The sustainable university in 2020
As part of preparations for the new Strategic Plan that Utrecht University is developing for the 2016-2020 period, the Green Office Utrecht organised an on-site brainstorming session on Tuesday, 10 November. The event attracted lots of students as well as some staff members, who formulated a variety of answers to the question of what the university should look like in terms of sustainability in 2020.
Following an energetic warm-up, the diverse mix of participants split up into six randomly composed subgroups. Due to the large number of international students in attendance, the subgroup discussions were conducted mostly in English. A wide spectrum of ideas were pitched, from ripe and green to highly original or futuristic, to the more obvious. Below is a selection of the thoughts and ideas that came up.
The characteristic mentioned more than any other was the university’s sustainable image. This includes aspects such as:
- Campus visitors should automatically encounter information about the university’s sustainable operations. The university should provide transparent information about its CO2 emissions reduction measures. User information, such as on energy consumption or CO2 emissions, could be presented in real time.
- Students indicated they would like greener landscaping on campus. Instead of being defined by the central bus route across campus, the Uithof should have the look and feel of a park in 2020. The botanical garden could be mandated to manage the Uithof. And buildings could have plants growing on the facades and roofs.
- Green Office Utrecht should have a central, visible location on campus and serve as a showcase for sustainability projects.
Facilitating sustainable behaviour on campus
The university can influence people’s behaviour by making sustainable options the standard choice. Options that are not sustainable (such as meat items in the canteens, taking the lift instead of the stairs) should require additional effort and no longer be presented as the standard option.
Carbon-neutral operations and a circular system
Many students assume that the university’s operations will be climate-neutral by 2020, or in any case close to it. As well as making the use of buildings climate-neutral, the university should also take steps to improve the life cycle of buildings. What happens to the raw materials released when buildings are demolished? The Uithof should be waste-free, and any waste processing still needed should take place on-site. The university should only conclude and maintain contracts with sustainable organisations.
Key role for sustainability in the primary process
Each faculty should have an independent institute for sustainability research and eduction. These institutes would connect students with sustainable businesses, e.g. through living labs. All Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes should also integrate this theme into their curricula. And all students should attend a faculty-based symposium on sustainability in their first year.
Student participation through community service hours
The efforts of students who make contributions to sustainable development should be recognised and rewarded.
During the last ‘crazy five minutes’, participants made suggestions for ‘Personal sustainability’, coming up with ideas such as planting a tree for every newly matriculated student as part of a new UU forest and a free student fitness club with energy-generating equipment that could then power the university.
Join in the discussion!
From October to December, you are more than welcome to share your thoughts about the future of Utrecht University. During special sessions staff, students, alumni and partners of the University can discuss themes which they believe are important. You will be able to share your views on education and research, but also on the question of how the University could become even more sustainable and what role the campuses could play in creating an inspiring working and living environment.
Want to know more?
Read more about how the Strategic Plan is created and how you can contribute.