Purpose This paper aims to report strategies towards a green campus project at Politecnico
di Torino University, a 33,000-students Italian higher education institution (HEI),
and estimate the avoided ecological footprint (EF) of different scenarios accounted
for open spaces. Design/methodology/approach A consumption-based study has been developed
to analyse the current EF of the main campus site. Data were collected from different
departments and administrative units to identify the measure of the pressure exerted
by the campus activities on the ecosystem. Then, possible scenarios were accounted
for open spaces along five different design layers: energy, water, landscape, food
and mobility. Acting on the spaces by means of biophilic design and user-driven design
requires complex considerations on university's anticipated future needs and a wide-ranging
evaluation of the most appropriate pathways forward according to all university stakeholders,
far beyond the mere accounting of avoided EF. Findings A reduction of the 21 per cent
of the current EF can be achieved through the solutions envisaged in the green campus
project along the open space layers. Moreover, universities have the opportunity to
not only improve the sustainability of their facilities but also demonstrate how the
built environment can be designed to benefit both the environment and the occupants.
Originality/value This is the first research that estimates the EF of an Italian HEI.
The research represents also an innovative approach integrating the EF reduction scenarios
in the design process of the new masterplan of open spaces, trying to identify the
connection between environmental impact reduction and improvement in users' perception.