The Salesian University on the front lines for ecological conversion
Cecilia Seppia – Vatican City
Imagine a dense forest of over 4000 trees soaring towards the sky, as large as Italy’s Island of Ventotene. Imagine the oxygen that 4000 trees are able to produce and the injection of pure air that they can give to a planet that is now suffocating. But also imagine the beauty of a world that finally returns green. This is the scope of the energy efficiency project developed by the Salesian Pontifical University (UPS), which at the end of 2021 officially joined the Platform of Laudato si' Initiatives, desired by Pope Francis to promote the values of integral ecology. The University, thanks to Global Power Service, is installing a system of photovoltaic panels on all the roofs of its buildings to produce clean energy that will replace with the latest generation equipment, the current 6 thermal power plants and will be less polluting and more efficient. This means the University will save the environment 230 tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to planting 580 new trees. However, this hard-working academic community is also committed to reducing the use of plastic, producing fewer paper documents and installing electric vehicle recharging stations. "In order to achieve all this - says Fr. Andrea Bozzolo, Rector of UPS - there is, however, a fundamental step needed: the conversion of behavior. Each of us is called to be ecological in our daily lives and to infect, with a new mentality, the environment in which we live."
A new relationship between mankind and Creation
A concrete contribution to the care of Creation, but also an important example to follow because it comes from a university, the place where, par excellence, minds are formed, giving students the tools and know-how to turn things around. "For us believers,” continues Fr. Bozzolo, “nature is not only the environment, but Creation, according to the beautiful biblical image. That is, it is the work of God's hand. And as the work of an artist, it illustrates his style and personality, his world, his experience, so Creation is a Word to be listened to. Therefore, by committing ourselves concretely to the custody of our Common Home, we want at the same time to work on the hearts and minds of our young people, who are highly sensitive to environmental issues and eager to work, to generate skills, especially of an educational nature so that a new relationship with Creation comes alive, takes root and spreads. There is a very beautiful text by Benedict XVI, written in 1971 and entitled 'The Sacramental Foundation of Christian Existence,' in which the then theologian Ratzinger said: one of the main aspects of the cultural crisis we are going through is that contemporary man sees in the Cosmos only matter and in matter, only material at his disposal, without recognizing in the elements of Creation that symbolic depth in which Creation speaks of He who made it. It is therefore fundamental to go back to searching for what God is telling us in the world, and our project goes in this direction. It's not just putting up solar panels and producing energy in a different way, it's a new way of listening..."
The driving force of universities
UPS is not the first university in Italy to install solar panels, but it is certainly among the Pontifical institutes which are evermore following the path of Pope Francis’ Laudato si’. “It was the Holy Father’s Encyclical,” continues Professor Bozzolo, “which inspired our project, but this text inspires our work every day, especially from the perspective of integral ecology in which attention to nature cannot be separated from attention to and listening to the cry of the poor and the Earth itself, from the choice and promotion of lifestyles that have less impact on the environment, and also from the spread of an ecological spirituality. Precisely because the university is the place par excellence of training and interdisciplinary knowledge, it seemed to us the best place to take on this type of responsibility to bring together different visions in a single educational project.
The difference in small gestures
The Rector particularly stresses the need to modify our behavior in order to lighten that “carbon backpack” which, unconsciously, we each carry on our shoulders. “It is not just big projects which make a difference, but those small gestures which we put into practice every day. It is also for this reason that we decided to reduce our consumption of plastic, to modify the bathroom taps to avoid wasting water, to turn to saving energy, to the recycling of food waste, and not just these. In our gestures, all too often we offend the environment; we keep the water tap open or the lights on when we don’t need them, thinking there’s nothing wrong with that! Awareness is lacking and what we’re trying to do is to educate young generations for a change of mentality and spirituality. Our young people, by the way, have welcomed this project very enthusiastically and have widely understood it but right away, we also saw their great desire to take part and we want to accompany them not only in the visionary sense, but also by offering them practical training in this area.”
Gloria tells her story
The best example of this comes from a student at UPS. Gloria is a differently-challenged young woman, forced to get around in an electric wheelchair. "During the evening of the presentation of the energy efficiency project,” says Fr. Bozzolo, “Gloria took the microphone and said: 'I realize that to recharge this chair of mine we use batteries that produce pollution and consume a lot of electricity, so I for one want to get involved. I know that today there are new ways to recharge batteries that are more eco-friendly and I would like to be the first to give witness by changing my chair if necessary.' Here, despite her obvious and important difficulties of movement and management of daily life, Gloria is willing to accept some discomfort in order to protect and respect the environment. This should challenge the way we think."
Urban and educational regeneration
The entire campus is surrounded by a large green park with many trees and plants that, Fr. Bozzolo concludes, “we try to care for in the best way we can, and with a rather burdensome investment in terms of work and cost. But the experience of being surrounded by green has no equal. Therefore, through the implementation of this project, we want to ensure that others can enjoy the beauty and oxygen that trees give us. So, it’s an environmental and at the same time, educational urban regeneration, which will inspire residents living around the university to get involved in similar activities in favor of the environment. Enrico Zoccatelli, President of the Global Power Service group, is also convinced of this. According to him, the photovoltaic systems that will be installed have already been conceived in terms of an energy-powered community and will therefore allow the energy produced to be shared, avoiding waste or costly energy accumulation. Among other things, the project foresees the adoption of an energy policy aimed at achieving 50001 certification that helps users to create a virtuous balance between man and nature through innovation and technology. "Let's remember,” says Zoccatelli, “that forest of 4000 trees that does not exist yet but thanks to these interventions will exist".
Change is possible
Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the Ecology and Creation sector of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, participated in the Glasgow Climate Conference; he spoke about the Laudato si' Platform of Initiatives, of which UPS is now an integral part, and the objectives for the next seven years. "In 12,000 years, the Earth's temperature has varied by about one degree. From 1800 to today, the temperature has increased by 1.1 and we are already seeing the consequences: hurricanes, droughts, floods. Scientists have warned us that if the average temperature continues to rise, the consequences will be catastrophic. Unfortunately, in spite of the work done in Glasgow, and if the promises are kept, we will inevitably come close to 2.5 degrees." As Fr. Kureethadam also reminds us, "the climate crisis is closely linked to poverty, famine and disease which are the main causes of migration." But, despite these concerns, he urges us to believe "that change is possible, and this is demonstrated by the grassroots mobilization of young people, minorities and communities around the world who are courageously committing themselves to defending our Planet." A planet that belongs not to one, but to each one of us.