The sustainability dialogues are an indirect result of last year’s OccupyEUR occupations. In January, in between the occupations, the Executive Board declared a climate emergency. Therefore, each faculty is holding a dialogue on sustainability, organised from the Design Impact Transition team. Tuesday at the Erasmus School of Law was the first edition.

In the canary yellow foyer of Erasmus Enterprise’s building, some fifty interested people gathered, mainly lecturers, researchers and support staff. Two students attended on behalf of faculty association JFR.

Shooting incident

At the opening, dean Harriët Schelhaas spent a moment to talk about the shooting incidents at Erasmus MC, emphasising that ‘we cannot arm ourselves against this kind of thing, nor do we want to arm ourselves against it’. She also thanked all participants and organisers for their presence and commitment.

Then moderator of the day Malou van Hintum explained what the intention was. First a short talk, then towards the standing tables to talk in groups about sustainability initiatives in the field of education, research or operations. Attendees first wrote their own ideas on an A4 sheet, then merged them with a colleague’s idea. Later, these were discussed in a group to come up with a few concrete policy ideas. They then wrote these on large sheets on the wall, with any anticipated risks below.

No more Christmas hampers

After a brief introduction and discussion, participants split into groups to brainstorm. Image credit: Tyna Le

For those four steps, participants were given 2, 3 and 4 and 8 minutes respectively, according to the ‘1-2-4-all’ principle. Each round ended with a firm clap against a singing bowl, so there was no time for loafing. This proved no problem. While in the ‘operations’ group the ideas immediately became very concrete (‘lights out earlier’, ‘no more paper’, ‘away with the Christmas pack’) in the ‘research’ topic they went a bit more towards the philosophical (‘first have a good discussion about where we want to go’, ‘let’s bring all the sustainability research together’).

Those in the education group quickly agreed: sustainability should become a regular part of undergraduate education. Again, proposals quickly became concrete: ‘Make sure that one out of every eight cases students are presented with is about sustainability.’

'Enablers of big business'

Among a number of attendees, there were fears about the conservative fellow: ‘People don’t want to’, several paper sheets read. There were also differences in the degree of activism in the room. One lecturer described the role of lawyers as ‘enablers of big business’ and argued for a broader job description, where lawyers go and explain to their CEOs the moral consequences of their choices, and not just the edges of the law or loopholes. On the other hand, a lecturer felt he did not yet know enough about sustainability to teach students about it, and especially wanted to learn more about it first.

Broad consensus seemed to exist on the breadth of the topic to be covered: sustainability is not just about climate or the environment, but also about social inequality and other Sustainable Development Goals, those present felt.

Focus on business

At the end of the brainstorming session, sheets of paper were collected. Professor Liesbeth Enneking could not yet tell the room exactly what the next steps would be, but promised that all ideas and proposals would be worked out and discussed. The ideas will also go to the Executive Board and the thought leaders of the sustainability dialogues so that they can be shared with other faculties.

At each dialogue, the Executive Board tries to be present. Annelien Bredenoord was there from the beginning today and ‘listened, joined in the discussions’ and would takes ideas to the Executive Board, she said. She saw an ‘energetic, critical discussion’. “The faculty’s mission is where law meets business so it’s good that we are focusing on ensuring that our lawyers will contribute to sustainability in those businesses. In addition, I am just incredibly happy that we are starting these dialogues. I look forward to having this discussion together.”

Each faculty will have their turn between now and the end of November. Three plenary sessions are also planned. The first of these, on 23 October, is on cooperation with the fossil industry. The dialogue at the Erasmus MC on 12 October is cancelled due to recent events.

Sustainability-dialogues-discussie- klimaat-climate-fossil_Femke Legué

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