The evening of Monday 12 October saw over two hundred UvA students and staff members attend the Greenovator tour organised by Jacqueline Cramer, minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM). The minister visited the UvA in an attempt to initiate a broad, sustainable and effective movement in collaboration with students, businesses and executives. ‘Cooperation will be crucial in achieving significant results. In addition to technological innovations, an effective organisational structure will also be essential. I am stepping up to the challenge of achieving the impossible,' Cramer stated.
Cramer was on familiar ground. She previously studied and lectured at the UvA, where she also served as professor by special appointment in Environmental Science between 1990 and 1998, specialising in the relationship between technological development and environmental policy.
The minister debated the cradle to cradle principle with former UvA student Astrid Kee, the harbour master of Amsterdam, and Stef Kranendijk, managing director of Desso. Both entrepreneurs announced they would be donating funds for research towards implementing this principle in their operational management.
Minister Cramer presented her long-term policy for the sustainable purchasing of energy. Students responded critically. Where will you be in four years time, they asked the minister. Cramer: ‘You can't change the world in a day. 3% of our fuel is currently purchased from sustainable sources, and I aim to increase that figure to 20% by 2020.
The three young entrepreneurs debating the minister felt this target was somewhat lacking in ambition. Having completed their studies at the UvA, they each went on to combine entrepreneurship with sustainability: installing solar panels, supporting sustainable initiatives and organising sustainable events.
The current generation of UvA students proved to be equally ambitious. Judith Ament presented a sustainable insurance concept suited to developing countries, Ewoud de Kok officially opened the first carbon-neutral computer room in the Netherlands at the Roeterseiland complex, while members of the student council highlighted their projects in the area of water conservation and double-sided printing.
Sustainability in 2009
Lucas Reijnders, professor of Environmental Science at the UvA, reflected on the status of sustainability in 2009. In his view, government policy could do with a little more audacity. As Reijnders explained, he has seen the nineteen seventies environmental movement develop into a broad group of people with healthy ambitions and a newfound sense of realism. The latter statement was confirmed when Minister Cramer asked guest speaker Paulien Westendorp, managing director of New Energy, to offer some useful advice. ‘Just get to work, both at home and at work,' was her unequivocal answer.
So what can the government do to stimulate sustainability and innovation? The audience offered Minister Cramer a number of suggestions: play a more active role in developing a vision for the long term and offer direction by creating a clear-cut framework for unambiguous policies, stimulate all the various actors currently working to achieve sustainability by offering financial and organisational support, and provide the masses with financial incentives to buy sustainable products.
As the inspiring evening clearly demonstrated, the minister's desire to see large-scale cooperation between students, businesses and executives in the area of sustainability is already becoming a reality within the microcosm of the UvA.