Bringing Sustainability to the University
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

December 26, 2012

Science Park is a place where scientists and science students of the University of Amsterdam practice their skills on a daily basis.  I have the luxury of spending most of my time to date in regards to my master degree at Science Park. These individuals are often very knowledgeable about the current state of our planet and the possibilities of sustainable change that may usher in a brighter future for all. One would expect then, that Science Park is a place where sustainability is at the forefront and embedded in the foundation of the institute. The building itself was designed to be more efficient than most, yet like many Universities, the institute has a lot of “single serving” options for food, piles of paper towels decorating bathroom floors at the end of each day and student printers that hum away. I found out that roughly 9 million sheets of paper are printed at Science Park by students alone each year, which is equitable to roughly 100 trees a year. Back when I was at the University of British Columbia, I noticed a lot of similar trends. So what can I do about it? What can we do as students around the world to make Universities lead by example in regards to sustainability and education?

That’s when I came up with the idea “Project Wake Science Park” (PWSP). It was a week-long initiative to offer students and faculty the ability to become aware of various sustainable driven groups and activities at Science Park as well as within the broader community of Amsterdam. I started out by seeking additional help from friends as well as support from the group Students for Sustainability Amsterdam (SFSA). It is amazing how many people are willing to help out with a positive cause if you only ask.  We hoped to address the issue with a twofold approach. Firstly, we asked for fellow students to take action in their personal lives, for it is within the masses that the true power of change exists. By using less paper cups, less paper towel, and bringing sustainable choices into ones daily life wherever possible, we would have a solid start. We also realized it is not only our daily actions that bring change, but also how the institution is run. We therefore organized a petition with a formal request to the UvA, asking for the installation of a sustainability office at the University of Amsterdam. I found out this has been done at the University of Maastricht with very positive results, actually reducing cost for the University in the long run through preventative cost measures. The purpose of this office is designed to build upon our initial efforts and continue the university conversion towards sustainable practices indefinitely.

Along with a SFSA booth to provide individuals with information on current undertakings as well as ask for students to sign the PWSP petition, I felt there had to be creativity to make people start to open their eyes, especially students. In the week leading up to PWSP, I conducted short interviews with fellow students around this buzz word “sustainability”. To define the term it-self proves reason enough to have a conversation about it.  These short clips were synthesized into a short film (seen here)  that was played during the week on the big screen allowing individuals the opportunity to see the conversation that was already underway regarding sustainability within their own community.

One of the attempts to  reach out to people

One of the attempts to reach out to people

Through colorful chalk drawings made around the campus grounds, it was the intention to make people aware of PWSP and the week-long initiative. We placed note cards from recycled material in student lockers daily,  with a message to the student posing a question, fact, or statement that invoked personal thought.

Over the course of the effort, we were able to collect over 800 signatures and the process is ongoing. SFSA will present the signatures from the petition to the heads of the University in January along with a formal request to establish a green office. So was it successful?

Well the printer still hums away and students still love their single serving paper cups, but here and there, I heard a few people talk about investing in a coffee mug or I would see someone looking twice at a chalk drawing. I believe no effort made by individuals to shed light on sustainability as a waste. As one can see from the action points, Project Wake Science Park ultimately required minimal monetary and human investment. Conversely, if we can get a green office at the University of Amsterdam, the implications of real sustainable change are tangibly attainable. Can it be done at other Universities, offices, schools, hospitals? Maybe so or maybe not; but what is certain is that you will not know unless you try. I would encourage one to at least have the conversation, for when I began talking about it, I was amazed by the number of like-minded individuals who were revealed to me, volunteered, made it their own, and gave it go.


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