The University of Amsterdam should work more on sustainability, states UvA student and Green Office volunteer Julia Dalibor. She says it might not hurt to look at our neighbor universities: Eindhoven and Wageningen are more ‘green’ than ever before. ‘The UvA still has a long way to go compared to other universities.’
Last week, many UvA professors and students marched through rainy Amsterdam and demonstrated for a more active climate policy. While thousands of people chose the cold streets of Amsterdam over lectures and working hours to demonstrate for more climate justice, it is time that we start asking ourselves: what does the UvA do in terms of sustainability?
The Dutch student organization Studenten voor Morgen annually ranks Dutch higher education institutions in terms of their sustainability performance. Since 2012, Morgen is honoring the most sustainable Dutch university with the SustainaBul award. The Eindhoven University of Technology and Wageningen University & Research always come in first or second, but the UvA only ranked 10th. Why is that?
Since 2016, the UvA Green Office officially impersonates the sustainability division of the University of Amsterdam. The student-run and student-led organization aims to embed sustainability practices within the UvA’s teaching, research, governance, policy and community. Its aim in the long run: to turn the university into a more sustainable place.
Over the last few years, the small student group that had started with only a handful of people has grown into a medium sized organization that can rely on the support of more than forty volunteers. Movie screenings, green fashion shows and lectures attract increasing amounts of people.
However, while the UvA Green Office tries to raise awareness among students and mobilizing volunteers, it can only embed sustainability practices within the limited boundaries of a student-run and volunteer-based organization. When it comes to the development of long-term sustainability strategies or the implementation of binding guidelines for the whole university, the power of the student organization is limited.
Other Dutch universities show how it can be done differently. Winner of the last years SustainaBul ranking was the Eindhoven University of Technology. The sustainability jury acknowledged the university’s efforts to become '100% future friendly'. With their comprehensive approach aiming at sustainability in education and research, the TU/e was able to become climate neutral in 2015. Until 2030, the university aims to generate 50% of their energy themselves. In line with their mission and profile as a university of technology strong in innovation, the focus point of the TU/e is on sustainable, innovative solutions. One example for an innovative project is the Solar Team Eindhoven; a student initiative that is working on the world’s most efficient and most innovative solar powered family car.
Another university that appears to pop up in the first rows of annual sustainability rankings is the Wagening University & Research Centre. With thermal storage at the Wagening Campus and university owned windmill turbines in Lelystad, the university is working hard on reducing their Carbon footprint and becoming climate neutral. Their aim: to take on a leading role in the area of sustainable operational management and to be the prime knowledge institute in Europe in the domain ‘Healthy Food and Living Environment’ by 2020.
What both TU/e and WUR have in common is a strategic and comprehensive approach, which tackles sustainability related issues with a clear vision and with the united strengths of all education and research departments. Clearly divided responsibilities among the universities staff ensure that strategic goals are defined and their progress is monitored. The process of becoming more sustainable is anchored in both universities’ identities.
A long way to go
Compared to the achievements of other institutions UvA still has a long way to go. The status quo of our university’s sustainability achievements involve the existence of a set of sustainability goals, which are followed through by the Green Office, a student organization with limited power. What we lack is a comprehensive sustainability strategy that is pushed through by a fully employed Sustainability Officer with the ability to make changes on all levels of the university.
With a holistic strategic approach that embraced the university’s identity and that was executed by a functioning Sustainability Department, the UvA would be able to improve their sustainability efforts and reach its goal into becoming more sustainable in the upcoming years. This would not only result into a higher ranking in the (inter)national sustainability scores but would also send a strong message to potential future students who possibly participated in the climate march last month.
UvA student Julia Dalibor (Comunication Science) works at the UvA Green Office.