ESN goes green

This week, Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is hosting their introduction events for over 600 new international students. They want students to help save the planet while they party.
By Jacob Thorburn


Sustainability has become a buzzword at the RUG in recent years. The University was tied at 6th out of 719 universities on the global GreenMetric University Ranking in 2018, a points-based ranking system which measures the policies and condition of sustainable living at universities across the world.

By 2020, the RUG aims to be a CO2 neutral university, which they admit will ‘require huge efforts.’ Clearly, this is a community that takes great pride in its efforts to promote a cleaner way of living for its staff and students. The Green Office, which aims to ‘make sustainability an integral part’ of student life, commended groups such as ESN and the Kommissie Eerstejaars Introductie (KEI) week for their efforts to promote greener living.

This year, over 600 new students are participating in ESN events that focus sustainability. ESN president Tjitske Schokker says that as climate change continues to dominate global conversations – and in light of the Netherland’s recent uncertainty about Paris Accord targets – it’s more important than ever for students to care about green living. ESN will lead the charge by changing student behavior. ‘We are the generation that will have the biggest impact on the future,’ Tjitske says.

ESN’s first step was to make introduction week as plastic-free as possible. At Friday’s pub crawl and opening party, drinks were served in reusable cups and plastic straws were only available upon request. ESN promoted re-usable water bottles on Sunday’s sports day and managed to reduce plastic waste dramatically compared to previous years.

Not always easy

Despite this week’s success, Tjitske recognises that ‘going green’ isn’t always convenient for university students. Agnes Schipof, co-ordinator of the student team at the Green Office, says that shopping sustainably, paying gas and electricity bills, and travelling home all pose special challenges for students. Even simple things – like eating less meat and buying produce at farmer’s markets instead of grocery stores, where everything is packaged in plastic – take extra thought and planning. But in the end, Tjitske says, living sustainably can actually be cheaper.

To show them how it’s done, ESN will offer vegetarian meal options throughout the week and educate students about practical and affordable options for green living. ‘There are so many,’ says Tjitske.

So much easier

Many students are already thinking about their role in the sustainability discussion. Luke O’Brien, a maths student from the United States, has only been in Groningen for a week, but is already shocked at how much easier it is to live sustainably here than in the USA. He is excited about re-using his grocery bags and using a bike rather than a car.

European students echo his excitement. Portuguese computer science student Miguel says he is ‘impressed with the ways the Dutch think [about sustainability].’ After Miguel returns to Portugal, he and his friends are committed to trying to change the ‘lack of interest’ back home.

Dick Jager, programme manager at the Green Office, is ‘completely convinced’ that Groningen has great options for those wanting to live sustainably. ‘Every year the students get more and more serious about learning to live sustainably,’ and ‘we [the RUG] recognise our responsibility to educate our students outside of the classroom.’

Wider implications

In the build-up to this busy week, ESN worked closely with partners and sponsors to promote sustainable projects within their own businesses. But one of its biggest partners – the budget airline Ryanair – has a murky past when it comes to sustainability. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary was reported to be a climate change denier in 2017.

Although Tjistke sees why this might be controversial, she says that a small Groningen committee like ESN is in many ways ‘powerless’ to challenge its biggest global partners. Instead, she says, they are focused on providing the ‘first tips’ for local students – not ‘changing the whole world.’

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