Universiteit Leiden

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University Rebellion wants more attention for sustainability

Tell the truth about sustainability, become climate neutral by 2025 and safeguard democracy within the University. These are, in short, the demands of a petition by University Rebellion, a subgroup of the Extinction Rebellion movement. On 19 November they visited all Dutch universities, including Leiden.

Rector Carel Stolker received the petition in the Academy Building from two Leiden students, Thirza van ‘t Rood (Archaeology) and Pia Linden (Psychology). He talked with them about the opportunities for the University to be sustainable and to operate sustainably. Stolker: ‘We are already taking steps, but I can imagine you think things are not moving fast enough.'

Setting an example

The students believe that the University has an important role in promoting sustainability by setting a good example. Thirza van ‘t Rood: ‘There is a lot happening, we do see that, but there's a lot more that can be done. You can make the food available in canteens completely vegan; we think a lot of staff and students would have no problem with that. We feel that the University should take a leading role because that will have its effect on the whole community and on the cities of Leiden and The Hague, and even on the country as a whole. Then other people and universities will follow Leiden's good example.' 

Keeping the planet liveable

Stolker agrees that there is more that can be done, but times are also changing. 'When I became Rector, sustainability as an issue was hardly talked about at all. Now we talk about it here on a daily basis, and we're taking a lot of concrete steps. One good example of that is our research programme 'Keeping the Earth liveable', where our scientists from different disciplines carry out research on this theme. We're also thinking now about the many trips that researchers make in normal circumstances: are these trips all necessary? That's one of the positive effects of this pandemic we're all now living in.' 

Come and discuss your ideas with us

‘There are a lot more things going on than these few examples, but we are a large university with over 30,000 students and many thousands of staff, so you can't achieve change overnight. Particularly when you think of the many very old buildings that are part of our University. Luckily, we have active students in the Green Office, LUGO, who work with us on this. If you know of ways things can be done differently, or faster, go along to LUGO and discuss your ideas with the students there.’

Environmental plan

The University has had an environmental plan since 2015. Programme Manager Daphne van den Berg is responsible for implementing the plan. Since the plan was drawn up, the University's CO2 footprint has been halved. Every year we account for our performance on sustainability in a Sustainability Annual Report. Right now University staff and students are working on developing a new vision on sustainability. Already, all the work that is done on constructing new buildings and renovating and demolishing old premises is done under very strict conditions of optimum sustainability. 

Broader context

At the close of the discussion, the Rector accepted the petition and thanked the students warmly for their input. Stolker undertook to bring the theme of sustainability, and specifically incorporating sustainability into the programme curricula, to the attention of the deans of the faculties and to continue to put this important theme even higher on the agenda in broader contexts such as the VSNU (the Association of Universities in the Netherlands). 

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