Small steps towards a sustainable UT

| Marianne de Beer

In search of answers to the question of how sustainable the UT is, we spoke to Mariëlle Winkler, who is project manager campus & innovation and is on her own quest to raise sustainability at the UT to a higher level.

You are currently working on making sustainability more visible on campus, why is this necessary?

‘A lot of people who work at the UT are occupied with subjects regarding sustainability in the broadest sense, but mostly it is not very visible. This makes is harder to show what we are doing and connect projects and people.  On the 11th of January, there was a meeting where people were enthusiastic about this subject and new collaborations were started, but we gathered less information on the sustainability projects that are currently being done than we hoped. Therefore, we have to extend our inventory taking in other ways.’

What is the UT already doing to be more sustainable?

‘We are working hard on being more energy-efficient. The UT participates in the Long Term Energy Efficiency Agreement with the government, which aims at a 30% energy reduction. A reduction we are easily realising. We try to get the energy care system ISO 50001 in operation this year, which will support us in this. Sustainability is also an important issue in of most of our education and research. We are, for example, working on research into Smart Cities, which can be a way of dealing with energy and legislation issues in the future. However, we do not have an overview of all that is going on, a lot of this work is invisible and unknown to most of the UT community.’

Does the UT have plans to place more solar panels on the roofs of its buildings?

‘The UT has been looking at the possibility of placing more solar panels for a while. The fact that there are not a lot of solar panels at the UT yet has two reasons: part of our buildings does not have a strong enough roof construction to place solar panels on, and the payback period of solar panels for the UT is rather long. But because solar cells are developing really quickly, more and more possibilities are arising. Where possible, the UT does place solar panels, for instance on the Technohal, which is being renovated.’

Why doesn’t the UT label itself more as a sustainable university?

‘The UT is not always very good at promoting the good work we’re doing. We have to start by better informing the employees and students about what the UT is doing on this subject. At the moment we are working on the framing of sustainability in the broadest context within our organisation. The focus will be much broader than just the environmental issues on which people often focus when talking about sustainability. We will not abandon the environmental issues, of course, but we think that being a university brings also a social responsibility. This will certainly be highlighted within the framework.’

The UT is the only university in the Netherlands that does not have a Green Office, why is this?

‘There have been two attempts to set up a Green Office at the UT, in cooperation with Enactus, but both times we could not pull it off. Studenten voor Morgen, a student network for sustainability, came by a few years ago to see if it would be possible to set one up. During their visit, we concluded that the subject of sustainability is much less alive among students at the UT than at other universities. Although there is a group of active students, we are, for example, the only Dutch university who does not have a branch of “Morgen”. Running a Green Office requires students who are willing to invest time in it, and those are hard to find here. But also important is that at the UT we embrace the broad concept of sustainability, not just the environmental issues. As a Green Office often focus on environmental issues, it might not be the best instrument for us. One of the things we have to figure out working on the framework.’

Are there any UT students who do care about sustainability?

‘Well, I did meet some students from the DesignLab who are passionate about the subject of sustainability and have a Whatsapp group on it. So I do think there is a number of individual students who do care about sustainability, for example Jasper ten Napel who wrote the open letter about it a few months ago.’

How is sustainability present in the education at the UT?

‘We are educating students to be aware of the world around them, so they can take this into account in the choices they make in their professional life. A lot of courses at the UT are, directly or indirectly, working on solutions for societal challenges. So I think we again have the problem of visibility here, it’s there but it is not recognizable for the students as sustainability. Maybe more could be added to the study programs, but we first need a good view of what is already there and what the possibilities are.’

Why is there no longer a coordinator for sustainability?

‘A while ago, there were reorganisations and this function was cut for financial reasons. Because of this, we had a lot less time to spend on the subject, which caused the wider overview of sustainability on campus to fade. However, corporate social responsibility has been put back on the agenda and a new environmental and sustainability coordinator just started.’

What are the further plans of the UT?

‘We are going to keep the conversation around sustainability going within the board, and are planning to come up with a sustainability profile: how do we want to pay attention to the subject as the UT, what will the focus be on, how will we arrange the organisation for this and how do we involve employees and students for this.’

Stay tuned

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