Nearly a quarter of a century ago, HKUST was launched on the slopes of one of the most beautiful and scenic spots in the world. HKUST's commitment to sustaining that natural capital has been resolute. The commitment was recently articulated by President Tony Chan in the Hong Kong Sustainable Campus Consortium Declaration:
We recognize the important role and responsibilities of the higher education sector to provide appropriate responses to the challenges of climate change and sustainable development through our core missions of research, teaching, and knowledge exchange.
Creating a sustainable campus is more of a process than a destination, and relies on the continuous contributions of many small actions from the entirety of the HKUST community. The sustainable actions of the HKUST community are not optional extras, or "add-ons" to existing management activities. Rather, sustainability is glue that binds our community together as we collectively move towards the challenges of the 21st century.
There are many excellent views on defining sustainability, with the most common developed by the United Nations-appointed Brundtland Commission in 1987 where they defined sustainable development as "Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
The definition has stood the test of time and is an excellent starting point for discussions. However, this definition is not as helpful as a guide for making decisions or developing plans. Therefore, we use the following four principles for our working definition.
- Sustainability revolves around humans – we recognize that health and happiness are at the core of a sustainable community, and that our actions to protect air, water, and natural resources are necessary to protect our well-being.
- Sustainability recognizes the larger system – all things are interconnected and work together; seeing how a change to one thing influences another is essential for understanding the impact of our decisions.
- Sustainability focuses on the elimination of wastes – there is no value or benefit when wasting energy, water, natural resources, money, time, or human capital.
- Sustainability focuses on the future – change is inevitable, happens quickly, and is often unpredictable. It is essential to make thoughtful decisions today that will make us more likely to succeed in the future.
Adopting these four sustainability principles provides a conceptual framework for addressing the challenging issues that arise.