While the university declared a climate crisis and OccupyEUR occupied the entrance to the auditorium in February, the logos of Shell, BP and Total were displayed around the corner on a banner in the Theil building. These companies were participating in the Erasmus Recruitment Days, an event organised by study associations STAR (for Business Administration students) and EFR (for Economics students). Should they still accept sponsorship from fossil fuel industries now that the university has declared a climate emergency? Four questions about how the two largest study associations at Woudestein approach companies from the fossil fuel industry.

Which policies do the associations have with regard to fossil fuel companies?

For both STAR and EFR, there is nothing black-and-white about the participation of fossil fuel companies at events or sponsorship from these companies. According to Sophie van der Zandt, sustainability manager of STAR, there is a list of companies that the association contacts every year. “Some categories of companies are excluded because they are on a blacklist”, explains Van der Zandt. These include companies from the arms or tobacco industry, for example. The EFR does not have such a list.

So what does it do in practice, then?

As far as the arms and tobacco industry are concerned, it’s simple. According to Van Oostrom, they never participate in activities in which the EFR is involved. “I think this just happens unconsciously. So far, I’ve never met a student who wanted to work for those kinds of companies, and that also plays a role here. We don’t exclude companies ourselves, unless they are not permitted by law or the Executive Board asks us to.”

According to Van der Zandt, the interest of STAR members is always the starting point when selecting companies. This interest is measured every year by means of surveys. Companies get to hear these preferences when they organise a workshop at an event, for example. “And we notice that the interest of our members is increasingly shifting towards sustainability”, says Van der Zandt.

So there is still room for companies such as Shell and Total at STAR, as long as this remains in line with the interests of their students. “We want to enter into a dialogue with them about sustainability and the energy transition, and for students and companies to inspire each other.” According to the sustainability manager, the companies also understand this. All the case studies they bring to the Recruitment Days, for example, are therefore on sustainable topics. “For example, last time Shell did a case study on green energy, how we could tackle this better.”

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And how do the associations view the demands of OccupyEUR?

Van der Zandt is keen to emphasise that everyone has the right to protest and express opinions. “We’re completely behind that. But we think it’s up to the university to make a decision about the fossil fuel industry, regardless of what STAR thinks about it.”

Van Oostrom completely agrees. “We don’t regard ourselves as the party that should make these choices for students. We feel that our role is to introduce students to everything that is out there.” Would the EFR cut ties with the fossil fuel industry if the university asked them to? Van Oostrom: “I think we would hold discussions about it, but I assume we would take their wishes into account anyway. Because I trust that the Executive Board would make a well-considered decision.”

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How else are the associations focusing on sustainability?

In 2022, the EFR proudly announced that it was the first CO2-neutral study association in the Netherlands. To achieve that, the ESE’s faculty association switched to vegetarian lunches, excursions are now preferably made by train and the ski and city trips that still take place by plane are compensated for by means of CO2 certificates. There is also a Sustainability Week every year.

STAR is constantly working on projects to make the association more sustainable. For example, the association for RSM students uses as few flyers as possible, banners are made as ‘timeless’ as possible so that they can be reused and lunches at the association are vegetarian by default. Participants in study trips and ski trips are encouraged to compensate for their footprint. Forums on sustainability, in which students and companies discuss the matter with each other, are also organised.

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