Anouk wrote her Master thesis on Maastricht University Green Office, trying to find out to what extent the Green Office, is an example to successfully increase sustainability engagement and awareness of the university community. Here, she shares some of the insights gained from her thesis:
Many universities intent to become sustainable, but what exactly does this mean?
Cole (2003) define a sustainable university as an institution that “acts upon its local and global responsibilities to protect and enhance the health and well-being of humans and ecosystems. It actively engages the knowledge of the university community to address the ecological and social challenges that we face now and in the future.”
For universities to transit to a sustainable institution, a whole-institutions approach needs to be taken, considering sustainability in education, research, operations, governance and community.
A crucial part of this is involving the students, and one way to do this is empowering them. This can either be done by giving them responsibility within university entities, and by promoting student initiatives.
An example of this is Maastricht University Green Office (UMGO), a student-driven staff-supported approach to transitioning the university and its community towards sustainability. The Green Office has been around since 2010.
I was interested to find out more of the success of the UMGO in engaging the university community in sustainability. Thus I came up with the following research proposition:
“Green Offices, as an example of student involvement and student volunteering, successfully increase sustainability engagement and awareness of university communities”
To test this research proposition, quantitative inquiries were carried out amongst university students and UMGO volunteers, in addition to qualitative data from literature review and interviews.
To summarize the research findings: the UMGO has been relatively successful in lobbying for financial and managerial management support, writing policies and assessments, and changing regulations, for example on recycling.
Some things have been going less well, include visibility among students and staff, and truly engaging the university community. For instance, in a survey of 232 students revealed that only 45.6% of them had ever heard of the Green Office. A critical challenge of engaging the student community is that student turnover at a university is high and the GO has not done enough work to become visible and engage with this alternating student community.
Implications for Green Offices are that it is quite a challenge to lobby for sustainability within education, research and operations, while at the same time trying to raise awareness and promote behaviour change within the student community:
The former requires a behind the scenes work to create lasting relationships with staff, faculty and management, whereas the latter requires broad outreach to become visible to a constantly alternating student community.
The implication for GOs is now to find ways to manage this balancing act of doing both work, or to just focus on one aspect, such as lobbying or creating awareness.
Text by Anouk de Ruijter former Master’s student at Erasmus Univeristy Rotterdam, photo by Maastricht University Green Office