Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University more sustainable by the day

10 October is the Day of Sustainability. What is the current status of sustainability at Leiden University? Things are moving ahead. Professor of Environmental Biology and Dean of the Faculty of Science, Geert de Snoo, outlines a new prospect: biodiversity.

Leiden University's 2016-2020 Environmental Plan covers a very broad spectrum, ranging from sustainable housing and energy saving to reducing and separating rubbish. Every six months, the department of Safety, Environment and Health determines the status of each of these aspects. All in all, the University is already quite 'green'. All new construction and renovation projects, including demolition, are subjected to a rigorous set of international criteria, as set out in  BREEAM (see box). All the projects are on schedule. The same applies to reducing our energy consumption and making it more sustainable, both gas and electricity. 

In the new Gorlaeus Building, there's no longer any need to buy gas for central heating.

Carbon footprint

An important factor in measuring energy consumption is the so-called carbon footprint, the contribution made by Leiden University to the emission of CO2, which is responsible for the greenhouse effect. The aim is to reduce this footprint by 50% in the period from 2016 to 2020.  So far, progress is on schedule. The only problem is that there is not enough 'green' gas available, so Leiden University buys certificates with which CO2 benefits can be achieved elsewhere. This could be in a project in Kenya, for example, where cooking on an open fire is replaced by cook stoves, a form of cooking that is much more efficient and so requires less wood, resulting in savings in logging. It is also much healthier than an open fire and it gives women more time for engaging in small businesses because they need less time for gathering wood and for cooking. 

Food, drink and waste

The food and drink available in the University's restaurants also increasingly meets the sustainability criteria, namely: biological, fair trade and locally produced. This process is somewhat slower than expected: a quarter of the food on offer currently meets these requirements, but 80% is taking longer to achieve than was hoped. The water coolers have been removed from many buildings, as planned, in favour of drinking tap water. The coolers have been replaced and water taps (supplying normal drinking water) have been installed where you can fill your water bottle (the 'join the pipe' project). However, not everyone is keen on letting the water coolers go.
On many issues, it appears that wanting something actually leads to the desired result. But that's  not the case everywhere. In separating waste, there is a different societal problem, namely that there is very little that can be done with used plastics; it is too costly to make products from them so nobody wants them.  

Geert de Snoo at the 26 ditches for environmental biological research that were recently opened.

A big hit

But the overal picture is positive, according to Geert de Snoo, dean of the Faculty of Science, and Professor of Microbiology. He is happy with the progress being made. In particular the construction of the new building for his faculty - the first phase is ready, and the second already begun - is a big hit. 'The system of geothermal heat exchange ensures that gas is no longer needed for central heating. The only place where gas is needed is in the labs, and even that is made green via compensation elsewhere. Electricity usage has been reduced enormously and high BREEAM scores have been achieved.’ We're applying the same aims in the second phase, and geothermal heat exchange is also a real possibility for the new Humanities building. Where possible, solar panels are being placed on roofs, such as the Oude UB (the central administration building) the Einthoven building, the lecture hall buildings at the Science Faculty, the Van Steenis building and the Kamerlingh Onnes building.

More visible

De Snoo says that the impetus for a more systematic approach came in 2014. 'Leiden University was already doing a lot towards sustainability, but it wasn't visible enough. That had to be improved. In 2016 we were the biggest climber in Sustainabul, the national sustainability ranking for higher education. We were then in 5th position, and this year we've gone up to 3rd place. That's great. I'm also really happy with how our students are involved both in Sustainabul and of course also in LUGO.' (See box)

Rankings act as stimulus

De Snoo explains that such rankings not only increase the exposure of your efforts, but also stimulate you to do more. 'On criteria where you don't score so highly, you want to do better, so you work harder on them.' This is why he wants Leiden University to take part in the UI Green Metric, an international, global sustainability ranking for universities.' It's ambitious, but why not go for it? Imagine, if we come in the top 200, how great that would be. We are already seeing that international students, who already make up 10% of our student population, take a highly critical approach to sustainability.' 

Optimistic prospect

There's still a lot to be done, De Snoo comments. But that doesn't stop him having an optimistic view of the future. ‘It's OK to think ahead, and I happen to think in terms of biodiversity.' The current Environmental Plan more or less only addresses the inside of the University's buildings, but there's also the space outside. A number of buildings are surrounded by greenery or have an interior garden, such as the Oude UB, but the Bio Science Park, where the land is largely owned by the University, offers even bigger opportunities. 'After all, it is actually called the Bio Science Park!,’ an enthusiastic De Snoo comments. ‘With dedicated planting you can turn it into a paradise for birds, butterflies and bees. But, our first priority is to put the Environmental Plan into practice.' 


  • Environmental Policy Plan 2016-2020
  • The sustainable university: a dossier that brings together all the information on Leiden University's activities to promote sustainability, including teaching and research in this area. 
  • Duurzaamheid in beeld: an interactive site (in Dutch) that shows per location how energy savings at Leiden University are progressing.
  • LUGO: Leiden University Green Office. Six students are working on concrete sustainability projects, such as raising awareness among employees and students, replacing water coolers with tap water points and selling and promoting the use of refillable water bottles.
  • BREEAM: an international system of sustainability criteria for new construction, renovation, demolition and regional development. In new construction projects, Leiden University strives for qualification as very good; for demolition - excellent and for regional development - very good. Base measurements have been made for renovation projects. 
  • Sustainabul: a national sustainability ranking for higher education.
  • UI Green Metric: a worldwide sustainability ranking for universities.
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