From early in the morning, the streets of Amsterdam are buzzing with bikes and packed with people; despite the high density of population Duthc capital is known to be one of the top 10 green cities in Europe. It is also a place known for its universities: the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) create a knowledge hub that made green thinking a top priority.
The Green Offices of the UvA and VU both aim to make universities in Amsterdam more sustainable, but this is not an easy task as it requires much hands-on work and commitment.
Julia heads the communications team at the Green Office UvA works on raising awareness about the Green Office and its events. She started out as a volunteer, driven by a feeling of “responsibility to make people more aware of the implications their daily actions have on climate”. By doing so, Julia hopes to encourage universities to take more action, “Especially the UvA, as a huge university with thousands of students, should, in my opinion, take on a leading role in terms of sustainable development and practices”.
But what does it mean for a Green Office to make a university greener? The focus of this student-led initiative is to engage students and staff in different areas of sustainability. A good examples are the Green Guide and Green Talk: the Green Guide “gives you an overview of sustainable places such as cafes, bars, and restaurants in and around Amsterdam. It helps students make greener choices while exploring the city and finding their new favorite places”. This makes easier for students to turn their lifestyle in Amsterdam more sustainable. The Green Talk series connects students with “practitioners who are working in the field of sustainability”, because “while many students are motivated to do something related to sustainability in the future, in practice they don’t have a clear idea about thet possibilities out there.”
In addition to projects and events, the Green Office UvA also proposes measures to make a change in the university itself. Pen-recycling stations and discounts for students who buy coffee with their reusable cups are just two examples. Even though there has been a visible change with these policies, Julia dreams is “the creation of a sustainability department at the UvA with full-time staff”. Because it is “crucial that the UvA dedicates more resources and workforce to this issue. Supporting a student-run organization with the aim of improving UvA’s sustainability is not enough”. The university is in favour of helping the students to make a change. But it’s a slow process to grind through a decentralized structure.
“Our main goal is to be the main driver towards sustainability at the VU”, says Rodrigo, Green Office manager at the VU. When the European Parliament recognized the climate emergency in 2019, he realized the need to act. Since then, he supports the Green Office on recycling and the circular economy, plastic pollution, and energy-saving. In his time with the Green Office, Rodrigo has already seen big changes, “The VU is more aware and working harder towards sustainability because of the Green Office”.
What lies at the heart of this student-led initiative is to raise awareness on sustainability, educate, create and promote sustainable projects and enhance research. Rodrigo adds that “we are active in lobbying and seek to increase our positive impact”. The implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the university and supporting the Energy Plan aimed at 100% sustainable energy consumption by 2050 are just a few policy areas in which they are involved. The Green Office VU is collaborating with student associations, encouraging them to take greener steps with the help of the Sustainability manual.
This student initiative also promotes “the creation of a minors program and honors program based on sustainability”. The VU Food Box also encourages students to consume seasonal and local food products that can be easily picked up at the office.
The Green Offices at the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam show how impactful student-led initiatives can be. Both share the vision of making their universities more sustainable. For this, different projects, events, workshops, and policies are fundamental in making a change and great progress has already been made.
The connections and partnerships both Green Offices have made with research institutions and sustainable initiatives in the dynamic city of Amsterdam have been very valuable: “Without these initiatives, which found their place in Amsterdam, our job would be a lot harder and much less fun”