Venice International University is something unique in the academic world: a consortium of Universities from all over the world with an autonomous Campus on the island of San Servolo, in Venice. VIU designs a very distinctive model to support circular economy through the promotion of education at all levels, and of partnership among countries and different stakeholders. VIU international and multidisciplinary community allows for the necessary perspective when addressing a global and complex issue as Circular Economy.
Venice International University (VIU) is a private no profit consortium of 17 universities from all over the world based on the island of San Servolo in Venice, Italy, where VIU has its Campus. VIU encourages the exchange of knowledge and experiences, among its Members and beyond, supporting an interdisciplinary perspective, in which backgrounds, cultures and disciplines meet to address Global Challenges.
VIU promotes higher education including Capacity Building on a variety of topics, focusing in particular on sustainable development, innovation, societal challenges.
In 2003 the VIU, through its Thematic Environmental Networks (TEN) Program on Sustainability (at the time a VIU research center mainly focusing on Environment) became technical partner of the Italian Ministry of the Environment, Land and Sea in its bilateral cooperation on “Capacity Building for Sustainable Development” in emerging economies. Policy makers and civil servants from China, South and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Mediterranean countries were the beneficiaries of the Capacity Building activity, whose methodology was mainly based on the exchange of Sustainable Development practices between Italy and those target countries. The Program was particularly successful with China which, almost 20 years ago, was in a moment of intensive growth: it involved almost 10.000 Chinese policy makers in over 250 training courses in China and in Italy. The design of the courses’ agendas was based on the analysis of the needs as highlighted by the Chinese partners and, on the other side, the identification of possible available solutions to present (at national, EU and international level) by the Italian ones.
The topics treated in the different training courses were wide and various, and highlighted a very positive attention to the latest emerging issues in a variety of aspects of Sustainable Development. This was a noteworthy opportunity to develop knowledge and networks on groundbreaking issues, not only for the Chinese participants as beneficiaries of the Program but also for VIU as provider of the contents to deliver.
In this context, in 2005 VIU and MEP (the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, at the time a national State Agency - SEPA) included Industrial Ecology within its training courses. At that time, Industrial Ecology was a topic of discussion in the US academy and administration, and was considered by China as the framework for supporting the circular economy model that China itself was introducing as a basis for the sustainable economic, environmental and social development of the country. It consists in the study of flows of materials and energy in industrial and consumer activities, the effects of these flows on the environment, and the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors on the flow, use, and transformation of resources. Moreover, taking into account the capacity of the natural systems to use matter and energy in a circular way as model for the revision of industrial systems, Industrial Ecology can represent the framework discipline to open up the road for a Green Economy and a Circular Economy in Europe and beyond.
VIU understood how critical the topic was in the debate on Sustainable Development and, in line with its mission, it decided to explore the topic by fostering the exchange of knowledge between the US, China and Europe, using VIU as the platform for such an exchange. The Center for Industrial Ecology of Yale University was invited to Venice to lecture in the training courses with China. On the other side, in order to widen its internal expertise on the topic, VIU supported a scholarship to one of its researchers at the same Yale Center that is recognized as a knowledge and research reference institution in the field worldwide.
Since then, Green Economy and Circular Economy became a crucial topic for VIU and have been included in its research, education and dissemination activity at all levels.
In the Capacity Building Program with China, South and Eastern Europe countries and Mexico, over 20 training courses on these topics were organized in the following 8 years.
Green Economy and Circular Economy became, at the same time, subjects of teaching within other VIU activities and academic programs.
Since 2009, they were included in the VIU Globalization Program, addressing undergraduate and master students from its Member universities. A specific module on Green Economy and Circular Economy was designed and included as part of the Course on Globalization, Environment and Sustainable Development. This course is now held every Spring Semester at VIU – which is the Semester dedicated to Sustainable Development – and presents Green and Circular Economy as a model to achieve sustainability at global level. The Global perspective is a necessary one when teaching to a class of students from all over the world and coming from different disciplines, as the 20 international students attending the VIU course each year. The main objective of the course is to further promote the Circular Economy model around the world, on the one side providing the students with knowledge on the topic to bring back to their home countries, each of them approaching the topic through the perspective of their background study; on the other, building transdisciplinary network on the topic, making the students working together on the analysis of specific case studies and development of practical solutions.
From the scientific point of view, through its numerous VIU Member Universities, VIU brings in a multiplicity of expertise which is much needed when treating a multi-dimensional topic as the Circular Economy, in which different backgrounds allow the interaction among the stakeholders and the actors involved. This enabled VIU to treat the Circular Economy topic through different perspectives, i.e. focusing more on technical aspects of Waste Management (in collaboration with Padua University), Management Innovation in Firms (ref. in collaboration with Lausanne, Ca’ Foscari and Padua Universities), Industrial Symbiosis (in collaboration with Tsinghua, Yale and IUAV Universities), Waste Water Management (with Ca’ Foscari and UNESCO).
VIU has become a referent institution for public authorities, utilities, private firms (such as Contarina, Veritas, Alcantara) concerning Capacity Building and dissemination activities on topics linked to Circular Economy. In this framework, in 2016 VIU established a new collaboration with ACR+ which is the European Association of Cities and Regions for Sustainable Resource Management, with whom the following year VIU launched an intensive Training Course on Circular Economy for civil servants and professionals working in local authorities, utilities, firms and academia. The first edition gathered 25 participants from all Europe, and offered presentations on policy, green public procurement, sharing economy, citizens’ behavior with different international case studies.
In the last three years, the debate on Circular Economy has been embedded in the wider framework of the UN SDGs (the Sustainable Development Goals) that VIU promotes within its activity also by participating in international networks such as the UN Global Compact, UN SDSN and ASviS-Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development. VIU’s growing activity with children from primary school is another interesting opportunity to address Circular Economy in the context of the SDGs and to benefit from the “simple” and genuine perspective of kids.
More recently, VIU interest is increasingly focusing on a less explored but equally critical element in the circular economy chain, the Citizen. On this basis, VIU is developing a network of stakeholders to launch a series of new activity referring to this group, the first of which is a research project on the perception of scientific innovation by the citizens, just selected within the European funding Programme Horizon 2020.
The Circular Economy is also the focus of a joint collaboration with Ca’ Foscari International College which, as VIU, is based on the island of San Servolo. This collaboration is meant to promote the “San Servolo Sustainable Island” initiative, starting from the circular management of waste. Even though San Servolo is just 4,82 ha, hosting 4 institutions (San Servolo Facility Management and the Venice Academy of Fine Arts, besides VIU and Ca’ Foscari College) the task is not an easy one and is still open.