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Leiden University biggest climber in sustainability ranking

‘Over the last few years we have focused much more on our environmental policy and have got better at telling the world what we do,’ says Jan van der Boon, Director of Administration at the Leiden University Administration and Central Services Department. This is how he explains Leiden’s impressive leap from sixteenth to fifth place in the SustainaBul sustainability ranking.

Student initiative

SustainaBul was founded four years ago on the initiative of Morgen, a student network that wishes to create a sustainable future. Morgen has 18 sections, one of which is Green Keys in Leiden. SustainaBul measures the sustainability of institutions of higher education; participation is voluntary. The methodology used in the ranking is very thorough and includes questions on such matters as whether there is a focus on sustainability in the institution’s teaching and research and whether the institution’s operations and purchasing are sustainable. There is also a section with questions on whether the institution takes an integral approach to sustainability, and a new section on social sustainability, which relates to matters such as anti-discrimination and diversity.

University changes its mind

When the ranking began in 2013, it still needed to prove its worth. It also takes a lot of time to participate, which explains why Leiden University saw little merit in the ranking. Two years later, however, it changed its mind, in part in response to a student petition that had collected some 3000 signatures requesting this. The first time was tough. ‘It’s all about proof,’ says Jeroen Waijenberg, Energy Coordinator at the Real Estate Expertise Centre. ‘Answers alone do not suffice: you need to furnish them with proof.’ This means policy papers, action plans, hard figures from the University Services Department, the Real Estate Expertise Centre and the Central Register of Higher Education Programmes and data from Converis, the research databank. Information from all corners of the University therefore. They did not manage to get hold of everything in time in that first year, which resulted in a sorry spot towards the bottom of the ranking.

Ranking is means to an end

This year Environmental Advisor Aranka Virágh from the Department of Health, Safety and the Environment and her co-workers freed up time to make a serious commitment to the SustainaBul. This proved worthwhile: Leiden University received the Gold Award for the fastest climber. It is clear from the methodology used that the aim of SustainaBul is to encourage the participating institutions to become more sustainable. Once everything has been submitted the institutions are given a second chance. Virágh: ‘In their feedback, the student rankers tell you per questions exactly which measures will earn you more points and which evidence you need to add.’ The evidence must be tangible of course: the institution must have taken serious steps towards becoming more sustainable. The ranking thus exerts pressure on the institutions to become more sustainable. They are also given tips: Leiden was advised to improve its communication to tell the world about its sustainability efforts.

Environmental policy and Green Office

The jump in the ranking is no coincidence, Jan van de Boon is quick to emphasise. ‘The strategic plan announced that we would focus on developing our environmental policy. This was in part on the initiative of the University Council.’ And this is exactly what they did: the University now has an ambitious environmental policy. Aspects of the policy are the drastic reduction of the University’s CO2 emissions and the introduction of a Green Office that will give students the opportunity to help develop green initiatives.

Wageningen tops ranking for the fourth time

The top three in this year’s ranking are Wageningen University, its fourth time in first place, followed by Eindhoven University of Technology and Utrecht University. In fourth place is the first university of applied sciences, HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. And then in fifth place, Leiden University. The University is pleasantly surprised with its leap in the ranking.

Sustainability in the spotlight

The SustainaBul award ceremony took place on 20 May at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, on the second National Day for Sustainability in Higher Education, which was organised by SURF, Morgen and others. There were workshops, lectures, a green market and cabaret. Jan van der Boon and Aranka Virágh accepted the Gold Award on behalf of Leiden University. 

This was not all, however: at the market Van Beek Ingenieurs BV presented the Duurzaam in Beeld (Sustainability in the Spotlight) website that it has developed for Leiden University. This is a clickable map of all the buildings of Leiden University, which lets you click on a building to see its electricity, water and gas consumption as well as its CO2 footprint and ‘BREEAM-NL In-Use’ score, a sustainability score for the energy consumption and maintenance of a building. Leiden University is the first university to use such cutting-edge technology to provide information on the sustainability of its buildings. Duurzaam in Beeld will be a permanent feature of the Leiden University website. Watch this space...


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