The first full year proved to be bit of a learning curve for the Erasmus Sustainability Hub. A tough lesson came with their Meat-free Monday campaign when they found out the EUR community get a tad defensive when you “try to touch their meat.” EM spoke with Hub Co-founder Eva Rood and Operations Student Assistant Nada van Schouwenburg about the highs and lows of the past year, and what they’ve got planned going forward.
“We were inspired by the success of the Green Office in Maastricht,” explains Eva Rood, co-founder of the Sustainability Hub. The Hub aims to inspire the community at EUR adopt greener, more sustainable practices, both on and off the campus.
“Whether you study business here or learn about the Environment in Wageningen, we’ll still all be faced with the same challenges in ten or twenty years’ time,” says Eva, referring to the global economic, social and environmental sustainability challenges highlighted by the UN. “We want to prepare people regardless. With our students, there’s a good chance that they’ll end up working in business – but they can still make a difference there!”
Aside from raising awareness and connecting likeminded individuals, the Hub has run a number of more tangible projects since opening its doors in January 2015. You may recall the Warm Sweater Day, where you might have spotted a Polar Bear wandering around campus, or perhaps you’ve noticed people sipping coffee from re-useable mugs in lectures. In fact, it’s these mugs – the Erasmugs – which Eva and Operations Student Assistant Nada van Schouwenburg champion as the most successful of the Hub’s projects. Following a pilot of the re-useable Erasmugs, the campaign has now been passed on to the campus caterers to run independent of the Hub.
“We spoke to the campus caterers and although they wanted to sell the mugs, they were concerned about taking the risk and purchasing them first,” Eva explains. “We purchased the first 400 to carry the risk and asked them to sell the mugs on our behalf, whilst offering discounts to see if there was any interest.” This batch of Erasmugs sold out in six weeks, which Eva says was “an overwhelming success.”
Without return-use numbers available, it’s hard to gauge whether the Erasmug project has indeed managed to reduce waste on campus. Eva admits that many were purchased as gifts for friends and family and even as corporate incentives. Yet she remains adamant that they’ve made a difference and will consider asking caterers for hard evidence of their use in the future.
Meat-free Monday ‘too negative’
‘It caused quite a fierce discussion about whether universities should be involved in what individuals are eating’
Not all their projects were well received. Take Meat-free Monday, for example, for which the Hub received considerable backlash. After seeing the extremely negative responses to the campaign at other universities, the Hub decided to try a more subtle approach at EUR. “We tried to introduce Meat-free Monday by innocently hanging up posters in the food court advising of alternatives,” says Eva, adding that “it caused quite a fierce discussion about whether universities should be involved in what people are eating.” Nada explains that they were shocked by the intensity of the responses to the campaign. “Lots of people act very defensively when you try to touch their meat,” she laughs. “But now we’ve worked out that perhaps Meat-free Monday was too negative, because you’re telling people what not to do, rather than simply promoting a more positive lifestyle.”
Looking ahead, Nada says they hope to adopt this more positive approach through the ambitious Food Lab project. The Food Lab, which is still in the planning phase, aims to educate the EUR community on sustainable plant-based food options through cooking demos and workshops. Rather surprisingly, although the university approves of the project and its intent, funding is not necessarily allocated for the endeavour. This means that the Hub and its network are seeking alternative sources of finance – including corporate sponsors, who in return will enjoy perks such as employee cooking demos and outings to the Lab.
Corporate screens on campus
In fact for most of their initiatives funding must be sourced outside the university because after paying the eight part-time Student Assistants and Project Leader Eva, they’re only left with around 15,000 euros to support sustainability projects. For this reason, they often collaborate with other groups, and as with the Food Lab, the flyer-free campus campaign will also rely heavily on corporate sponsorship.
“Screens will be installed in the food court to replace flyers, making it the first flyer-free zone on campus,” Nada explains. “Around 50 percent of the advertising will come from campus groups like Student Organizations and caterers, while the other 50 percent will be from companies wanting to target students. In return, those companies will actually finance the screens, “she says.
A reasonable idea to reduce paper waste on campus, yet when pressed further, both Nada and Eva admit that they have not yet calculated whether the screens – which are made from materials which are rarer than wood and will also consume energy – will provide a greener alternative than the current paper trail. “Perhaps the screens could be solar powered?” Eva laughs.
New projects for 2017
Several projects are already in the pipeline for this academic year including an inaugural campus sustainability report, new labelling at waste collection points to encourage recycling, campus beehives and the aforementioned Food Lab and flyer-free zone. Still, Nada and Eva stress that they’re always open for new suggestions. They want to help staff and students implement their own sustainability-related projects and help them achieve these goals. “We want to make sustainability cool again,” laughs Eva with Nada adding, “and sexy!”