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2. Sustainability on campus

New sustainability policy

In April, the university and Radboud university medical center adopted the Joint Sustainability Policy 2021–2025. It describes what both organisations want to contribute to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Among other things, the policy aims to create a healthier, more inclusive, climate-neutral and circular campus environment. The policy measures extend to business operations, education, research and patient care.

The policy provides a framework for embedding sustainability in various parts of the organisation, such as the plan to further integrate sustainability into education. There are also plans for biodiversity and for our food and beverages. Several faculties also have their own sustainability plans.

An area of sustainability that is receiving increasing attention is ICT. Consider the environmental impact of the cloud: every email and every search contributes to CO2 emissions. The Information & Library Services (ILS) division took the first steps towards a sustainability plan at the end of 2021, and it will be further developed in 2022.

Greater energy savings with the hybrid network

Three paths have been mapped out for energy savings. The first is the further expansion of the Hybrid Energy Grid. Several new buildings were connected to the grid this year, and the next step is the continued reduction in gas consumption. The new connections were made in Mercator 1 and 2, the greenhouse complex, Forum and Berchmanianum. The second path involves further energy savings: think of LED lighting, pumps, ventilation, insulation, low-temperature heating and solar panels. The third path is to adapt the organisation and change behaviour.

One of the sustainability objectives was already implemented in the spring with the presentation of the energy policy. The report shows how the university will work on energy saving and sustainable energy through 2024. The goal is to continue to save 4% of energy annually, with a view to achieving energy-neutral operations by 2050: by then, all the energy we need will be generated sustainably on campus. The Executive Board declared its ambition to achieve this goal ten years earlier, and this is being investigated. Implementing the Energy Programme will require an investment of €18 million through 2024.

Sustainable purchasing policy and sustainable behaviour

Starting this year, the university is subjecting all its purchases to a new test that weighs the environmental impact and social sustainability of the product to be purchased throughout its entire production chain. This is set out in the new Purchasing with Impact policy. This policy makes the hidden impacts of purchasing and user actions visible. For example, considerations like regional sourcing, environmental impact or working conditions in the production chain are given greater weight in the composition of lunches and the range of products in the restaurants. Meanwhile, awareness of more sustainable research practices is also growing. For example, oil-based solvents in the laboratories of the science faculty had been replaced by a more sustainable alternative by 2021.

Research has shown that one of the largest categories in our CO2 footprint on campus is related to transport (commuting, business trips and freight transport). That is why the maximum limit for the purchase of a bicycle – which had been subsidised by €1,000 for years – was raised to €1,500 in 2021. This rise was intended to encourage the purchase of e-bikes and to get people who live further away to cycle to work.

Now that air traffic is rebounding from the pandemic, the new campus flight policy announced in 2020 is being widely publicised. Professor of Infectious Diseases Teun Bousema has played a key role in publicising this policy. For several years now, he has been working to curb conference-related global air travel. He is using a detailed study of the air travel impact of two conferences to campaign for fewer conferences, which, after all, prompt thousands of researchers to fly all over the world every year.

Encouraging a change in staff and student behaviour – one pillar of the sustainability policy – received attention during the Green Week organised by the Green Office in May. By necessity, this event was largely held online – after all, most people were working and studying from home. Working from home was the stimulus for focusing on behavioural change in the home workplace as well. All employees received a Home Office Check.

Staff systematically contribute to sustainability developments on campus as part of the Radboud Sustainable Development Network. In 2021, this network focused on issues such as true pricing and the revitalisation of the campus.

Circularity and biodiversity

There are many ways to approach sustainability, one of which is contributing to the circular economy. Sustainability Programme Director Marije Klomp emphasises the diversity of approaches. “Choosing not to buy products and services also contributes to sustainability, and if a purchase is unavoidable, we are paying increasing attention to its reuse.”

Circularity was given concrete form in 2021 with the reuse of all the furniture in the to-be-demolished Spinoza building (which started with the low-rise section in 2021). Construction elements from this demolition were reused in the layout of the campus grounds, for example as part of a staircase. Circularity was also the starting point in furnishing the newly opened Comenius building, the digital assessment facility on the avenue of the same name.

In 2021, the green face of the campus changed considerably with the completion of the park-like environment around the Maria Montessori building, a complete metamorphosis for the former concrete Thomas van Aquinostraat. Marije Klomp calls the phrase ‘from grey to green’ outdated: the campus is not so much striving for more green as for more biodiversity. “Green can be very boring and lifeless; think of many meadows. On campus, we’re trying to add two things: more green and more biodiversity.”

“Green can be very boring and lifeless. On campus, we’re trying to add two things: more green and more biodiversity.”

Marije Klomp, Sustainability Programme Director