Five academics from the University of Malta shared their expertise with those present at the well attended Malta Sutainability Forum 2019 (MSF2019) held on the 14 November 2019. Stemming from what is typically regarded as separate disciplines, Prof. Maria Attard, Mr Antoine Gatt, Dr Alexandra Mifsud, Prof. Suzanne Piscopo and Dr Antoine Zammit, offered a perfect example of the cross-cutting element of sustainability. Furthermore, their contribution at the MSF2019 consolidates the role members of the academic body play in strenghtening the links between research, business and community outreach.
Dr Alexandra Mifsud, Centre for Environmental Education and Research, kickstarted the MSF2019 by discussing the need to reawaken citizens' hearts and minds in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle. Through the use of the three pillars of sustainable development: Environment, Society and Economy, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Dr. Mifsud invited those present to examine their values in an attempt to remove the disconnect between values and behaviour. She appealed to the audience for the need to realign one’s actions and behaviours with our values and beliefs in order to create a fairer, healthier, equitable and sustainable world.
Dr Mifsud also moderated the first panel of the day, Implementing Community Change, where Prof. Maria Attard, Director of the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development, discussed the need to include equity in our considerations about open and public spaces. Access to the road is a right for everyone, even those outside the car. Unfortunately however, pedestrians and cyclists are pushed out of the road by infrastructure designed solely to accommodate the car, therefore towns and villages lose their cultural and community spaces to cars, both parked and in motion. This has a number of negative effects on the communities and their well-being. She showed examples of how we can take back our streets and ensure a safe and equitable environment in our towns and villages.
During the third and final panel at the MSF2019, Changing Minds, Not The Climate, Antoine Gatt, a landscape architect, who lectures at the Faculty for the Built Environment looked at how green roofs contribute towards creating sustainable buildings. Just like other green infrastructure systems, green roofs contribute towards most of the sustainable development goals, and their dissemination should be encouraged on a national scale. He made reference to the fact that modern green roof systems reduce the risks of leaks to the structures on which they are installed. Reference was made to the findings of the LifeMedGreenRoof project, an EU funded project which ran between 2013 and 2017 with the aim of creating a baseline study for green roofs in Malta. The project confirmed that encouraging the dissemination of green roofs over a wide territory would provide benefits not only to the owner but also to the community and to urban wildlife. Green roofs locally have been found to be effective in reducing flooding as well as provide substantial insulation, reducing the need for air-conditioning. In addition the project has shown that green roofs have potential for species conservation and for providing habitat and food for many beneficial pollinators such as bees, which can contribute towards economic gain.
Dr Antoine Zammit, Faculty for the Built Environment discussed the principle of sustainable rehabilitation – rehabilitating older properties for adaptive reuse and making them sustainable in the process – through the tangible application of a number of environmental principles, using two completed projects developed by his office studjurban. Dr Zammit illustrated how sustainability may be translated to very simple principles that may be achievable in practice, including the discussion of how streets and courtyards work as a system through the principle of convection; enhancing cross ventilation and making the most of temperature differential in different spaces throughout the building; the solar chimney principle; passive solar heating; and heat dissipation and retention through the thermal mass of the older masonry fabric. He emphasised how the integration of such principles should be a key component of the design process, rather than an afterthought and how there is an inherent logic with 'reduce - reuse - recycle', in that order, that is not to be underestimated.
Turning the focus to food choices, Prof. Suzanne Piscopo, Department of Health, Physical Activity and Consumer Studies of the Faculty of Education emphasised how food consumption and production are integral to most of the SDGs and that having both adequate food and the right kind of food is essential for healthy and productive citizens. In international discourse, research and strategies, the link between food and sustainability, including climate change, is strongly highlighted. However, smart and responsible actions can start in the home environment. Prof. Piscopo encouraged participants to imagine a typical household of 2 adults and 2 children and she then illustrated how such a family can increase their awareness of the various aspects of food and sustainability, and make and implement related decisions when buying, storing, producing, eating and reusing food, or disposing of food waste. Topics mentioned ranged from reading sustainability labels on food packaging, to planning the family menu around a plant-based diet, to conserving traditional recipes and to being entrepreneurial with indigenous plants. Prof. Piscopo ended with a challenge for participants to start eating more with their spoons and forks rather than their knives, thus lessening their meat intake whilst still enjoying tasty food.