“Why don’t we take faster action to resolve sustainability issues? We know where we want to go, don’t we?”, lecturer and researcher Jilde Garst rhetorically asked the half-filled theatre. She was one of the speakers during the opening of the Sustainability Days, and she called for an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability. “It’s not easy, but we need to find common ground to resolve the issues together.”

Staying in the conversation

Prior to Garst’s lecture, Rector Magnificus Annelien Bredenoord took to the microphone. “In this rapidly changing world, society expects engagement from us, the university, to tackle complex societal challenges together,” she said. “The pace at which we must help restore the environment must be faster, which is why we are going to embark on an accelerated sustainability programme.” She also urged the various parties to keep talking to each other. “We can only achieve results together. So keep the conversation, particularly with those who disagree with you, because it is when we try to understand each other that fresh new insights arise.”

Climate-neutral university

Sustainability programme manager Mariecke van der Glas and Marcel van Oosterhout from the Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics gave a short presentation on what their organisation is doing. “Is the university’s ambitious goal to be carbon free by 2024 realistic? Will we be able to achieve that?” asked one student during the panel discussion with the three speakers.

Opening Sustainability Days-panelgesprek-foto door Melis
Panel discussion with (from left to right) Jilde Garst, Marcel van Oosterhout and Mariecke van der Glas Image credit: Melis Zavlak

In order to calculate the carbon footprint, the university uses the Green House Gas Protocol method, explained Van der Glas. The calculation is divided into three categories, namely direct and indirect emissions within the organisation and the emissions that arise from sources that are not managed by the organisation. “With regard to the direct and indirect CO2 emissions within the organisation, I am sure that we will achieve it. We are currently working on reducing the emissions that are not directly managed by the university, such as business travel, student mobility and food, because there is still much to be gained in these areas.”


Sustainability Hub chair Polderman mentioned the Occupy protest when he introduced the panel discussion. “Tuesday was a tumultuous day on which protesting students were arrested by the police. This means there is still a lot of work to be done.”

“The way in which the university brought the OccupyEUR protest to an end, casts a dark shadow over this event”, he said after the opening. “In recent weeks, I have tried to persuade the university to resolve this protest peacefully, just like at other universities. I’m disappointed that the university didn’t allow OccupyEUR to remain overnight. I can understand that the board wants to wait until we have a broader dialogue before making decisions. But I don’t understand why they would use violence and bring in the police at a peaceful protest.” The Sustainability Hub represents all students, emphasised Polderman. “We have a broad responsibility to facilitate everyone. Although I don’t always agree with OccupyEUR, I am definitely in favour of allowing peaceful protest. I think this is very important.”

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Second-year economics student Arthur Konkov agrees with Polderman. “OccupyEUR really have a point with their demands. The university should allow the protest to go ahead as long as it doesn’t interfere with other university activities.” First-year business student Elizabeth Groot also thinks the protest is important. “The approach may be radical but then again, how else are you going to bring about change? Occupy are certainly making a statement and this is kicking off conversations that are very much needed.” She also notes: “It’s strange that we’re trying to behave in an environmentally friendly way as a university, but we’re still working with Shell.”

Time for action

The Sustainability Days are no longer about raising awareness, says Polderman. “At this point it’s really about action and making decisions.” He adds: “Occupy is an international movement that is never going to disappear. As a university, we need to find a better approach, because the way we are currently tackling this – with an us-versus-them narrative and sending in the police – is only leading to more polarisation and further radicalisation.”