The master Economics of Sustainability is only a year old. The programme focuses on how economic systems can help or hinder the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, such as providing sustainable energy and combating poverty. Those goals are the blueprint for a better world in 2030.

With the climate protests on campus and the growing range of course offerings, sustainability has become a permanent focal point at the university. The master is one of EUR’s 64 degree programmes, courses and other programmes dedicated to sustainability.

Greater focus on sustainability

“Around two years ago, the Executive Board said that all faculties should pay more attention to sustainable development”, says Elbert Dijkgraaf, co-founder and coordinator of the Economics of Sustainability programme. “We then looked at how to connect economics and the sustainability goals, and that’s how this aster programme was born.”

Sustainability does not yet play a large enough role in the market, according to Dijkgraaf. “If a product’s effects on the environment have no impact on its price, more of that product will typically be used than is probably a good idea. We see this with fossil fuels, for example”, he says. “In the master programme, students learn smarter techniques to organise the market. That knowledge helps governments implement measures in the area of sustainability.”

‘Perfect programme’

Student Sandra Westenbrink (23) noticed that the link with sustainability was missing during her first master programme in Finance and Investments. That is why she chose the brand-new master last year, which she calls the ‘perfect programme’. “Profit isn’t the only thing that matters: people and the planet are important, too.”

In addition to the climate, the programme also focuses on other social issues such as health and inequality. During almost the entire academic year, students work in groups on a case study from one of these themes. Sandra was asked by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy to figure out how the textile industry could reduce its CO2 emissions. “With that case study, I learned that it’s impossible to solve a problem without considering other sustainability goals. Reducing CO2 emissions, for example, could have a negative impact on employment in certain countries, since production would then shift to richer countries that are less dependent on fossil fuels.”

Student Tijn Boenk (24) worked on the same case. He developed an additional interest in sustainability while completing his bachelor programme in Economics, which led him to choose the master programme. “During my bachelor, I was given theories that I had to reproduce, but in this master programme, I really had to figure things out on my own”, he says. “I found that very valuable and informative.”

Making an impact

Dijkgraaf anticipates that master students will work in a variety of settings after they graduate, including government bodies and consultancy firms. Soon Tijn will do an internship with a strategy consultant and hopes to work in the same sector. “That role will allow me to make the most impact”, he says. “That will allow me to help large, polluting organisations adjust their strategies, like how Tata Steel could switch to hydrogen.” Student Sandra is still looking. “Ideally, I want to fight poverty in developing countries.”