Zagreb’s knowledge base for best practice in sustainability

I have been to university campuses around the world and seen some great sustainability initiatives.

In fact, some were so good I wondered why everyone was not doing the same thing. The answer, I suspect, is because ideas often struggle to find a path out of their locality and for all the talk of the world being smaller, there are still barriers of language and culture that stand in the way of innovation and ingenuity crossing borders.

The University of Zagreb in Croatia has decided to tackle this by developing an interactive sustainable campuses knowledge base that will capture and blend good and best practice, then make this available to the wider global community.

The product of a two-year research project into the ‘nature of campus sustainability’ undertaken by the Faculty of Architecture, the Campus Living Lab Knowledgebase will be a tool that collects case studies from universities worldwide and presents them in a format that allows ‘comparison and improvement of planning strategies and activities’.

Over time, these data will provide a diverse view of the contemporary global experience through a range innovative sustainability solutions that can be applied to not only campuses, but also broader urban developments.

Key to this is the way the ‘knowledgebase’ will be formatted to highlight the relationship between all areas of operations and thus the influence change in one area can have on the broader sustainability performance of campus infrastructure.

This format has been developed following testing of various case studies supplied by several universities.

The result was the establishment of four criteria that will show the logical connections between various activities being undertaken by different universities: environmental, social, architecture and urban planning and academic activity.

Each of these are further subdivided into thematic areas identifying key social and environmental issues – a full table outlining the criteria can be found here.

It is this approach that separates Zagreb’s project from other databases that simply record best practice. These case studies will be presented in a way that highlights the complexities of the issues and forces users to question accepted approaches.

By following the connections between various campus projects in each criteria, a solution that effectively suits local conditions but still reflects the experiences and accumulated knowledge of others, can be developed. This would then feed back into the ‘knowledgebase’, further advancing the practice of sustainable planning and operations.

While still in development, ultimately the Campus Living Lab Knowledgebase will be a multimedia application that can be used globally by urban planners and sustainability experts as well as providing research data for academic studies.

The University of Zagreb is continuing to collect university/college case studies and if you have a contribution to make you can contact the project team leader Professor Bojan Baletic.

The team has also written an excellent paper which provides more details on the project: Campus Living Lab Knowledgebase: A Tool for Designing the Future.

  • The image above shows an artist’s impression of the University of Zagreb’s new Borongaj campus in the east of the city. It’s the biggest investment in Croatian education in the last 150 years and once finished it will be used by more than 20,000 students.
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Bart Meehan

Bart Meehan

Visiting fellow and research associate, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University

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