Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, and the transition towards a sustainable society is considered an important approach to fighting environmental and social problems of today and tomorrow. Education is one of the crucial factors for the effective and successful application of sustainability in our everyday lives. Universities and other higher education institutions have an important role to play in this undertaking, since their role is not only to produce and transfer knowledge, but also to educate and train future leaders to contribute to building a more sustainable world.
Text: Henrietta Doe, Communication Department, University of Groningen
The University of Groningen’s Green Office, which is the sustainability department of the University, is doing just that. Its goal is to make the University of Groningen a greener university, as it aims to make sustainability an integral part of the University – furthering the University’s commitment to the implementation of the principles of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. ‘We want to set the Green Agenda for the University,’ says Dick Jager, Programme Manager & Project Leader Planet of the Green Office.
The staff of the Green Office is on the frontline contributing to the creation and implementation of strategies aimed at promoting sustainable behaviour and practices. Their aim is to encourage sustainable institutional changes, such as policies and business operations relating to procurement, research and teaching agendas, carbon footprint reduction within the University. The Green Office also works on climate-friendly initiatives and projects to inspire staff and students to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. ‘One of the most important parts of the Green Office is that we aim to achieve Sustainability in all its aspects, including the environmental, social and educational sustainability,’ says the Green Office.
For the past 5 years, the Green Office has worked on the Roadmap 2015-2020, a set of sustainable ambitions for the University of Groningen. These ambitions have been the driving force in the implementation of sustainable projects and policies within the University of Groningen. The Green Office is now developing, in cooperation with other departments and the Sustainability Sounding Board, a new Roadmap 2021-2026.
In furthering the sustainable initiatives, the University of Groningen’s Sustainability Sounding Board and other relevant partners aim to share knowledge (i.e. connecting and inspiring staff and students about sustainable lifestyles) and have an advisory role with regard to the sustainability of the University through the Green Office where both solicited and unsolicited advice can be given.
In making the University of Groningen a greener university, the Green Office involves students and staff in sustainable activities and projects. The projects listed below are effective and interactive ways in which the Green Office’s supports and promotes sustainable initiatives.
1. Label and Subsidies program – RUG Study associations can apply to our program with innovative ideas on how to make their associations more sustainable and they can receive funding. They are also evaluated on a yearly basis on their green effort receiving a label for their achievements.
2. Ambassador program - In order to engage students and staff members in sustainability, the Green Office has an ambassador program counting now around 120 volunteers. The aim of the ambassadors is to initiate changes within faculties, spreading awareness, organising activities, and inspiring more people at the University to make sustainable choices.
3. Plastic Free Week – an event entirely focussed on creating awareness and exploring ways to reduce plastic usage.
4. Living Lab – Via the Living Lab the Green Office collaborates with students on their academic projects related to the topic of sustainability. A win-win situation: the student can conduct research into a 'real' case and the Green Office receives advice based on scientific research. Examples of projects conducted are: environmental impact of disposable cups and reusable mugs used at the university and research into heat stress in the Mercator building.
5. Online Campaign – the online campaign #TheMoreTheGreener was launched on World Environment Day (5 June), by the Green Office Pint of Science NL and TJ Zawadski. People were asked to take pictures of themselves with a sign that state a green action they (want to) do and a reason for doing it. The aim of the campaign was to show how many people are already acting to tackle climate change. 29 green associations participated in our campaign.
6. Green Maps – The business travel map encourages sustainable travel and makes it easier for staff to follow the University’s new travel policy on the map, you can see at a glance which destinations can be reached within 6 hours by train (green dots), for which you must travel by train. You can contact the Green Office to request a printed version!
7. Tenders for external parties’ services – Because the University of Groningen offers external parties the possibility to provide services for the University, the Green Office (in its capacity as the sustainability department of the University) advocates for the most sustainable services and provides its solicited and unsolicited advice in the tenders for printing, catering, sanitation, transport, and other procurement services.
In conclusion, there are societal expectations of universities to contribute to sustainability processes and actions for transition towards a more sustainable and inclusive society. The role of universities in sustainability (i.e. education, research, procurement, and other academic initiatives) is fundamental to climate-friendly changes in our way of life. The University of Groningen and its Green Office are committed to using their resources, networks, knowledge and independence to work towards putting society on a path towards sustainability. The Green Office’s new Roadmap for 2021-2026 further demonstrates that. ‘All aspects of sustainability are intertwined in the University’s DNA, and this is the central ambition of our new Roadmap,’ say the staff of the Green Office.
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