News - June 24, 2010

'Sustainability is not a chore'

Wageningen UR wants to be ahead of the field when it comes to greening the organization. So far this has resulted in a list of more than thirty initiatives. Executive board member Tijs Breukink explains.

The most eye-catching item on the list is a research into the possibility of a CO2 compensation fund for business flights. The money would be used for innovative sustainable research projects within Wageningen UR. Does that mean a tax per air mile?
'That is one possibility, but we haven't got that far yet. We first have to get clear what the CO2 effects are and how we want to compensate for them: partially or entirely, and trip by trip or across the organization. All that still has to be worked out.'
The more air miles, the more money for green projects. Is that really the right way to discourage flying?
'It is true that setting up a fund does not in itself stimulate people to fly less. But staff will not start flying more just because that makes the fund grow. Anyway, one of the projects is about upscaling video-conferencing, and that is a way of reducing the number of journeys. What is more: the fund is not an aim in itself (he says with a smile); it is more of a buy-off.'

The action points include carpooling, using compostable coffee cups and stimulating more people to travel by bicycle or public transport. Is that being ahead of the field?
'We want to get from A to B with sustainability. We are not ahead on all fronts, that's true. In some cases we're somewhere in the middle group.'

Which measures will deliver the best results in terms of sustainability?
'Purchasing policy and rationalization of buildings. At least three quarters of everything we buy meets the criteria for sustainable consumption set by AgentschapNL, the sustainability agency of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In that respect we're in the leading group. And what is more, from 1 January next year the whole organization is going over to green energy. Another thing I could mention is the strategic building plan. The use of space in Wageningen is going to go down by about 37 percent. That has a huge impact on the consumption of gas and electricity. We are already noticing that gas consumption is going down.'
Wageningen UR wants to be in the lead on sustainability. But we are leaving research on green roofs to the NIOO. Why can't we do that on our own roofs?
'The NIOO is innovative, we lead the field in adopting innovations. That is one level of ambition lower. We are making a slightly different choice. I am not saying that they are taking irresponsible risks; I cannot judge that. But in our operation, you cannot afford to take the risk of getting heat from the earth from a depth that has never been tested in our sort of business setting. We want to be pioneers, but within reason. We only use proven technology. The continuity of our operations is very important to us, and sometimes there is a tension between that and our wish to be innovatively sustainable.'
Sustainability is supposed to permeate the whole organization and the management should set the example. What do you do yourself?
As the board, we totally support this and that shows in our behaviour. It is not a straitjacket, it is a decision we stand behind. It is not for the show: look how well we're doing. We really want to internalize this.
I publicize the policy, and that is something I enjoy doing and believe in. That is the communicative role. Then there are the decisions you make. For example, to move the administration and the executive board to the campus. That has to do with sustainability, among other things. It is cheaper and more sustainable to move in with the ESG on campus. Then we can turn off the energy taps in the old building.'