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‘Fundamentals’ inspire students to get started on real-life sustainability challenges

In the near future, students of the LDE Bachelor Honours Programme Sustainability will take on real-life sustainability challenges. But first, the course ‘Fundamentals of Sustainability’ provides them with an environmental mode of thinking: “It allows you to focus on what is useful in practice.”

“I don’t want to start off with a bummer, but this is our reality today”, says Paul Behrens as he opens the final lecture of the course ‘Fundamentals of Sustainability’. Scattered laughter can be heard among the students since Paul’s understatement refers to a rather crucial element of the course: the severity of global warming. This final lecture focuses on the last piece of the ‘Fundamentals’ puzzle: the development of sustainability metrics.

Though it is late, and most students have already had a long day, Behrens is enthusiastic. “Seven to nine PM meetings are not my strong suit either, so I can imagine you guys could get a bit sleepy”, jokes Behrens. Nonetheless, his upbeat energy and relevant case studies keep the students engaged. Behrens is so wrapped up in his passionate lecture that he has to cut himself off after “just one more example”, to enable guest lecturer Shivant Jhagroe - just as eager as Behrens - to tell his story too and wrap up the course.

Practical and passionate

In the previous months, the students from Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University were presented with the fundamentals of sustainability by professors from all three institutions. The professors alternated lectures, which resulted in a different approach each week. Besides sustainability, the course focused on systemic thinking and systemic transitions – in order to teach students how to bring about change in large organisations.

Looking back, students praise the course for its practical and interdisciplinary approach. “The professors are really passionate and enthusiastic about their topics, which causes the lectures to be far more interesting than other lectures I have attended”, says student Riley Coler. Programme coordinator Esther van der Ent looks back on the course with a smile on her face. “It was definitely challenging to coordinate such a large collaboration.” She explains that although the three universities have worked together before, there was usually one university that took the lead in a project. “In this Honours programme, each university contributes in equal measure.”

Practice makes perfect

As students are wrapping up this part of the honours programme, they reflect on how the ‘Fundamentals’ course has prepared them for the second part, in which they will apply the knowledge of sustainability fundamentals to solve real-life sustainability challenges.

One of the groups is challenged with reducing the number of flights by employees of the Ministry of Justice and Security. The students describe how the ‘Fundamentals’ course prepared them for the upcoming challenge. “Since there is no exam, I mostly took notes that were relevant for our challenge, rather than writing every piece of information down like I would usually feel obliged to do. This really allows you to focus on what is useful in practice”, says Vanya Kahmann.

The group already had their first meeting with the Ministry, and they are excited to get started, Maike Zink explains: “It was very cool to sit down with them and discuss the possibilities. They even agreed to share the data they have collected about the flights by their employees .”

The future

Whether the students can eventually use this course in their career path, differs per student. However, Coler and Kahmann (Urban Studies) are hopeful: “The programme teaches us to cooperate with government institutions and other large organisations, which is a major part of what we aim to do in the future. Therefore, it is very useful.” Ideally, programmes like this one will help the current generation of students manage the ‘bummer’ that is global warming.

Text: Lynn Mans
Photos: Buro JP

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