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How sustainable does the University want to be by 2030?

Leiden University has become more sustainable in the past few years, but it could do better, particularly in the area of teaching and research. A student and staff workgroup is preparing a new Sustainability Vision 2030. Programme Manager Daphne van den Berg explains how this is taking shape and where improvements could be made.

To begin with: why the need for a new vision? Van den Berg: ‘The Environmental Policy Plan 2016-2020 ends this year, and work has started on a new plan for the next five years. While evaluating the current plan, we discovered a need for more vision in the University’s long-term sustainability goals, a “dot on the horizon.” The Executive Board therefore decided we need a Sustainability Vision 2030 and a workgroup of students and staff to help consider how we can become more sustainable.’

Workgroup

The Sustainability Vision workgroup consists of 18 students and staff from different faculties and institutes, including the Institute of Environmental Sciences. The group commenced work in March, just before the corona crisis began. Van den Berg: ‘We had to get our heads around it at first, but were soon back at work, but then from home.’

CO2 footprint halved

The Sustainability Report 2019 lists which goals have been attained. How sustainable is the University now? ‘A lot has been achieved already. Of the 37 goals in the current Environmental Policy Plan, 32 have been reached. The University’s CO2 footprint has been halved, for instance.’ This has been realised in various ways such as organising transport more efficiently, switching to electric cars, reducing waste, installing solar panels and deciding that, if possible, people won’t fly relatively short distances. The University restaurants have also become more sustainable, by increasing the range of vegetarian options and purchasing less meat and many more organic products, for example. 

Making the teaching more sustainable

The University’s business operations are greener therefore, but the same now has to apply to its teaching and research. This could mean offering new courses on sustainability-related topics and further integrating sustainability into existing courses. Van den Berg: ‘In the past few years, new courses and lecture series that cover sustainability have begun at different faculties, which is great! These initiatives are often bottom-up. It would be good if this were encouraged at every faculty and institute.’

Making the research more sustainable 

Van den Berg notes that we also have to give more prominence to research into sustainability and encourage researchers to be more environmentally friendly in their work. She gives the example of closing the sash window of the fume cupboards in labs. If these cupboards are closed immediately after use, this saves a huge amount of energy. Another example is improving how waste is collected: there are instructions on how to dispose of your waste on the recycling bins.

Corona crisis as inspiration

The corona crisis has served as a source of new inspiration, says Van den Berg. In one fell swoop researchers were no longer able to attend international conferences in person, but could attend them online. After the corona crisis we should still look closely at whether trips really are necessary because you can always learn from a crisis. The new Executive Board, which takes up its duties at the start of next year, will use the workgroup’s draft sustainability vision to determine a final version. Becoming more sustainable is in the big and small changes that together can have a snowball effect, says Van den Berg. ‘LUGO (Leiden University Green Office) recently came up with the idea of installing timers on the printers so they automatically switch off at night. These kinds of ideas from students and staff are always welcome.’ 

If you have any bright ideas on how we can become more sustainable, mail them to Daphne van den Berg, Programme Manager for Sustainability.

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