Sustainability

Amsterdam University College recognises the importance and urgency of taking a leading role in matters related to sustainability and in the fight against climate change. As a joint initiative of the University of Amsterdam and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, AUC is committed to working with its parent institutes on developing strategies and implementing policies to reduce our institutional impact on the environment while educating both students and staff on the dangers of climate change.

Despite the climate system’s complexity, we understand a great deal about the basic mechanisms, including e.g. the importance of the greenhouse effect in governing the global average temperature. We know that the climate is changing at a pace that’s much faster than in the geological record, we know from many different lines of evidence that the current changes are predominantly human-induced, and we know that the risks involved are real and far-reaching. - Dr. Bart Verheggen (AUC lecturer, tutor and climate change scientist)

Call to action

The need to take definitive action is pressing. The release of the October 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report reaffirms that climate change is real, human-caused and has potentially momentous impacts. The report details the drastic consequences of what exceeding a 1,5° Celsius increase in global temperatures relative to pre-industrial levels would mean. If emissions continue largely unabated, the world is not only on pace to surpass this marker, but exceed it by a very large margin. The greater and faster the warming, the larger the risks and by extension the magnitude of the consequences. Such results could be dire, extensive and partly irreversible, giving rise to risks associated with health, livelihoods, species extinction and ecosystem degradation, mass migration, food security, accessibility to water supplies and severe repercussions for quality of life. The question is no longer if such changes will occur, but rather to what extent. The immediacy for corporate, political, public and non-governmental actors to adopt and implement measures to actively reduce carbon emissions and significantly mitigate their environmental impact is vital.

In this context, universities and institutes involved in research have an especially important role. As centres of knowledge production, analysis and dissemination, they must not only continue to make advancements in methods and technologies for reducing humanity’s effect on the climate, but also ensure that the wider public is informed and understand the reality of our current situation. Universities must take the lead in showing responsibility toward both society and the environment in transforming research into policy, and policy into action.

We cannot accept that humans, as part of nature, in a few hundred years destroy life that has developed over billions of years. I do not want to be the cause of thousands of people fleeing and dying, only because we could not change our behaviour fast enough. I am convinced that we, as the next leading generation, must act now and cannot wait until politicians and economists decide to act. Universities must position themselves at the forefront of this fight against climate change, must educate students and staff, and must show the world that we do not accept the current state of destruction. - Augustine Schulte-Frohlinde (AUC Student, Class of 2020)

Making progress

Along with other institutes of higher education in the Netherlands, AUC supports the sentiments and goals outlined in the Climate letter (Klimaatbrief Universiteiten). Reducing carbon emissions requires a comprehensive approach throughout the organisation, ranging from identifying problematic sources of energy and consumption patterns to policies on work travel, commuting habits and the products served in its cafeterias.

AUC is dedicated to addressing the climate crisis by setting an example not only for its students and employees but for other universities and organisations as well. From re-doubling our efforts to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency, to integrating climate change into our curriculum and recognising the mental health stress caused by the subject matter, AUC is prepared to take the difficult steps necessary in setting a course for a sustainable future.

Completed in 2012, the AUC academic building was constructed based on principles of sustainable design and is exemplary of the wider UvA strategy toward environmentally aware development practices. Its compact nature offers an optimal ratio between floor and facade surface areas to keep energy loss to a minimum, a heat-cold storage complex retains redundant heat and cool air underground for temperature regulation (summer/winter) and the building is part of the “join the pipe” initiative to encourage students, staff and visitors to drink tap water. In 2016, these efforts were expanded with the installation of 116 solar panels on our roof as a step toward the UvA using 100% green electricity sources.

Addressing global change

Although progress has been made toward energy efficiency, we want to do more. This will include encouraging employees to avoid unnecessary air travel or participate in carbon offsetting initiatives, making vegetarian meals the standard for institutional events and investigating ways in which we can work with our catering services on further waste reduction.     

We will also continue working with the University of Amsterdam toward their goal of further reducing carbon emissions by 85% per student by 2020 (when compared to 2010), improve energy efficiency by 20% (compared to 2005) and be party to initiatives such as smarter choices in catering, procurement and delivery services, and platforms that encourage research and investment in ideas centred on addressing climate change.

Within our own curriculum, we will give due attention to the issues of climate change and the environment. We want to make sure that every student, regardless of major, is exposed to and well-prepared for the challenges of climate change, sustainability and global change. Liberal arts and sciences programmes are perfectly shaped to engage students with these issues. By incorporating various bodies of knowledge from multiple disciplines, students are in a position to better understand the complexity of the climate crisis and begin to develop sophisticated solutions. We want to provide them with a strong foundation and awareness of how imperative climate change and its consequences will be for their future.  

Ethical collaboration

As a university and institute of higher education, AUC embraces its role as being a space for open debate and dialogue. It is also of critical importance to consider the effects of those who we choose to partner with, cooperate with and invest in. We have a responsibility to exercise caution in choosing partners and institutions to work with, and particularly those which represent views or ethics contrary to founded academic research or which may negatively impact the well-being of future generations. AUC, therefore, aims to foster relations and partnerships that affirm rather than detract from our commitment to a sustainable environment, and to apply transparent strategies in choosing, recruiting or collaborating with future partners.   

Looking forward

In the coming months, the University of Amsterdam will make an inventory of its current sustainability practices and identify areas where improvements can be made. AUC will be included as part of this inventory. To be presented in summer of 2019, the resulting plan and programmes will be a combination of evidence-based measures to reduce overall emissions levels. These, along with actions taken within AUC addressing institutional travel strategies, future partnerships and curriculum development, will form the basis for our next steps in addressing climate change. 

Published by  Amsterdam University College

5 August 2019