‘Agnes, turn the computer off if you’re not even using it!’ ‘Kids, turn your lights off in your rooms if you’re not in them!’ Agnes Schiphof’s father tried to teach his children to be energy conscious. Now, as Coordinator of the University Green Office, Schiphof is herself planting the seeds that will raise student and staff awareness and make the UG more sustainable. And she’s rather successful.
Schiphof can reel off an impressive list of Green Office achievements. With 25 participants, the Green Growth course she organized last year was a great success. ‘The course spanned a number of afternoons and focused on topics such as “waste”, “how to change behaviour” and “social entrepreneurship”. The mayor of Ameland also came to talk about Duurzaam Ameland [Sustainable Ameland], a successful project in the field of energy transition. As the course was such a success, we are holding another one after the summer.’ Another hit is the map of sustainable shops, restaurants and green initiatives in the city of Groningen. And there will be a new initiative at the end of May: plastic-free week. This is about gaining awareness of how much plastic we use. The aim is to get people to go to the market and packaging-free shops, thus reducing plastic use.
It was a stroke of luck that Schiphof found her dream job in 2016. She wanted to focus more on sustainability in her previous job at the UMCG, so she went to talk to the Coordinator of the Green Office. ‘After the meeting, I discovered she was leaving. That was my chance.’ Schiphof applied for the job, was hired and is now responsible for the Green Office’s student team. With sustainability gaining increasing attention from the UG, Schiphof has a team of five students to help with her projects. ‘I always get lots of applications from students from all sorts of disciplines. This varies from international relations to regional planning and technology. Finding it easy to approach people, being able to manage your own projects and a natural affinity for sustainability are the main things we look for.’
Her days are soon full. Coming up with new projects, giving advice, monitoring the plans for the year and above all lots of meetings. Meetings with her student team, with the Sustainability Ambassadors who organize sustainable activities at the faculties, and with partners in the field of sustainability, the Municipality of Groningen for instance. She is also in regular contact with researchers who focus on sustainability, such as environmental psychologist Berfu Ünal from Professor Linda Steg’s research group on behavioural change and sustainability. Ünal and Schiphof submitted a proposal for a ‘Creating a Climate for Change’ course during the Summer School. Or senior lecturer Ellen van der Werff, from the same research group, who got students to find out for the Green Office how best to introduce Meatless Monday.
And at home? After a day full of meetings, Schiphof likes to go for a bike ride in the countryside or to read a book on a pier at Paterswoldsemeer. She has no particular urge to travel very far in her free time, but nor is she so strict that she never flies. ‘It doesn’t work to be too strict. You can’t keep it up. I want people to see that it can be fun to make the sustainable choice instead of thinking, “that's another thing I’m not allowed to do.” You don’t need to do it all in one go. Every bit helps. Keep it fun. Try out a new recipe, vegetarian or vegan, for instance.’ She says she enjoys eating and cooking much more since she turned vegetarian. ‘What I cook and eat is much more varied now. In the past it was mainly meat, veg and potatoes.’
In a few years’ time, sustainability will be second nature to everyone at the UG. That is Schiphof’s aim. The Green Office will still exist in five years’ time, of course, but then as a consultant and driving force. And there will be no one shouting: ‘Turn off the computer!’ Turn off the lights!’
The Green Office is the University of Groningen’s platform for sustainability. Students and staff work together to promote sustainability within the University. This could mean sustainable food at the University restaurants, solar-powered waste compactors or a Summer School on sustainability, but equally ensuring that staff work in a way that is sustainable.
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