The diploma is designed for sustainability and environmental officers at government level, industry players, and academics with the objective of helping sectors become aware of their carbon footprint and gain fundamental skills and knowledge needed to record their environmental, governance and sustainability reports.

As Egypt gears towards a resilient and sustainable economy, this training provided an important environmental component for measuring and reporting on carbon emissions.

“One of our current projects with our students is to calculate the carbon footprint of our faculty and develop strategies. We are also working to design courses that can develop critical green skills required by specific high-priority sectors and job families.

“Our faculty has been designing strategic targeted research tracks and topics that generate new knowledge and foster practical, cost-effective solutions for policy in mitigation, adaptation and resilience. We make available research findings and data to stakeholders and decision-makers to enable evidence-based solutions,” Hassan said.

Forging global partnerships

The faculty of higher studies and environmental research has also been working on a masters-level programme in cooperation with the Institute of Environmental Management [and] Assessment (IEMA) in the United Kingdom, which will focus on carbon and environmental literacy as well as environmental consultancy, opening a new green jobs market for graduates.

These courses are expected to promote pathways into green jobs and skills which are crucial for graduates as well as membership of IEMA, one of the trusted agencies in sustainability training across the globe.

Hassan said: “The carbon and environmental literacy courses will equip our graduates with the essential green economy skills to be employed within the region and internationally.”

During the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or COP28, scheduled to be hosted by the United Arab Emirates from 30 November to 12 December 2023, the faculty will present two projects on climate change and sustainability.

The presentations will focus on Ain Shams University’s climate-change learning platform and the carbon footprint calculator, one of the tools developed through the graduate faculty that enables departments and institutions to measure and reduce their impact.