Standing Up for Sustainability

By Ben Norbu Bultrini

At UCU we are taught to think critically, take a variety of perspectives into account and act according to our ideals. We are supposedly given a voice with our GAs, and can be involved and influence our community by joining committees. However, the UCSA lacks the bargaining power to influence certain crucial decisions.

This is supposed to be a place where leaders with progressive, well-founded ideas are educated, but the average student is not given a voice or a realistic way to enact real change. The people here are constantly changing but the campus feels the same. There has been stagnation in our living conditions, our catering, and in progress towards sustainability. The upcoming campus renovations are evidence of the administration’s inadequate efforts to involve students in decision-making.  

Students have been invited to present their ideas of an ‘ideal’ UCU campus. Those in charge of campus renovations will supposedly consider these pitches. They will then compile a proposal to present to the Utrecht University board, which has the final say. This is not an inclusive process, as students’ voices are merely conditional and not decisive. It is time that our college strengthens student involvement in decision-making. This is a call to UCU students to impose themselves and their ideals on this campus renovation process, using the important example of solar power.

For years, attempts by students to get solar panels installed on our campus have failed. Last year, the UCU Solar Power team, consisting of UCU students and alumni, worked towards that aim. The solar panel company Sungevity assessed that Kromhout and the Wall could provide enough surface area and sunlight for placing solar panels. Together they would be able to roof 811 photovoltaic panels. This could potentially generate 185,000 kWh; enough energy to power 27 average Dutch households.

With this prospect, we were able to garner support from the youth branch of a Dutch energy cooperative, ‘De Windkuikens’. They offered to fund and help implement our solar energy dream. Even after presenting our proposal to James Kennedy, the Dean, and Bettina Nelemans, the Managing Director, things have moved on at an unhurried pace. If the University can erect solar panels in De Uithof, why not here? The answer is private ownership of campus residences by Lekstede Wonen. There was no initiative on behalf of Kennedy and Nelemans to establish direct communication between the UCU Solar Panel Team and Lekstede Wonen.

There has also been a lack of pressure by students, professors, and the Management Team in urging Lekstede Wonen to consider the carbon footprint of this campus. This is a critical time for humanity, and naturally the UCU community, to consider its energy future. A fully funded opportunity to begin harnessing renewable energy has presented itself. The whole community should be jumping over all of the hurdles standing in the way of seizing this opportunity.

With a matter as important as campus renovations, UCU students must fight for a seat at the decision-making table. There has been a great deal of talk from James Kennedy with regards to making UCU stand out amongst the Dutch university colleges. For this to be achieved we must collectively move towards becoming an actually environmentally and socially sustainable campus. This can be achieved with a dramatic transformation of our campus’s ecological impact, which cannot happen without the political engagement of students.

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