By Joep Schoenmakers, Yogi Hendlin, Luca Kriese, Ferry Blom, Bram Heesen from the University Council sustainability task force.
The latest figure on the CO2 footprint of Erasmus University is 17,000 tons per year (2018). To get this number to net zero, we need a drastic reduction of CO2 emissions or spend a lot of money compensating these emissions. The second option, compensation, is a short-term solution that does not improve our own footprint in the future, but rather is just a Ponzi scheme juggling numbers and money around without actually decreasing real emissions. In the end, there are probably more emissions in the management of the carbon offsetting racket than are saved. Therefore, we urge the university to do their homework, rather than cheat, in reducing its CO2 emissions. We Erasmians are the proctors for this exam.
In 2019 the Roadmap Sustainable Campus was published. The document outlines various measures to reduce CO2 emissions at EUR, such as replacing commuting with teleconferencing, utilising current building space better and providing more waste separation. However, we feel that the execution of these measures has been slow and far from sufficient. A new Sustainability Programme Manager has started on 1 October 2020. We call on the Executive Board to empower her with all the necessary resources and staff to put the measures of the Roadmap into action. And to set our university on the right course – one of impact, not of false promises.
There is a lot of potential to improve on sustainability on campus in these times. However, this potential is being underused. For instance, even though physical – or hybrid – education has not been possible since 18 December, digital white board screens were left on in some lecture rooms on campus. The argument often used for not improving on sustainability on campus is that students, lecturers and staff might be hindered during these construction improvements. One would expect that in these times, when there are little to no people on campus, these improvements could have been made. For instance, we could have drilled a geothermal warmth pump under each building. The COVID-19 pandemic was and still is a large opportunity to improve sustainability on campus.
Another concrete example are the disregarded bikes from campus grounds, as reported by Erasmus Magazine. Bikes from people that are away, or at least not collecting them, are thrown away. This is exemplary of the ‘small wins’ the university can achieve on the topic of sustainability. All it takes is some creative thinking and a little bit of budget. Why not collect the bikes and hand them out to next-year internationals? Or have a small auction for them for any student that wants it? Since our university does not seem to act on this itself, our taskforce is forthcoming with an initiative proposal that does exactly that. Other measures that for instance could be taken on the topic of sustainability are mandatory flight policies, (monetary) incentives to commute on bike or with public transport instead of by car, having a more sustainable search engine and printer methods, and prohibiting the use of plastics on campus.
If we don’t act now, we violate our agreement with the municipality of Rotterdam. This would be a public relations disaster for EUR, which likes to brand itself on societal impact. More importantly, our University would fail to adhere to its strategic ambitions and, frankly, moral obligation to contribute to a sustainable future for our society.
EUR has to lead by example and take the obligations it has imposed on itself seriously, and should do so quickly. Even though we still are in the COVID-19 crisis and have an interim rector and a third member of the Executive Board who have both started on 1 January, the subject of sustainability is too important to ignore. The steps that need to be taken are clear and need to be taken now.