Posts By / Chris Shiel

Building capacity for Sustainable Development through ERASMUS


Through the ERASMUS mobility fund, I shall be visiting the Universidade da Beira Interior in Portugal, in May this year. The purpose of the trip is to share best practice in relation to sustainable development, explore how attitudes to energy conservation and ‘green behaviours’ differ from the UK,  and  through collaboration, build capacity for change. 

The Univeridade da Beira is located in the North of Portugal. They have undertaken quite unique projects in relation to conserving their estates – which comprise former factories and even a monastery –  but they have done far less in terms of educating students for sustainable development. Previous collaboration with Portugal has resulted in a number of papers in relation to the green agenda; current work is focusing on energy and Fairtrade.

ERASMUS offers a great opportunity to develop relationships with European partners; it is also very useful for academics who wish to develop their langauge skills.

Publication of the Third NUS/HEA ‘Student Attitudes towards and skills for Sustainable Development’ report

This is the third year of reporting on student attitudes towards, and skills for, sustainable development (SD) continuing research conducted in 2010 and 2011

Two page Executive summary available at

Full report at

BU is well placed in addressing SD within the curriculum but perhaps we could do more?

Biodiversity, Environmental Change & Green Economy Research Theme

Please note for your diaries – a research theme get together on  Wednesday   20-11-2013  –   12:00-14:00 in  TA133.

It is a while since we had a theme meeting for Green Economy and now that we have also had a theme merger, it seems appropriate to get together as the new and broader group, share ideas, and meet those who are new, or who have not previously attended a theme event.

More details will follow but we thought as a starter what we might usefully do, is discuss ideas for the next Fesitival of Learning, consider/share how our research contributes/might contribute to the region, and agree ways of cooperating/organising the theme in the future.

Please email me if you are able to attend so that I can try to organise catering,


Chris Shiel

Global trends reports: environmental concerns at record lows

This is a disappointing global trend which shows a decreasing concern for the environment.
We need to debate what is behind this – is it a reflection of a society that is becoming apathetic, is it because governments have not been doing enough, is it a reflection of the financial situation? At a time when the earth faces so many challenges and people need to be engaged to secure sustainable development, these issues merit further exploration.
On a more positive note I have had a sly preview of NUS data on students perceptions of the role of universitites and SD – students generally believe (and expect) universitites should do more. The NUS results will suggest a much more positive picture.

In relation to the role of universities, I have just contributed the ‘leadership’ chapter to a new book  The Sustainable University: progress and prospects. The Chair of our Board at Bournemouth University has contributed a ‘vignette’ about the role of Chairs. The book offers some explanations of why progress to date has hardly been transformational.  Details available at


Discourses of Inclusion and Exclusion Conference – new sustainability symposium theme

I am co-ordinating a symposium on Issues of Inclusivity in the Sustainable University at the DPR annual conference to be held at the University of Greenwich, 9-11 April, 2013. The link is here.

If DPR (Discourse, Power Resistance) is new to you, it is worth saying that DPR is an annual conference, now in its thirteenth year, with an established and increasing international reputation: in 2012 41 nations were represented at the conference. Perhaps the simplest way to tell you about the conference is to give you some links. The conference website is here. You can find a list of DPR publications here together with a link to the conference journal: Power and Education.

Please consider submitting an abstract.

Chris Shiel

World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities (WSSD-U-2012) – post conference reflections

Last week I attended the World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities (WSSD-U-2012) which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 5-6 June 2012, as an official ‘parallel’ event to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20.  I was chairing the second day’s plenary sessions and presenting two papers (one on Leadership for SD in HE and a co-authored paper, The impact of University policies for sustainable development on students: a comparison of students from two institutions, one in the UK and one in Portugal . Both papers have been accepted for publication.


Further details on the event can be seen at:


A summary of the event and its follow-up activities is available:


  Over 120 participants representing universities from 26 countries -from all geographical regions attended the conference which was organised by the Research and Transfer Centre “Applications of Life Sciences” of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and London Metropolitan University.




The conference was great and a good networking opportunity from which further work will follow.


 Disappointed that you are not participating at Rio+ 20? – don’t be.


When the dates were put back (something to do with Heads of State availability and the Jubilee), I was a little disappointed that our event became more ‘antipasti’ than ‘contorno’ but I am now really glad to have been there early.  It will be chaotic! 


Having returned to Rio (after living there 25 years ago) I can say these things:  the hotel prices are ridiculous at any time of year and they are planning a huge uplift for Rio+20 – the hotel experience (and quality) is also more inconsistent than any city I have ever visited.  Attendees will be overcharged, are more likely to get ripped off in all that they do (still very much part of the culture to exploit ‘estrangeiros’) and will certainly find Rio challenging. There are still hotels which look legit but are actually ‘sex motels;’ some areas are still not safe.


Until yesterday I thought the Summit would take place in Centro and then read that it is at Riocentro.  Many attendees will not realise just how far out that is from Centro and Copacabana. If you were to take a bus, it is a gruelling 45 min trip to Barra de Tijuca. But then I guess this will not be an issue for Heads of State, or anyone whose budget extends to private transport!


25 years ago crime was very visible (everyone drove through red lights at night) – it has now been reduced by stronger policing. There was a visible police/military presence on exercise for Rio+20 while I was there; naval vessels were patrolling the beaches. Fortunately they were doing a helicopter patrol, just as some Chinese visitors were attacked with knives on the beach (in daylight). They managed to stop the attackers and return stolen goods.  Rio is much safer than it was but you still need caution. A driver commented to me, Summit ‘attendees offer rich-pickings’.


The strangest observation for me is that the people generally seemed less happy (than when I lived there), despite a huge increase in the middle classes and more disposable income – guess there is something in the Happiness research which intimates a link. The favellas are as big as ever and you can now do ‘favella tourism’ which also seems strange. I guess it’s not very different to when people used to pay to see the ‘bearded lady’.


Returning to the Summit, it is going to be more about review than commitment to exciting actions. Some are already calling it ‘Rio minus 10’. I would not hold out big hopes that much will change.




Exercising the precautionary principle

Another really interesting study which serves to remind of the importance of critically thinking through, what on the face of it might seem like a really good green iniative. This example relates to recycling of old spectacles by sending them out to countries where people may not have the luxury of an optician on every high street and designer glasses.

I guess the question that needs to be asked is ‘If it no longer works for me why should anyone else want it?’ Most people who wear specs will have a drawer which has several old pairs – just in case. So how should we recycle them? And what about that drawer of old chargers, computer cables and leads, from items which you can no longer remember what appliances they originated from! Yes, we need to acquire less ‘stuff’ in the first place but we also need to develop creative solutions to repurpose all the stuff we already have filling drawers.

One of the three pillars – Social Sustainability: hardest to implement, easy to neglect

Interesting and insightful blogpost on the three dimensions (pillars) of sustainability, challenging the simplicity of the model and highlighting how little attention is given to social sustianability. Makes a lot of sense: the ‘economy’ is after all a social construction which benefits humankind; the environment is made better or worse for/by human beings.  And yet the ‘social’ is so often given little attention in the discourse.


21 Issues for the 21st century- UNEP asserts that Skills and Education are Critical

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently completed their Foresight Process,

led by 22 distinguished members of the scientific community and involving more than

400 leading scientists and experts from around the world with the aim of  identifying and ranking the most pressing emerging environmental issues

for the 21st Century. The highest ranking priority was to overhaul global environmental governance to meet 21st Century challenges.

The Second was:

Transforming Human Capabilities for the 21 Century – upskilling the global workforce for a Green Economy.

Good news for those working in the area of SD and Green Economy .

Number 4  ‘social tipping points’  poses the question that for me is fundamental – how do we catalyse human behaviour change?


the report is available at















Century: Meeting Global Environmental Challenges and


Moving Towards a Green Economy



the global work force for a Green Economy




– and this from a list of over 90 issues.

As Bill Scott said in his blog







“…good news for social scientists everywhere that governance, human


capability, the green economy, etc, feature so prominently.”


Find the Foresight Report at:



Latest UN Global Report on HE for Sustainability

INTERNATIONAL: UN Global Report on HE for Sustainability

Global Universities Network for Innovation (GUNI) (2011) ‘Higher Education in the World 4, Higher Education’s Commitment to Sustainability: from Understanding to Action’ Barcelona: GUNI, UNU and Palgrave (pp. 18-28) ISBN 978-0-230-53555.

A new UN-commissioned report has been released. ‘Higher Education’s Commitment to Sustainability: From Understanding to Action’ is the fourth volume in a series published by the Global Universities Network for Innovation (GUNI) in collaboration with the United Nations University. The report is focused on the transformation of HE towards sustainability and the role of the sector in building sustainable communities. This volume includes papers by 85 authors from 38 countries and provides a map of how the regions are advancing this agenda. The regional picture is complemented with national and local case studies of experiences on thematic areas. An overview chapter, written by Prof Daniella Tilbury from the University of Gloucestershire, addresses questions about global commitment and progress in the sector. It draws on key research evidence from the literature and reflects on the trends evidenced in the regional reports which were commissioned by GUNI for this publication.

The chapter reviews teaching and learning, campus and community engagement, leadership as well as research activities. It identifies pathways for the future action. This chapter can be downloaded as a PDF.

Tilbury, D. (2011). Higher Education for Sustainability: A Global Overview of Commitment and Progress. In GUNI (Ed.), Higher Education in the World 4. Higher Education’s Commitment to Sustainability: from Understanding to Action. GUNI: Barcelona. (pp. 18-28)

Reflections on a conference – challenging your own assumptions

In January I presented at the Eighth International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability which took place in Vancouver. The conference focuses on the idea that sustainability is best understood in a holistic way. 

When you go to a conference it is too easy to get caught up in anxiety about delivering your own paper, at this conference I was determined to maximise my learning opportunities (and be relaxed about my paper) so crammed in as many sessions as I could.  I made a lot of contacts; I also learned so much which challenged my own thinking, even more so because the conference is multi –disciplinary and very inclusive. I attended sessions ranging from economic models for sustainability, campus initiatives, social and cultural implications, and perspectives from art, sociology, engineering and literature. 

It was great to have my assumptions challenged about US perspectives in relation to carbon and the environment (it is too easy to see the USA as a carbon guzzler). It was also interesting to see the ‘political’ arise in academic debate (Republican views v Democratic) with subsequent falling out!

Many USA and Canadian universities are aiming for zero carbon by 2050. Some are aiming for zero waste by 2020. They all want to grow by up to 30% so new buildings are being conceptualised which are carbon neutral from the outset. Canada may have pulled back from Kyoto but their universities are forging ahead with SD. There were some exciting presentations and lots of new things to think about. 

What struck me particularly, apart from ‘we need to up our game here’  was learning what sustainable development means from a Southern perspective and the impossible task confronted by developing countries who are trying to secure economic sustainability but struggling with climate change, and struggling with the pollution  left as a result of western activities and needs. In the Niger Delta it will take 25-30 years to clean up the pollution left by oil companies and cost 1bn (UNEP, 2011). Oil accounts for 80% of Nigeria’s revenue but the benefits are not being felt – the region is characterised by conflict. I did not know that they flare off their gas for starters. I had not realised the extent to which the wetland and coastal marine eco-system was being contaminated. I also had not realised that so many water projects have been abandoned in Nigeria, that individuals are often forced to drill their own bore holes (and fight for water). In Sub Saharan Africa 4000-6000 children die each day as a result of water born diseases. 

I came away from the conference fired up to take action but wanting to share a couple of points:

  • Don’t be so focused on your own perspective that you forget to really listen to others.
  • Don’t be so focused on getting your own paper over, to the extent that you reduce the opportunity to learn and develop networks
  • A multi-disciplinary focus really stimulates new thinking – while we are each working in our respective disciplines and research themes, it is important to seek opportunities to share with those who may seem different/more difficult to work with than those who have a similar world view- you might learn more from the challenge and develop new ideas.

Please contact me if you would like to hear more about the conference.

Chris Shiel, Associate Professor, Centre for Global Perspectives

Green Economy and sustainability workshop yesterday

GREEN ECONOMY AND SUSTAINABILITY – post presentation notes

FUSION – smarter way of working, many have already been working in this way. Research informs education; education (students) may be subjects of research and co-producers; both may inspire PP. PP can influence research, be subject of research and feeds back into education.

THEME – offers excitement and sharing which could enhance all aspects of the fusion triangle through collaboration across disciplines


ACT NOW to seize window of opportunity. The language for Rio+20 in 2012 reinforces the terms ‘Green economy’. Negotiations leading to Rio are underway with the argument being that the way to sustainable development is to put green growth at the heart of economic development strategies while at the same time reducing pollution and green house gasses, maintaining biodiversity and reducing inefficient use of natural resources. The time to get material out and seek to influence is now.

INTER-DISCIPLINARY research/perspectives are required to address SD and develop solutions. There are gaps in the literature in a number of areas. Perhaps a future session might articulate the current gaps?

THINK PIECES might be developed to get out externally but as a starting point this might be used internally to enable the group to learn about the diversity of perspectives within the group. Need a way to share these that is internal ‘Google docs’ might be useful. Need something to support collaborative working either asynchronous but preferably synchronous.

FUTURE EVENTS and collaborations

  • Forums – opportunities for collaboration and sharing
  • Importance of tangible outputs
  • Paper writing sessions – focused collaborative working where paper is drafted by end
  • Book – collection of chapters but with caveat about impact
  • Edited volume of papers

STICK IT COMMENTS ideas and areas of interest:

  • Use the database of GKE interest people, augment it with thought pieces and make it available
  • BU – cross school collaboration with community lead projects = impact at grass roots level e.g. DECC bid with energy saving; TT Dorchester.
  • Short policy papers supported by a new cornerstone text (e.g. Blueprint for a Green Economy or Our Common Future
  • Green health issues – how can this link?
  • Sustainable Tourism/ Eco tourism
  • Recognition of value of nature capital in leisure
  • Renewable energy
  • Green consumer profile
  • Green Lifestyle
  • Green supply chain
  • Resilience of Green Economy
  • Human Behaviour and cooperation (in terms of climate change scenarios
  • Motivational behaviour
  • Impacts of ‘Greentec’ (Social Environmental Economic)
  • Social justice
  • Leadership for SD
  • Systemic thinking/futures thinking – envisioning alternative lifestyles
  • Contradictions and challenges within greener economy and economic growth

Report: skills for a Green Economy

This is a joint HM Government report with contributions from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
It reports on a project undertaken to identify the skills needed for a transition to a green economy. It is not directed at HE but begs the question as to what kind of curriculum we might have at BU to ensure that our students are adequately prepared for a green economy and can contribute to sustainable development?

Permaculture – towards sustainable living?

Permaculture: presentation by Theresa McManus
23rd November, 13.00-14.00, Shelley LT
Permaculture is about designing human settlements and agricultural systems modelled on relationships found in nature. It is about self-sufficiency, farming, gardening, smallholding and sustainable living. But more than that it is an ecological design system for sustainability that teaches us how to build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, harvest rainwater, build communities and much more.
Theresa McManus, Sustainability Manager for DEAC (Dorset’s Energy Advice Centre) is a committed environmentalist, community activist and permaculturalist. She is focussed on promoting sustainability, increasing biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and saving the planet. On 23rd November between 13.00 and 14.00 she will give a talk on permaculture.
So if you are interested please come along.

Studying Green – a film to inspire learning and debate

Green is a film worth watching. As the website suggests It is both a hard hitting portrayal of the causes and consequences of deforestation in Indonesia, and a film which captures the tranquillity and calm of wild nature. It contains no narrative or dialogue and yet helps us understand complex commodity chains. It was made with a small camera by a single person on a tourist visa, and has beaten much larger production teams, and healthily funded groups to the most prestigious prizes in environmental film-making. And if that is not enough Green was not made for sale or profit, instead you can watch and download it for free at the film’s website (or see below for how to get a DVD of it). The website also contains a series of short essays put forward by academics, who have seen the film,