Science for Sustainability

VU Amsterdam has a clear vision and a clear set of ambitions when it comes to sustainability. Sustainability is an integral part of teaching and research, operations management and the buildings at the VU campus. Our core values are stewardship, responsibility and consideration for future generations. VU Amsterdam strives to maintain its position amongst the top 10 most sustainable universities worldwide. In 2017, VU Amsterdam ranked fourth in the Environmental Studies section of The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) overview, and also fourth in the SustainaBul rankings, a ‘Studenten voor Morgen’ initiative to judge educational institutions based on the integration of sustainability in their education, research, operations and accommodation.

Sustainable development involves achieving an ideal balance between economic interests (profit), ecology (planet) and social concerns (people). This is not just of concern in the here and now, but also in the ‘there’ and ‘later’, with relevance abroad (particularly in developing countries) and for future generations. We aim to exercise good stewardship in all facets of the university community: research, education, operations management and accommodation. We strive to translate its sustainability vision into a force for positive change for society by forging close ties with the community.

Science for Sustainability: Teaching and Research

The destruction of the climate and of nature is the greatest challenge facing humanity. However, our ecosystem is so complex that it is unclear at what point the damage will become irreversible. The VU Amsterdam Science for Sustainability theme brings together all the disciplines that could help to secure the welfare of our planet and save its inhabitants. From biology to economics. From social sciences to natural sciences. Only by combining all these disciplines can we find answers to the biggest questions of our time.

Dies 2017 (Engels)

Sustainable Campus: Operations Management and Accommodation

We seek to control and continuously reduce our environmental burden in a systematic manner and to do so transparently. It has set high sustainability demands in relation to energy management and CO2, transport and mobility, water, wastewater and waste products, procurement and social return, food and drink.

Over the next few decades, some outdated buildings will be demolished to make way for new ones, and renovation work will be done on some of them. VU Amsterdam places tough sustainability demands on its premises, using the Dutch Green Building Council BREEAM method for renovations, new buildings and demolitions. Sustainability is also an important criterion for standard building maintenance. The feasibility of the investments is assessed on the basis of the integrated accommodation expenses, the so-called Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). TCO makes investments possible with a longer technical and economic service life and lower operating costs and favours sustainable options.

Green Office VU

We believe it is important to involve students and staff in their learning and working environment. Green Office VU, which was established in 2014, is VU Amsterdam’s sustainability platform for students and university staff. The office is run by students. It is concerned with sustainability projects within four portfolios (campus, community, education and research), and organizes events, campaigns, lectures and information days. The Student Consultancy Hub (started in 2017) was established to help with sustainability issues within the university and external organizations and thus facilitates the transition towards greater sustainability. These community services help link VU Amsterdam with society, with academic knowledge flowing back into society.

Ouderenlunch 2017Q&A lunch for older residents
In 2017, older residents were able to enjoy a spectacular view of Amsterdam from the top of the OZW building during a Q&A lunch. The lunches serve to introduce older residents to Zuidas companies and organizations. Visitors were matched with VU Amsterdam and Green Office VU employees for lunch and a pleasant chat. Many elderly people are lonely and it was no coincidence that this lunch was scheduled in the Week to End Loneliness.

Green Business Club Zuidas

The Green Business Club Zuidas is where local businesses, local authorities and social organizations meet in order to initiate and carry out sustainable and social projects in Zuidas. VU Amsterdam is an active participant in the GBC, which has been based in the VU Amsterdam Main Building since 2017. With the addition of GBC Zuidas opposite Green Office VU, the area now has a green hub that brings together teaching and research (Science for Sustainability) and the world of business. In 2017 for example, we hosted the GBC Zuidas CEO breakfast, to discuss the fulfilment of agreements and ideas included in the 2015-2020 Zuidas Ambition Statement, signed by 25 organizations.

Clear responsibilities and points of contact

  • Executive Board member Marjolein Jansen’s responsibilities include sustainability.
  • Dean of Sciences Guus Schreiber is responsible for teaching and research in creating the VU profile theme Science for Sustainability. Pieter van Beukering is the driving force behind sustainable education and Phillipp Pattberg does the same for research.
  • Josja van der Veer, Director of the Corporate Real Estate and Facilities department, is responsible for Sustainable Campus: operations and housing. Willem Verduyn manages the sustainability portfolio for the Corporate Real Estate and Facilities Management Team.
  • Peter van Kesteren is the VU Environmental Coordinator for the HRM department and Occupational Health, Safety and the Environment and chairman of the Sustainability Programme Team.
  • Rooske Gaal, Energy Coordinator at the CCE Energy Coordination Center, which runs the joint VU Amsterdam/VUmc energy centre, is responsible for the MJA Long-term Energy Agreement. This long-term plan aims to realize 2% energy savings per year between 2017-2020.
  • The Sustainability Programme Team handles the coordination and integral approach for Science for Sustainability and Sustainable Campus. The Programme Team discusses and fine-tunes activities in the area of sustainability between VU service departments, faculties, research institutes and Green Office VU.
  • Green Office VU is the point of contact for students and employees who wish to actively contribute to more sustainability at the university. In addition to an average of seven paid student assistants, a number of students and employees also volunteer for a large number of Green Office projects and campaigns.

Lecturers, researchers and students involved in the VU Amsterdam Science for Sustainability theme, are looking for integrated solutions to the sustainability issues of our time. Their aim is to distribute more fairly and use more sustainably our natural resources - water, food, energy and fertile land. They do so in study programmes in which the issue of sustainability is dealt with from a geographical, biological, physical, chemical, socio-economic, social, political, and legal perspective.

Students interested in making sustainability a part of their study programme can choose from 10 Bachelor’s degree programmes, 9 minors and 19 Master’s programmes. These programmes include approximately 200 courses and specializations that prominently feature sustainability. Look for sustainable education and training opportunities that best suit your study wishes.

bachelor's programmesInventory of courses in Bachelor's programmes
master's programmesInventory of courses in Master's programmes
minorsInventory of courses in Minor programmes

VU Summer School has offered the Governing Climate Change: Theory and Practice sustainability course since 2016. For two weeks, students from all over the world learn about climate change and the history of climate management and agreements in lectures, discussions, simulations and during field trips.

In the Designing innovations for sustainability honours course, students from different Bachelor’s degree programmes spend two months working in a group to design plans for a more sustainable university. The course focuses on the subjects of water, energy, food and waste and has yielded results now taken over by various parties on the VU campus.

The Minor in Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions is available for a broad spectrum of students. The point is for students to let go of their academic background and step out of their monodisciplinary comfort zone to bring together a variety of disciplines for the purpose of developing solutions for a sustainable future. This way they learn about people, profit and prosperity and how these concepts apply to their own subject of interest. The minor programme started in September 2017 and lasts for six months.

On the National Day for sustainability in higher education on 19 May 2017, over 300 participants gathered at VU Amsterdam to discuss the Connecting Changemakers theme.
The Science for Sustainability theme entails the linking of fundamental scientific knowledge with knowledge on how to implement changes in society. We are researching aspects of climate change, energy generation, and our approach to water and ever-scarcer sources of energy and how to exploit them in a responsible manner. At the same time, we are increasing our understanding of how we can achieve the necessary changes in human and social behaviour that contribute to the formation of a sustainable society. At VU Amsterdam, approximately 50 research groups focus on research that prominently features sustainability. Green Office has made a first inventory of sustainability in VU research (in English).

Some inspiring, varied, leading examples of sustainability research are:

The Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) has been conducting research on diversity and complexity in environmental issues since it was founded in 1971. The concept of sustainable development inspired the programme that focuses on an integrated vision of the environment.

The Amsterdam Global Change Institute (AGCI) researches the interaction between people, socio-economic changes and a sustainable world. AGCI contributes to providing information on and shaping sustainable choices and innovations for Europe and the world.

The Athena Institute researches social processes aimed at sustainability and equity of societies.

The Faculty of Humanities Environmental Humanities Centre founded in 2016, studies the role of sustainability in culture and history.

Amsterdam Water Science (AWS) is a joint VU Amsterdam/UvA interdisciplinary research institute for research into sustainable water management, where researchers work together on a local, national and international level. Important disciplines are hydrology, ecology, environmental chemistry, environmental economics and public administration.

Vision and Environmental Barometer
VU Amsterdam seeks to control and continuously reduce its environmental burden in a systematic manner and to do so transparently. For this reason, in all of its annual reports, mostly from 2010, we report on the development of the environmental performance on the themes energy and CO2, transportation and mobility, waste water and waste, procurement and social return, and food, sustainable catering and fair trade. Usage statistics, performance indicators and carbon footprint calculations are all included in a report known as the Environmental Barometer Report. With a view to making relevant trends and developments transparent, the data from the past four years also forms part of the VU Amsterdam Environmental Barometer Report.

Energy and CO2
VU Amsterdam and VUmc are working hard to become fossil-free by 2035, which means 100% natural gas-free in combination with 100% sustainably generated electricity. When it comes to energy provision, VU Amsterdam’s short and long-term goals are to reduce the demand for energy and to use it as efficiently as possible. In 2017, VU Amsterdam and VUmc joined forces to draw up a 2035 Energy Master Plan. This describes the transition from energy management to a sustainable VU campus. The ambition is to be in the top 3 of universities and university medical centres in the Netherlands in the area of sustainable, affordable and reliable energy within ten years.

Transport and mobility
Over the past several years, VU Amsterdam has taken steps to ‘go greener’ when it comes to commuter traffic and transport relating to university business and services. Travelling to and from work by car has dropped dramatically. By moving parking underground the quality of public space is improved and the campus will feature more green areas.

Waste water and waste
We have already taken various measures in the area of water consumption reduction and will further expand this in the future. We separate waste into more than 20 different categories. Greater efforts will be made in the future to separate plastics from residual waste. We encourage the drinking of tap water through join the pipe taps on the campus square and in various VU buildings. From 2018, PET water bottles will no longer be sold on campus.

Procurement and social return
We are committed to sustainable purchasing practices. During the process of purchasing goods, work or services, careful consideration is always given to the economic, social and environmental aspects. In the case of tenders, the negative effects on the environment and social aspects are automatically taken into consideration in accordance with the rules of PIANOo, the expertise centre for public procurement at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. In our procurement we follow the actual product groups from May 2017. For VU Amsterdam, the minimum requirements are limited to the lower limit. For relevant tenders, such as catering and vending, students and staff are involved in drafting the tender requirements and the awarding of the contract.

Food and drink
The catering is purchased 100% sustainably, with extra attention for vegetarian options and sustainable animal welfare attributes.

The VU campus is gradually being upgraded. This modernization of the campus, partially through replacement and renovation, is necessary because a number of buildings have become outdated and inefficient. VU Amsterdam places tough sustainability demands on its premises, using the Dutch Green Building Council BREEAM method for renovations, new buildings and demolitions in order to highlight its aims and performance.

New buildings
New buildings are designed and certified as much as possible to meet the BREEAM New Buildings ‘Excellent’ level. The Nieuwe Universiteits-Building has gained an ‘Excellent’ BREAAM certificate for its design. The Onderzoeksgebouw VU (former school garden allotments) is currently in the design stages and we hope we will again obtain a BREEAM certificate for this structure. The W&N-building will be demolished as sustainably as possible. Both projects were reported to the DGBC in 2017, the body that issues the BREEAM certificate. The OnderzoeksgebouwVU will be a Laboratory building that does not fall within the scope of the standard assessment guideline. Together with the DGCB, VU Amsterdam has set up a tailor-made process to arrive at a 'BREEAM Bespoke' assessment guideline.

Existing buildings
Existing buildings will be assessed according to BREEAM In Use during the next few years. The OZW-building is the first existing building to have been checked using BREEAM criteria and is certified as ‘very good’ for both Asset and Management, and has Energy Label B. The Initium building was the first education building in the Netherlands to gain a BREEAM NL In Use for Higher Education sustainability certificate. The building has ‘excellent’ scores for Asset, ‘good’ for Management, and ‘very good’ for the Use category. The office part of the ACTA building has been declared ‘very good’ for the Asset category. The Main Building is almost 100,000 m2 large and boasts offices, lecture halls and other facilities. This building received a score of Good in both the Management and Asset categories.

It is our ambition to obtain BREEAM certifications with a score of at least Good for all of the university’s properties. With this certification, another step has been taken in the development of a sustainable campus, a pleasant place to work and study.

Maintenance
Building maintenance is required to maintain or restore the value for the primary process. Age and function of the building largely determine the maintenance strategy. With the exception of calamities and failures, maintenance is structured and executed in an integrated manner, using the natural moment as much as possible to add value and quality to the building up to the requested sustainable level. The feasibility of the investments is assessed on the basis of the integrated accommodation expenses, the so-called Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). TCO makes investments with a longer technical and economic service life and lower operating costs possible and prefers sustainable options. Management based on the TCO is particularly suitable for CRE organizations such as VU Amsterdam that combine ownership, maintenance and use over long periods of time.

Over the past decade, the VU campus transformation has included the following new construction and replacement construction projects:

  • OZW-building (2006)
  • Campus Café (2008)
  • The ACTA building (Academic Centre for Dentistry Amsterdam) (2010)
  • Initium building (2011)
  • Westflank VUmc (2013)
  • Main Building (2016)
  • O|2 Lab building (2016)

The following projects are scheduled for completion in the coming years:

  • New University Building (NU.VU; 2019)
  • MF building (2019)
  • VUmc Imaging Center (2019)
  • Research and Diagnostics / ADORE VUmc (2020)
  • VU Research building (2022)
  • Demolition W&N building (W&N) (late 2023)

Until 2030, the following developments may also take place on the VU campus:

  • New construction for alliances and market participants (location former school garden allotments)
  • New construction project living on campus
  • New construction on location plot C

In the longer term (2030 and beyond), the transformation process will start to focus on additional construction or the redevelopment of existing buildings including the VU Main Building, the Transitorium and the VUmc/UMC alliance outpatient clinic, or replacement new-build and additional developments by third parties.

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) publishes a global ranking in which quality of education, alumni employment, research quality and innovations play a role.

In 2017, VU Amsterdam ranked number 4 on the Environmental Studies component.

CWUR ranglijst

SustainaBul
VU Amsterdam has been taking part in the SustainaBul for several years - this is a ranking of Dutch universities and higher education institutes in relation to sustainability. The SustainaBul is a ‘Studenten voor Morgen’ initiative. Education institutes are assessed by students on how well they have integrated sustainability into their teaching, research and operations. In 2017, we achieved fourth place (a golden degree certificate), with the awarding of the SustainaBul taking place at the university during the ‘Nationale Dag voor Duurzaamheid in het Hoger Onderwijs’ (NDDHO17).

Results

Resultaten Sustainabul

In previous years the VU 
2016: ranked #7 out of 20 institutions
2015: ranked #3 out of 21 institutions
2014: ranked #15 out of 22 institutions
2013: ranked #18 out of 26 institutions

Exhibition wins Unesco Prize
The Whole Earth exhibition, which has been set up on the VU campus along the volleyball court, together with the previous editions of the Hard Rain exhibition, has been awarded the UNESCO Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Education. The projects, designed especially for universities, were awarded the prize because of the enormous reach around the world: 15 million people, from policy makers to students and pupils.

Green Office VU
Green Office VU, which was established in 2014, is VU Amsterdam’s sustainability platform for students and university staff. The office is run by students. It is concerned with sustainability projects within four portfolios (campus, community, education and research), and organizes events, campaigns, lectures and information days. These community services help link VU Amsterdam with society, with academic knowledge flowing back into society.

Green Business Club Zuidas

The Green Business Club Zuidas is where local businesses, local authorities and social organizations meet in order to initiate and carry out sustainable and social projects in Zuidas. VU Amsterdam is an active participant in the GBC, which has been based in the VU Amsterdam Main Building since 2017, close to the Green office.