Universiteit Leiden

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Growing awareness of sustainability and the environment

From underground heat exchangers at the Bio Science Park to drinking taps to replace water coolers. With its new environmental policy plan, Leiden University will become greener in the coming years.

‘We have to make sure we're not just average; we want to be one of the front-runners.' Those were the words of Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker during his New Year's speech about the environmental ambitions of Leiden University,' Jeroen Wayenberg explained. Stolker was making an early reference to the University's new environmental policy plan that the Executive Board approved conditionally on 16 February. Energy Coordinator Wayenberg and Head of Security and Environment, Adri Noort, were part of the project team that wrote the plan.  

Lower position in the rankings

The plan embraces an extensive list of new environmental projects for the coming years, from energy to waste and from teaching to research. But the environment has always been important to the University and there were many projects already running, according to Noort. Nonetheless, in recent years Leiden scored lower than it had previously in SustainaBul, the environmental rankings for universities. 'This was mainly because we didn't always show how much we were doing,' Noort comments. 

Rigorous environmental policy plan 

The new environmental policy plan was the ideal opportunity to change that. ‘We have been really rigorous in how we approached it,' Noort explained. 'Normally one or two policy advisers would write a plan like this, but this time we involved a lot more members of the University community: students, the dean of the Science Faculty, colleagues from communications and external experts. We've spent a lot of time on it, but the plan is ready now and it is being really well received.'  

Old buildings

A large part of the plan describes the proposals for reducing the University's energy usage. That's not easy, according to Noort, because Leiden University has some very old buildings that it is very keen to maintain. 'It's an extra challenge to make them energy efficient: with such old buildings, you can't simply do whatever you like, which often makes modifications more expensive. But when we are making renovations and, of course, with our new buildings, we always take energy performance into account.'  

Thermal energy storage

A good example of this is the new Bio Science Campus, Wayenberg explained. The Gorlaeus laboratories on the campus are really badly insulated. 'When there was snow on the ground, there were still crocuses growing up to 5 metres around the building; that's how much heat was being lost!' But we are replacing the old buildings in stages with new ones, which will reduce the annual gas usage of the location from 2.5 million cubic metres to 40,000. That's largely thanks to underground thermal energy storage, a system that keeps buildings cool in summer and warm in winter. 'It's a big investment,' Wayenberg said, 'but it will pay itself back over time.' 


Thermal energy storage generates enormous environmental benefits, Noort agreed. 'Only, it's not visible. So, in future we're going to do a lot more to show the outside world what we're doing.' 'One plan we have for this year is that we're launching a sustainability dashboard,' Wayenburg interrupted enthusiastically. The dashboard will take the form of a new webpage on which all the University buildings on the Bio Science Campus, in Leiden city centre and in The Hague will be shown in blue. 'If you click on the image, a photo of the building will appear with information about the gas, water and electricity consumption, the CO2 emissions and BREEAM score’ (a benchmark for sustainability). 'That way, everyone can see what the energy consumption is for each building. The faculties could even hold energy savings competitions in the future, based on the comparisons on this site.'   

Green office

The observant visitor to the site will also be able to see the changes. We are, for example, planning to install 1,500 solar panels on buildings in the centre of Leiden. We are also funding a Green Office, with jobs for four students who will work on sustainability plans for the University. A location at the Reuvensplaats is now being prepared and interested students will shortly be able to apply. And, where possible, up to 80 per cent of the products in our restaurants will be sourced from biological or local suppliers. 'That's if our customers want that,' Noort added, 'but we are certainly going to encourage it.' He firmly believes the time is ripe for this step. 'Society is changing, and the trick is to nudge it in the right direction.'   

The Executive Board will decide on 5 April 2016 on adopting the new environmental policy plan, after receiving the advice of the University Council on 4 April. 

Some of the projects in the new environmental policy plan

  • The annual amount of waste per student will reduce to a maximum of 25 kilos in 2020.
  • From 2016, all new company vehicles will be environmentally friendly.
  • At some point in the future, all bachelor's programmes may include 'sustainability' as a compulsory core curriculum subject. 
  • The train will be the standard method of transport for all business trips of less than than 6 hours.
  • Separate collection points for paper, plastic and waste will be installed at all larger University locations.
  • In 2016 the University will stop using water coolers; every building will have taps for drinking water.
  • The larger parking locations will have charging points for cars.
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