Global Environmental Planning at the Technical University of Catalonia

The Declaration, Volume 6, Number 2: November 2003  [Planning]

By Didac Ferrer-Balas

In 1991, students at the Technical University of Catalonia (UPC) asked the board of directors to approve a resolution in favour of using recycled paper at UPC. Two years later, due to the awareness raised by this initiative within the community, UPC began selective waste paper collection at what was then UPC’s newest campus, Campus Nord. In 1995, under further pressure from students, the alumni association and the school chaplain ordered a study outlining recommendations and good practices of environmental planning to be developed at the university. The proposals in that study were the starting point for the First Environment Plan (EP1), which was developed by students as a final studies project with the help of university faculty and staff, and approved in November 1996. At that time (and even now), few higher education greening initiatives were being implemented at institutions in Spain, and those that did exist were focused mainly on operations and awareness-raising. With the EP1, UPC introduced the innovative concept of integral or global environmental planning for a university.

EP1 covered six major areas: Undergraduate Education, Postgraduate Education, Research, University Life, Awareness-Raising and Coordination. An accurate description of the Plan and its development can be found elsewhere [1].

The idea was not to create major new structures, but to involve the University’s existing structures within the University involved in the Plan’s objectives [2]. Thus while there was a vice rector in charge of the whole Plan, there were vice rectors responsible for each major area as well. Additionally, a small office (Environment Plan Coordination Office) was created to coordinate and monitor the planned projects, through the publication of the annual Environment Report [3]. UPC has 35,000 students, with seven campuses spread across an area of 50 km around Barcelona, and 22 technical schools and faculties1. The main achievements of the EP1 are described below.

The principal and most ambitious objective in the area of education was the curriculum greening of all subjects offered at UPC. The first step was to prepare a collection of manuals (one for each school or faculty) to introduce students (and lecturers) to the study of environmental impact. The second step was to involve each school in the production of its own School Curriculum Greening Plan (SCGP), using what we call a “vertical approach” in the UPC context. These SCGPs had three main tasks:

  • to establish the profile of environmental knowledge that a student needs to learn;
  • to design the optimal greened curriculum;
  • to establish an action plan at school level.

Apart from the input of lecturers at each school, the process for producing these SCGPs also included the polling of professional associations and alumni. They helped to establish a curriculum greening team (and responsibilities) in almost every school that produced an SCGP.

Once the main schools at UPC had produced their SCGPs2 (11 SCGPs were produced in the period 1998-2000), the natural next step was to work with the “horizontal structure” of departments,3 in order to produce a Departmental Greening Plan (DGP) for each department. Unlike the SCPGs, the DGPs covered not only CG, but also research and departmental life. The idea was to work with a structure closer to the reality of the lecturer, who, ultimately, is the key actor in the curriculum greening process. The main tasks of the DGP were to:

  • establish the basic environmental aspects that should define the department’s actions;
  • determine the priority greening lines at undergraduate and postgraduate education level;
  • establish a short term action plan.

To date, 23 DGPs have been produced.

The quantity of information generated and the need to disseminate it through UPC and other universities and education centres has led to the development of the Virtual Resources Centre on Curriculum Greening in Technology4 (e-ambiT).

Another important project was the establishment of a new subject: “Environment and Technology.” “Environmental Education in Engineering,” developed in digital format (virtual learning), which is now being offered as an optional subject. This 60-hour course was coordinated by the UNESCO Chair for Sustainability at UPC, and besides its educational content, it also gives students the opportunity to participate in a virtual discussion forum on sustainability. More than 1000 students have chosen this subject since September 2000. As explained below, UPC is discussing the possibility of making this subject compulsory for all UPC students. Also, UPC is examining the possibility of offering the course to other groups, such as university lecturers and secondary school teachers.

The main activities of the EP1 in terms of research have been developed through the establishment of an environmental research coordination unit (ERCU). The ERCU is responsible for several main tasks:

  • to carry out a general analysis of UPC’s environmental research output (by mapping it and determining appropriate indicators);
  • to act as a “hinge” between UPC research groups and organisations (public and private) which are interested in working with UPC on an environmental project/problem, in effect establishing multidisciplinary teams from different UPC research groups;
  • to help reduce environmental impact and seek environmental applications for the research (other than environmental research) carried out at UPC;
  • to develop new environmental postgraduate courses.

University life and awareness-raising
Although many activities have been developed in this area, the most important are the establishment of Integrated Selective Waste Collection Plans (ISWCP), and the introduction of environmental criteria in new buildings and campuses.

ISWCPs have been implemented at school and/or campus level (depending on each situation), with a total of 13 plans already in operation, covering the entire UPC. In order to allow greater involvement of schools and campus management units, the responsibility was almost completely decentralised.

A second important project was to establish a methodology in order to ensure that each new building at UPC fulfil environmental performance criteria. At the time of the approval of the EP1, the additional interest of this project was that UPC was going to build a new campus in 1999. Consequently, our approach was to make establishing the criteria a priority.

The EP Coordination Office was responsible for promoting the development of the EP1 projects, seeking external funding and evaluating and monitoring the development post-implementation. As a monitoring tool, an annual report was published, which includes the main indicators and a description of the most relevant activities conducted during the year.

Results of the First Environment Plan

In undergraduate education, an indicator was selected to monitor the development of curriculum greening. This indicator is the percentage of courses that introduce environmental contents in their programme. A key word list was established in order to maintain optimal objectivity, and the information was taken from the annual course catalogue. As can be seen in Fig. 1, the trend is positive (courses with environmental topics increased from 11.5% (1996) to 16.1% (2001)), although growth is slower than expected. The EP Coordination Office has noted that this indicator could be improved, since it does not reflect accurately the complexity of introducing the concepts and values of sustainability into all courses.

Figure 1. (a) Technology transfer points (PATT) in MA in environmental research; (b) Percentage of environmental research within total.


Since 2000, a new indicator of progress in curriculum greening is being evaluated by means of a questionnaire completed by students who have found employment through the University’s careers advisory office. Again, the trend seems positive.

As far as postgraduate education is concerned, efforts are made each year to monitor the range of courses on environmental issues made available by the University and the popularity of these courses. The indicator here is the sum of the product of credit points of each subject (hours) multiplied by the number of students enrolled in the course. As can be seen, the trend is again positive, increasing from 11,734 credits-students in 1997 to 19,745 in the year 2000.5

One of the basic pillars of UPC’s EP is research in environmental and sustainability issues (ER), which is seen as the driving force behind introducing sustainability in higher education. Thus, monitoring such research activities was a priority during the implementation of the EP1. As can be observed in Fig. 1, ER has grown substantially in terms of transfer of technology, and represents approximately 30-35% of the total. Monitoring has also permitted the objective identification of fields of expertise related to ER, by dividing it into eight areas. The main areas of scientific production at UPC are the Water Cycle, Environmental Management in Industry, and Waste and Soil Contamination.

University life and awareness-raising
Changes in water consumption per campus inhabitant are visible, although it is difficult to attribute this trend to the existence of the EP1. Energy consumption has dropped from 1.75 to 1.68 KWh/person/day between 1999 and 2001, while water consumption, more than 13 l/person/day in 1996, was about 10 l/person day in 2001. The changes occurring since the establishment of the EP1 are basically long term (new buildings with sustainability criteria still account for very low percentage among the total number of buildings, and will do so for many years). Consequently, it is vital that from now on any new buildings at UPC be designed, built and used in accordance with environmental criteria, and that the competition for new constructions integrate these criteria at the project selection. This is particularly true with a new campus where these criteria have been introduced since the very first planning step [4].

Other specific indicators reflect the positive evolution of the implementation of ISWCPs. This provides a useful tool for monitoring the differing levels of commitment among the units with respect to waste management.

A major shift is evident in the decline in the number of awareness-raising activities carried out at UPC relating to sustainability and the environment. These include conferences (non-research-focused), seminars, presentations, exhibitions, events, dissemination activities, etc., organised by students, departments, schools and other university units. Since 1997, their number has declined significantly, from more than 50 to about 30 (in 2001). There are two possible explanations for this: firstly, as UPC has traditionally exhibited a strong institutional commitment towards the environment, there are now different and more important needs to address; secondly, environmental issues and sustainability are no longer fashionable among students. We believe that the true cause is a combination of both factors, and that this is important to consider when implementing a new institutional programme. Notably, the number increased again in 2002. Other indicators used include the number of visits to UPC’s environmental website, and the number of people subscribed to the environmental e-newsletter.

Overall evaluation
When the EP1 came to an end in autumn 2001, an evaluation was carried out by a commission comprising 22 people from different university positions, all them involved in the implementation of the EP1, in order to determine its positive and negative aspects, and offer ideas and recommendations for the Second Environment Plan (EP2). The main conclusions of this evaluation were:

  • The EP1 was correctly focused and has allowed UPC to become well placed in terms of greening, although certain objectives need to be redefined;
  • The key to strategic success is staff involvement;
  • There is a lack of both economic and human resources; external alliances would be a considerable help. The increase in external funding is a positive trend (Fig.3);
  • The organisa-tional structure needs to be redefined in order to become more operative;
  • Processes in the area of University Life need to be professionalized and normalised.

Figure 3. Funding Origin of the EP1.


The Second Environment Plan (2002-2005)

Challenges and characteristics
The main characteristics of the EP2 [5] are:

  • Reduced number of projects;
  • Two-level operation:
    • Reinforcement of consolidated projects;
    • Starting up an open discussion/debating process in the mid term.
  • Greater linking of the areas (Education, Research and University Life) for a synergetic effect;
  • Intensification of communication efforts (both internally and externally);
  • Seeking the active involvement of the university community;
  • Seeking efficiency, functionality and responsibility definitions for each project and for the plan as a whole;
  • Establishment of operational indicators for each project.

Assuming that the role of the university with regard to sustainability may be interpreted as illustrated in Fig. 4, the EP2 is a tool that must allow:

  • The reinforcement of UPC’s commitment to sustainable development;
  • The involvement of the university community in the overall greening process of UPC; and
  • The optimisation of available resources and potential funding.

Figure 4. The university’s role in society with regard to sustainability in EP2.


The EP2 contributes to the sustainable development of society through:

  • The integration of respect for the environment and sustainability into education;
  • The intensification of research in scientific or technological alternatives in order to minimize and find solutions to the impact derived from the relationship between human beings and the environment;
  • The development of specific environmental management experiences that are exportable to society.

Projects included in the EP2
Fig. 5 shows the 13 projects of the EP2, which are divided into 4 main areas.

Figure 5. Structure of the projects included in the 2nd Environmental Plan.


In the Education area, the main project consists of curriculum greening in all disciplines offered at UPC (Project 1.1). The challenge is to apply the SCGPs designed during the EP1. However, it is also planned to offer an elementary course entitled “Sustainable Development and Technology” to all students. At the same time, UPC is considering the possibility of offering a new Environmental Engineering Studies course in the coming years (1.2). In 1996, this idea had been discarded in order to avoid any negative interference in the curriculum greening of “traditional” studies. However, once this process has been initiated, it is felt that it will be helpful in creating a sustainability “critical mass” within UPC, rather than a source of problems. The third project is to create new environmental postgraduate courses (1.3).

In the area of Research, the ER Coordination Office should continue to act as a catalyst for new integrated and multidisciplinary projects (2.1). One of the main targets is to train researchers to implement this multidisciplinary working method in a new applied environmental research project designed to serve UPC’s own needs, called “Laboratori REAL” (REAL Lab) (2.2). This project aims to develop projects which will be undertaken at the new UPC campus in Castelldefels. Some of the projects envisaged are:

  • Designing a sustainable mobility plan for the campus;
  • Developing energy indicators for monitoring building efficiency;
  • Limnological study of the campus lagoon.

Also in this area, the third project is to establish an environmental studies doctoral programme (2.3), which would offer a multidisciplinary approach and would help to consolidate and enhance existing studies.

In the area of University Life and Campus, the projects are Waste Management (3.1), Green Building Design (3.2), Sustainable Transport (3.3) and Environmental Cooperation (3.4). The latter project aims to involve students (actively) in environmental projects, either at UPC or externally. The idea is to provide an opportunity to individual students who “want to do something for sustainability,” but also to establish a collaboration area between student associations, NGOs and other organisations, and UPC through the EP Office.

Finally, the area of Coordination and Communication envisages the internal and external communication of environmental projects and activities (4.1), to be active in networking and cooperating with other universities (around the world) as key to SD learning (4.2), and to coordinate the whole Plan (4.3).

EP2 represents a transition from environmental planning to sustainability planning, as EP1 was mainly and deliberately focused on environmental aspects. The idea was to start initially with clear and concrete objectives, and even “the environment” was seen as too wide and vague. It was believed that including socio-economic aspects in the EP1 mission would have been too difficult in the beginning. However, as the environmental planning activities have grown more mature and consolidated and society develops a greater environmental awareness, the transition to the concept of sustainability can begin. Some steps that EP2 introduces include the requirement of the now-optional subject “Sustainability and Technology” for all students in the near future, the intensification of cooperative activities in the environmental area with institutions in developing countries, and the idea of studying in detail the social relationships and consequences of the technological progress resulting from our research.

UPC has gained valuable experience in developing an Environment Plan that has a comprehensive and integrated perspective. Considerable efforts have been made in greening all university activities, with significant and positive results. Indeed, the most ambitious objective of this planning effort has been, and remains in the Second Environment Plan (2002-2005), to educate people who will be professionally involved in sustainable development [6]. Experience has demonstrated that including environmental and sustainability perspectives in formal higher education is possible, although it requires considerable effort and produces slow results. Institutional commitment is fundamental, but insufficient unless it is successful in making use of the scarce opportunities available, such as the periodic curriculum reviews or the European Union’s European Education Area, which is a long-term reorganization plan to guarantee the equivalence of higher education degrees within the EU.6 Although slow and progressive advances are positive, a general revision is needed if new engineers with the ability to lead the transition to SD are to be educated. Similarly, efforts to green institutional operations must be credible and involve the university community.

Furthermore, experience has shown that while staff are interested in and agree with the objectives of introducing SD into the curriculum, they typically do not know “how to do it.” For this reason, many materials, documents and training courses have been developed at UPC, although their use remains minimal. New incentives to promote the use of these tools are needed in order to “mainstream” environmental education in all curricula. We have also learned that it is rather complex to measure quantitatively advances in curriculum greening. Improved indicators, surveys and other tools are needed to monitor the process, both in the short, medium, and long term. These conclusions reinforce the fact that the greatest environmental impact of universities, namely our students as future professionals, must be carefully managed, just as our waste, transportation and energy consumption are activities which globally have minor impacts (a study focusing on the environmental impact of an architectural school quantifies it as 99% for education, less than 1% for the rest: building the school, using it, mobility associated, etc. [6]). This highlights the need for a unit in charge of CG management at the university. However, the innovation and conceptual progress concerning curriculum greening must be done by specialized researchers, which is one of the challenges of EP2: creating a research core group on curriculum greening at UPC.

In conclusion, our experience at UPC shows that the existence of a unit to coordinate comprehensive environmental planning (including education and research) increases significantly the opportunity to reduce the impact of the university, through synergetic and catalytic effects within the institution, and may help to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable future.

[1] I. Capdevila, et al., Journal of Cleaner Production, 2002, 10(1), 25-32.
[2] UPC, Environment Plan, 1996.
[3] UPC, Environment Report, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 [].
[4] European Union, Environmental criteria in the design, construction and use of buildings and their planned application in Parc Tecnològic de la Mediterrania, UPC, 2000.
[5] UPC, Second Environment Plan (2002-2005), [].
[6] UPC, MIES Report, An approximation of the environmental impact of the School of Architecture of the Vallès, 1999 [].

1 For the sake of simplicity, in the text “schools” refers to the 15 schools and faculties that belong to UPC, and also includes the 7 associate schools. These cover study areas including architecture, mathematics, telecommunications, computer science, industrial engineering, civil engineering, agriculture, nautical studies, optics, knitted fabric engineering, and business.
2 The areas in which no SCGPs have been produced are mathematics, computing and telecommunications.
3 There are 40 departments at UPC. Most of them are located in more than one UPC school and are responsible for their lectures. Schools are equivalent to faculties, which offer degrees (industrial engineer, chemical engineer, architecture, etc.) and house departments (mechanical engineering, etc.).
4 The website can be found at (Catalan version only at time of writing).
5 For example, a course on industrial management of 25 credits with 10 students may have only 5 ‘green’ credits, and so the result is: 5 * 10 = 50 e.credits * students.
6 This could be a unique opportunity to determine the objectives of degrees and introduce sustainability as a new degree throughout Europe.

Dr. Didac Ferrer-Balas has been the UPC Environment Plan Coordinator since 2000. He is the head of the Environmental Office at UPC, where he works with three other staff and three part-time students involved in environmental projects at the university. With the help of Professor Jordi Bruno (UPC Environmental Research Coordinator), he is coordinating many initiatives at UPC. Any questions or comments can be sent to him at, or can be mailed to Environmental Office, Technical University of Catalonia, Campus Sud – Edif. P., Av. Doctor Marañon, 44-50, 08028 Barcelona, Spain. More information can be found at

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