Geographer Benoît Frund has become a key figure for sustainability on campus and increasingly, in the various places that seek his advice. In France, for example, he was recently appointed to the Guidance and Monitoring Committee for the social and environmental responsibility strategy of the National Agriculture, Food and Environment Research Centre, as well as participating in an evaluation of the University of Bordeaux. He also chairs the sustainability network of swissuniversities.
He was 39 years old and director of the Unibat department when Dominique Arlettaz invited him to join his second team. "It was funny, because he had got rid of the role of Rectorate representative for ecology and the environment but five years later, in 2011, he created the post of vice-rector, which I held during his second term. By integrating sustainability into the Rectorate, he placed it at the heart of UNIL's concerns," recalls Benoît Frund. Awareness of the issue increased to the point where Nouria Hernandez supported both the notion and reality of being a pioneering university in the field. "I was the first name she mentioned in her appointment speech, although we had scarcely spoken," he remembers.
Earning the "2000-watt Site" label dates from her time in office: "It’s a plan to reduce energy consumption over 20 years, which consists of reducing our CO2 emissions and halving our energy consumption. It involves building renovations, insulation, how things work and changing our collective habits, and installing solar panels on every possible roof. We’re currently in the process of major works to change our energy vector for heating and switching entirely to renewable sources. Building a new heating plant and commissioning it in 2025 will allow us to stop using the gas/heating oil system completely, replacing it solely with water from the lake to heat and cool all our buildings."
Frédéric Herman is keen to step things up a gear by using the energy transition to achieve sustainability based on a fundamental transformation: all faculties are being asked to include the topic in their teaching, and it has already begun in medicine. For its part, the Interdisciplinary Centre on Sustainability, now known as the Competence Centre in Sustainability (CCD), has become a department of the Rectorate, enabling it to provide methodological and administrative support to researchers; in addition, the CCD will benefit from tried-and-tested tools such as Volteface, to support the transition projects of units at UNIL, always in conjunction with civil society. Other departments will also be involved. Instigated with the support of researchers at HEC Lausanne, strengthening the principles of sustainability in managing UNIL’s financial assets will continue, in conjunction with the Banque cantonal vaudoise (BCV). "Our portfolio isn’t huge but people do pay attention to us: we have already inspired the BCV, which is applying our principles to the management of all its institutional assets, which together represent about 20 times the size of our portfolio. We intend to continue along this path by operating as a living laboratory and testing things that may be useful to others."
The vice-rector intends to develop an ecological and social transition plan for UNIL. This will be produced in 2022, based on an updated Sustainability Committee and a participatory process. "It will include setting targets for reducing our impacts on the biosphere and preserving a level of prosperity," he explains. The CCD is the primary tool for accelerating the process and each unit – academic or administrative - will be asked to make its own contribution.
Flights have already been cut back as numerous academic actors have become more aware of their impact, as well as in response to the pandemic. In future, they will be limited by quotas, which will be allocated between and within faculties. "We will not be reimbursing the cost of flights where the journey could be done by train in under six hours." Clearly, new technologies means that people can participate remotely in many situations.
So what role will digital technology play? "Calculating our impact is one of our obligations, though it’s important to remember that digital technologies are not neutral: the consumption of resources, energy and materials actually increases significantly if you only use digital technologies, so it doesn’t solve everything. That said, we have been working with the Computer Centre to increase the guarantee period for our computers, which means we can keep them for longer. Our data centres are already monitored, so we know their energy consumption; we use a lot of electrical energy to power them but we can then use the warmth generated to heat our buildings instead of wasting it. It is also important to manage our IT tools here, not in the cloud where we have no control. Finally, we all need to reflect on our own habits, keeping the idea of digital hygiene in mind."
Benoît Frund wants to motivate the whole of the university community to support the transition, not with a miracle solution but with genuinely practical questions and proposals on a campus that is going to be developed further in the next few years. "It will be about supporting the many new buildings, while making sure we maintain optimal living conditions for all our residents, both human and non-human," he explains. The teams in the Ecological Transition and Campus department will certainly have plenty to keep them busy!