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Science for Sustainability

Under the Science for Sustainability profile theme, scientists and students from VU Amsterdam are studying how we can create an ecologically healthy, socially just and economically viable world. Because we must act now to make sure our planet is habitable for all forms of life.

Climate clocks counting down like a time bomb. Scientists warning of a sixth mass extinction. And UN Secretary-General Guterres, who describes “making peace with nature” as the greatest challenge of this century. The message is unanimous: it’s two minutes to midnight. We must become more sustainable now to combat global warming, environmental pollution, climate change and its drastic consequences. There’s a whole world to win. For current and future generations.

How can we bring people, the environment and the economy back into a healthy balance? This question is central to the education and research under VU Amsterdam’s Science for Sustainability profile theme. It’s also reflected in our pursuit of the sustainability of the VU organisation itself. The ambition: an ecologically healthy, socially just and economically viable world. Because climate change is not only about nature and the environment, but also about how we deal with it as individuals and society.

The way in which we set up and manage economies and organisations, as a society. How we produce and consume energy, food and water, and how we earn a living. To what extent we protect land, plants, animals, forests and marine life. And how we divide the benefits and burdens among the various commercial parties and the population. Both nearby and far away.

As a broad-reaching university with a strong social focus, we study and tackle sustainability issues in an integrated and interdisciplinary manner. From technical, exact, medical, social and behavioural scientists to economists, theologians and lawyers: every VU faculty is involved in this profile theme to a greater or lesser extent. In addition, we work closely with civil-society partners, governments and companies at local, national and international levels. This leads to valuable insights and sustainable initiatives with impact.

Sustainable development initiatives with impact

VU scientists and students are studying how we can better predict the weather in the long term using artificial intelligence, for example, so that governments and partners around the world can anticipate droughts, floods and cyclones in a timely manner. How we can make the food chain more sustainable and reduce food waste through better regulation and transparency. How we can make better use of available land, and how we can combat harmful deforestation and palm oil extraction. How we can store carbon from heavy industry differently, thereby reducing CO2 emissions. And how we can enrich biodiversity and prevent flooding in urban areas with blue-green roofs.

Or how we can work in co-creation with people in low-income settlements in Africa, Asia and Latin America on sustainable solutions that promote self-sufficiency and respond to local circumstances, traditions and needs. Or how we can limit the consequences of climate change, such as hunger and migration, for those people. And how mangrove swamps reduce the impact of flooding in Vietnam, improve fish stocks and strengthen women’s resilience.

Fair and sustainable world

Because it’s precisely the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society who are the first to experience the consequences of environmental pollution and climate change. And at the same time, we’re increasingly experiencing more and more dramatic consequences in the Western world, too. That’s why we’re working together towards a fair and sustainable world. For today, for tomorrow and for the long term. Join us!

Can scientists be activists?

Can scientists be activists?

Can scientists be activists, or should they remain neutral? And what does 'neutrality' mean in the face of an ever-growing climate crisis with scientific facts and figures to spare? 

In this part of the podcast series 'Climate Breakdown', VU associate professor Mathieu Blondeel discusses this topic with VU professor of physics Davide Iannuzzi, Chief Impact Officer at VU University Amsterdam. 

Listen to the episode

Science for Sustainability at VU Amsterdam

Contributing to the SDGs

Through this profile theme, we’re contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): food, agriculture and land use (SDG 2,3 and 12), water safety, migration and justice (SDG 6 and 16), climate change and energy transition (SDG 7 and 13), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), plastics, environment and society (SDG 12), behaviour and governance in the context of sustainability science (SDG 12 and 17), and biodiversity and landscape change (SDG 15).

How do you discuss climate change?

How do you discuss climate change?

Talking about climate change and how we can contribute to a better climate is essential. But it’s not always easy – there are many different opinions and beliefs about it. U Amsterdam gives you tips on how to start the conversation, as well as facts that you can bring to the table.

View tips and facts

Science for Sustainability research

  • There’s a whole world to win

    We investigate the conditions under which people, the environment and the economy are in balance, without depleting the earth. We aim for consideration and positive impact for nature and society. In particular, we focus on:

    Our 2025 ambitions:

    • Our research activities are climate-positive and do not cause environmental damage.
    • Our sustainability research is supported by good management, professional services and a transparent assessment system that values interdisciplinary activities. There is also sufficient time to participate in joint research.
    • Our research is focused and well-profiled (nationally and internationally), and we generate social impact through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration organised under the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (ASI).
  • Faculties involved

  • Research institutes involved

    Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (ASI)

    How can data centres make their cloud environment more sustainable? What can we do to reduce wildfires and their consequences in the Netherlands? How do millennials feel about their food choices and how can we encourage them to make more sustainable choices? ASI provides an umbrella for all sustainability-related research at VU Amsterdam and uses the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as inspiration and guidance. With scientific research and insights, ASI helps our society to make more sustainable choices. Each year, a number of ASI research projects receive seed funding to promote innovative sustainability research between the faculties. Take a look at an overview of these projects.

    Athena Institute

    How can science contribute to a healthy, inclusive and sustainable society? The Athena Institute analyses and integrates the various perspectives of those involved and encourages joint learning by doing. By understanding different needs and potential obstacles, we can better work together towards a sustainable, just and fair society. Athena has five research domains: 1. emerging science and technology, 2. (global) health and well-being, 3. (living) environment and sustainability, 4. education and capacity development, and 5. history of knowledge.

    Environmental Humanities Center

    What do literature, history and art have to do with climate change or rainforest destruction? The Environmental Humanities Center brings together students, scientists and people interested in humanities perspectives on the environment for the purpose of exchanging ideas. The centre also encourages dialogue between the humanities, nature and social sciences about sustainability.

    Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)

    How do blue-green roofs reduce flooding and increase cooling? How can we better predict extreme weather and give warnings for drought, floods and cyclones in advance? Since its foundation in 1971, the IVM has been conducting research into the diversity and complexity of environmental issues – also paying attention to the social consequences. The IVM therefore works closely with social partners. The main topics of the IVM’s research are (international) environmental themes and policy, such as:

    • Flooding and drought;
    • Climate change and international trade;
    • Spatial environmental priorities, especially in coastal, catchment and urban areas;
    • Economic effects;
    • Industrial transformation, particularly aimed at environmental management in companies and decoupling economic growth from environmental impact.

    VU Sustainability Leadership Hub (SLH)

    The SLH is building a community both within and outside VU Amsterdam to work together on a sustainable and just society. For example, the hub offers training for students and teachers on sustainability and leadership. In co-creation with the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute, the hub has also developed an SDG Scan to help organisations draw up their sustainability vision and identify the SDGs to which they can most naturally contribute. Read the SDG Scan Summary Report. 

  • Collaboration with partners

    Aurora Alliance

    Aurora helps students from European universities to develop the skills and mindset they need to tackle social challenges as entrepreneurs and innovators. The alliance originated from the Aurora Network in which VU Amsterdam collaborates with eight European, socially-oriented universities on high-quality and inclusive education in combination with excellent research. Under the leadership of VU Amsterdam, Aurora has developed the SDG dashboard. This bibliometric tool provides insight into scientific publications on the SDGs by Dutch and European universities from the Aurora Network.

    Green Action Lab

    This matching service from the Green Office connects students, researchers, VU partners and external institutions through impactful sustainability research. The lab matches research questions from within and outside VU Amsterdam with students and research experts. This allows students to conduct research into relevant sustainability issues, enabling us to work together towards a better world.

    Green Business Club Zuidas

    At the Green Business Club Zuidas, VU Amsterdam, local companies, municipalities and social organisations in the Zuidas jointly initiate and implement sustainable and social projects. Located directly opposite the Green Office, this creates a green hub where sustainable education, research and entrepreneurship are connected. The participants work together on the agreements made in the Zuidas Ambition Statement, with the aim of becoming the most sustainable and innovative business centre in Europe.

    Read the Zuidas Sustainability Ambition Statement.

    International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN)

    The ISCN provides an international forum to support higher education institutions in the exchange of information, ideas and best practices. The aim is to develop sustainable campus activities and to integrate sustainability into research and education.

    By signing the ISCN Charter, VU Amsterdam – like the universities of Twente, Cambridge and Princeton – is part of a worldwide sustainability network of more than 80 universities from 30 countries. And VU Amsterdam endorses the network’s five calls to action for institutional leadership and collaboration in the field of sustainability.


    As part of Sapiens, VU Amsterdam, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Inholland University of Applied Sciences, developer EDGE and RJB Group of Companies work together on solutions for our society and the planet. Sapiens is based in the inspiring Valley building on the Zuidas. Run by young people in interdisciplinary teams, they learn and work together on themes like biodiversity, climate and sustainability. Systemic change and social transformation are of central importance. Students, academics, business professionals, NGOs, the creative sector and the government come together in a spirit of entrepreneurship and enthusiasm, and complement each other with knowledge, experience and ideas from the most diverse angles.

    University of Twente (UT)

    VU Amsterdam and UT are increasingly working together across four social areas: 1. resilient and safe society, 2. clean and sustainable society, 3. smart and digital society, and 4. development of talent. Our complementary skills enable us to build new bridges between disciplines: from humanities, technical and social sciences to life sciences & health and technology. We do this by offering technical bachelor’s programmes in Amsterdam and by facilitating the transfer from VU Amsterdam bachelor’s to UT master’s.

Science for Sustainability education

  • Ambition

    VU Amsterdam offers students and teachers the facilities and tools in the field of personal development to be able to take a leading role in creating a sustainable future. We educate students on how to become responsible citizens who contribute to a sustainable planet and society. And we help teachers to tackle social problems based on their intrinsic motivation.

    Our 2025 ambitions:

    1. Our students are trained for sustainable leadership.

    2. Our teachers show sustainable leadership.

    3. All our degree courses are sustainable.

  • Bachelor’s degrees

    There are 93 courses for bachelor’s students that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students are able to view the range of courses by faculty and by SDG, giving them several options for finding courses in the field of sustainability that they can integrate into their studies.

    Bachelor’s in Earth, Economy and Sustainability

    How do we make sure that enough fresh water, food and energy remain available? How do we minimise the number of victims and the economic consequences of natural disasters? In this bachelor’s degree, students investigate latent or far-reaching changes that affect everyone on planet Earth, and develop sustainable solutions.

    Bachelor’s in Earth Sciences

    How do earthquakes and volcanoes come into being? What do we know about the moon and the planets around us, and how do they affect our life on Earth? What do we learn from climate signals from the sea floor, coral reefs or the ice cap? In this programme, students learn everything about the Earth’s system so that we can tackle challenges such as climate change and the energy transition.

    Bachelor’s in Biology

    Why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? How can we explain remarkable animal behaviour? In this programme, students investigate living systems in humans, animals and plants – from molecule to ecosystem. And they look at how all those living systems are interconnected and influence each other.

    Bachelor’s in Health and Life

    How do we reduce environmental pollution from excessive use of medicines? What is the effect of drinking alcohol during pregnancy on the development of the unborn child? In this bachelor’s programme, students learn to look at all aspects of life, health and disease, as well as focusing on the sustainability of our healthcare system.

    Bachelor’s in Science, Business and Innovation

    What is the fuel of the future? How do we invest even more in sustainable energy using wind turbines? In this programme, students learn about innovations in the fields of sustainable energy, healthcare and lifestyle. The bachelor’s programme combines exact science, social science and business administration.

  • Minors

    In total, there are 61 minors in the field of sustainability, relating to one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students are able to view the range of minors by faculty and by SDG.

    Minor: Development and Global Challenges

    What can we do about poverty and social inequality? A larger gross domestic product often comes at the expense of social equality and the environment. How can this change? In this minor, students learn to better understand environmental and economic issues in a globalised world.

    Minor: Earth Surface

    How do natural processes influence the evolution and dynamics of the landscape? In this minor, students study natural processes that shape the Earth’s surface. The influence of climate, tectonics (study of the structure and cracks in the Earth’s crust) and the interaction between the various components of the Earth’s system are discussed, as well as the role of humanity.

    Minor Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions

    How are current global challenges related to economic, social and political systems? How do we change in the context of global sustainability? What exactly is the role of the environment in achieving sustainable solutions? In this minor, students learn about people, profit and prosperity in order to go deeper into their own area of interest.

    Minor Sustainability: Management and Innovation

    How can management and innovative business models contribute to sustainable development? This minor looks at sustainability from an entrepreneurial perspective, using prosperity for our entire society as a starting point.

  • Master’s degrees

    There are 146 courses for master’s students that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Students are able to view the range of courses by faculty and by SDG, giving them several options for finding courses in the field of sustainability that they can integrate into their studies.

    Master’s in Earth Sciences

    What influence do soil, water, air, mountains and living organisms have on each other and on the Earth? What are the consequences of human actions on the climate? And what does that mean for the future? Students of this master’s programme contribute to solutions to the complex problems facing our planet. The master’s has three specialisations: 1. Geology and Geochemistry, 2. Earth and Climate, 3. Global Environmental Change and Policy.

    Master’s in Ecology and Evolution

    How do changing living conditions affect plants, animals, fungi and bacteria? Why does the world look the way it does today, at molecular and landscape level? In this master’s programme, students experiment in the lab and in the field. They also contribute to tools that predict the effects of pollution and climate change, and that better combat the loss of biodiversity. This is a joint study programme between VU Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam.

    Master's Econometrics and Operations Research - specialisation Climate Econometrics 

    How can we forecast extreme weather events using data-science techniques? What is the impact of climate change on economies and societies in an increasingly interconnected world? In this specialization, students gain a deep understanding of climate-human interactions. They enhance their data science skills and apply these skills to complex climate change science. The programme allows students to understand, create, and estimate climate econometric models in order to analyse economic effects and to assist in policy making on climate change.

    Master’s in Environment and Resource Management

    How can we develop effective solutions to global challenges in the areas of food, water, ecosystems, biodiversity, energy and climate? This requires a new generation of environmental leaders. In this master’s programme, students gain the right toolbox to work on today’s sustainability challenges. From climate change due to migration, to the impact of food supply on the environment, to analysing the transition to sustainable energy systems.

    Master’s in Hydrology

    Water is life. How can we make sure there’s enough water for everyone? How can we ensure good quality water for agriculture, ecosystems and people? And how can we minimise the impact of extreme flooding in densely populated urban areas? In this master’s programme, students learn to understand the hydrologic cycle and its social impact, and help to solve global water challenges.

    Master's Information Science 

    Can a company’s IT be both profitable and environmentally friendly? What is the role of green IT in digital inclusion and a sustainable society? This master's programme spans Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and its practical application in a society that is increasingly digital and at the same time concerned with its sustainability footprint. 

    Master’s in International Business, Law, Climate Change and Sustainability

    How can companies take social responsibility – for example, in the field of climate change and sustainability? In this master’s programme, students not only look at the letter of the law, but as future corporate lawyers they also get a feel for the economic and ethical background behind the law. One of the three specialisations is Climate Change and Corporations.

    Module: Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning
    During the “Defining Challenges in a Multi-stakeholder Context” and “Addressing Challenges through Transdisciplinary Research” courses, students tackle a complex issue – for example, in the field of climate change – by working with social partners and students from various scientific disciplines. In addition, they learn to integrate knowledge from different disciplines.

    Master Marketing - specialisation Sustainability and Social Impact

    Leveraging the power of marketing to create a better world? This specialization is designed for future marketing professionals who want to go beyond traditional marketing practices and apply their skills to promote consumer well-being, protect the planet, and strengthen societies. Graduates of this specialization can pursue careers in various industries as companies recognize the need to contribute to sustainable development and are transforming their practices, products, and business models accordingly. 

    Master’s in Science Business and Innovation

    How can science and entrepreneurship reinforce each other? How can we help companies with different technological, economic and organisational challenges? In this master’s programme, students learn and work on innovations for business. Depending on their interests, they opt for a specialisation, such as “Energy and Sustainability”.

    Master’s in Spatial, Transport and Environmental Economics

    Why do some cities thrive and others don’t? How can we encourage people to drive to work outside of peak traffic hours? Why would a country join the Kyoto or Sofia Protocol? Students delve into the tension between economic growth, development of cities, living-working environment, transport, depletion of the planet and opportunities for new energy sources.

  • Extracurricular activities

    Green Office

    The Green Office is the sustainability platform for all VU students and employees, led by VU students. They are involved in sustainability projects under four focus areas (campus, community, education and research) and they organise events, campaigns, lectures and information days. The Student Consultancy Hub is one such initiative. It brings students into contact with companies and organisations to conduct research in the field of sustainability, thereby working together towards a better world. Through these community services, VU Amsterdam is connected to society and academic knowledge flows back to the community.

    Designing Innovations for Sustainability

    Students from different bachelor’s programmes jointly design plans for a more sustainable university. This elective course focuses on the topics of water, energy, food and waste, and the outcomes are partly implemented on the VU campus.

    Dream team: Planet-friendly food, for a sustainable future
    As members of the dream team, bachelor’s and master’s students from various programmes work together for one academic year on an assignment within a profile theme. The “Planet-friendly food” dream team is developing a tailor-made toolkit that helps young people from all walks of life become more aware of the impact of their eating habits on the environment and living conditions. This toolkit enables them to make choices through which they can make the world a better place, step by step. To this end, the team maps out the wishes and needs of the young people, develops and tests the tools and materials for the toolkit, and then checks whether the toolkit leads to more planet-friendly food among the target groups. The students develop academically, personally and socially, which contributes to A Broader Mind.

    Governing Climate Change
    During this two-week sustainability course from the VU Summer School, students from all over the world learn about climate change, the history of climate policy and climate agreements during lectures, discussions, simulations and field trips.

    Dreamteam Reduce Food Waste
    All over the world, we’re throwing away food while part of the population goes hungry. It’s also bad for the environment because the food has already been “produced”. In the Netherlands, too, we waste around 33 kilograms of food and 65 litres of drinks per person every year. We should be more sustainable, including on the university campus! In this Dream Team, you’ll investigate how to make students and employees more aware of food waste and encourage them to make better choices. For example, how can caterers better match supply and demand at VU Amsterdam? How can we ensure that we actually eat and drink all the food we’ve ordered, taken away or brought from home? And how can we give any leftovers a good home? How much do you think we can reduce food waste? Students can apply via this link

  • Postgraduate courses

    Course: Climate Change and Energy Transition

    This course offers legal professionals insight into, and an overview of, the legal framework to combat climate change and accelerate the energy transition. This allows them to better apply the legislation and provide good advice when it comes to government and business projects aimed at achieving climate objectives.


  • Sustainable campus

    VU Amsterdam aims to have a net positive impact on the natural environment and to contribute to a fair and sustainable economic system. In order to reduce our environmental impact, VU Amsterdam aims to create a sustainable campus with four operational priorities and ambitions:

    Energy and climate: in 2035, VU Amsterdam will be a fossil-fuel-free university.

    Food and drinks: when visiting the canteen, VU Amsterdam aims to make vegan or vegetarian food and drinks the preferred option. We are also committed to a plastic-free campus and the prevention of food waste. And all VU buildings now have coffee machines with plant-based milk.

    Sustainable purchasing and transport: we test every purchase against five criteria: diversity and inclusion, social return, climate neutrality, circularity and sustainable supply chain. All transport related to our core activities must be emissions-free or compensated.

    Greenery and innovation: we take many actions to make the VU campus a healthy, supportive and stimulating place to study.

    56 sustainable projects

    To achieve a sustainable VU campus, 56 projects have been included in the Roadmap to a Sustainable Campus 2020-2025 as well as various other initiatives started by employees and students via the Student Council, Green Office and Works Council. The projects contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Take a look at an overview of examples by SDG.

  • Buildings

    We are renewing the VU campus step by step. The renewal – partly replacement, partly renovation – is necessary because a number of buildings are functionally and technically outdated. We set high sustainability standards for these improvements.

    New buildings

    Sustainability is now being integrated as a matter of course into new construction projects.

    Moving towards the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is thus a logical step. The SDGs give complete freedom to design the goals to fit seamlessly with the organisation's activities and ambition. Wasting resources purely because the instrument used dictates it is thus a thing of the past. And resources can be deployed in such a way that they fit the spirit of the objective.

    The latest addition is the sustainable, relocatable hub for VU startups. The pavilion is made up of 'refurbished' building units, with green roofs, waterless urinals, a diversity of plants and trees and a roof terrace with a bee hive. The modular construction ensures that the pavilion is moveable and demountable.

    Existing buildings

    Existing buildings have now been assessed against “BREEAM In Use”. In accordance with the guidelines, this assessment is periodically repeated.

    The Initium building, with Energy Label A, was the first educational building in the Netherlands to obtain the sustainability certificate “BREEAM NL In Use for Higher Education”. This building has been awarded Excellent level in the Asset category, Good level in the Management category, and Very Good level in the Use category. The office part of the ACTA building has been awarded Very Good level in the Asset category.

    The VU main building – the building spanning almost 100,000 m2 and housing offices, education and other facilities – has been awarded Good level in both the Management category and the Asset category.

    The W&N building will be demolished as sustainably as possible.

    Part of the VU roof garden is used as a testing ground for research, and part is planted with the succulent plant sedum as well as trees and shrubs from the Zuidas Botanical Garden.

    Transition phase

    The VU campus is currently transitioning to a sustainable campus. New, sustainable buildings such as the O|2 Lab building have already been completed, but the existing old buildings like the W&N building will only be phased out and demolished over the coming years. That’s why the campus is temporarily experiencing slightly higher energy consumption.


    The age and function of a building largely determine the maintenance strategy. With the exception of problems and malfunctions, maintenance is carried out to maintain or restore the required, sustainable level. This is described in operational maintenance levels for various types of usage functions. We assess the feasibility of investments on the basis of the integral accommodation costs: the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). This makes investments with a longer (technical or economic) lifespan and lower operating costs possible and favours sustainable alternatives. Management based on the TCO is particularly suitable for CRE organisations like VU Amsterdam, with ownership, maintenance and use managed together over the long term.

    Polder roofs

    The Zuidas has now largely been paved over due to its intensive development, which means that the sewage system cannot always cope with the drainage of rainwater during heavy rain. Water storage on flat roofs helps to buffer water during these showers. Blue-green roofs have been installed on the roofs of the main building and the new university building to buffer the water and reduce flooding.

    Living lab on main building roof

    A blue-green roof was installed on the roof of the main building in 2019. Local grasses and herbs have been sown on the roof, small ponds for birds created and a wild bee colony given a home. The roof is not open to the public. Scientists from the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (ASI) also use the roof for education and research, to increase knowledge about green roofs. For example: research into changes in air temperature, humidity, water balance, insulating effect and particulate matter/air quality above the green roof, vegetation development over the years, and so on. A new development for storing and using rainwater is also being investigated from the historical perspective of rainwater use in Amsterdam. Watch a film about the roof garden.

    Peat roof on new university building

    The new university building has a peat roof – a nod to the peatland that used to be in there. Under the roof is an extra layer that collects the rainwater. Flooding during heavy rain is thereby reduced in this heavily built-up area. The temporarily collected rainwater cools the building in summer, while the roof also contributes to greater biodiversity. For example, the long-headed emerald grove bee, common redstart, clovers, rattle, poppy and various species of bumblebees and butterflies have been observed.

  • Biodiversity

    VU Amsterdam is increasingly working on biodiversity. The VU campus aims to be one of the largest green spaces in the Zuidas by 2025. Less concrete and more greenery are what make the VU campus a nice place to be. The new greenery in the form of various trees, perennials and grass is good for health and biodiversity, while reducing heat stress and potential flooding after heavy rain.

    Blue-green roofs

    The main building and the new university building have green-blue roofs, while the research building – which is under construction – will also have one. The main building also has a much-used roof garden. The green roof on the new university building is in full bloom in summer and attracts many insects and birds.

    Campus as a living lab

    Sustainability research is also being carried out on the roof of the main building. Local grasses and herbs have been sown on the roof, small ponds for birds created and a wild bee colony given a home. Scientists and students also use the roof for education and research – for example, research into changes in air temperature, humidity, water balance and insulating effects. This helps us increase our knowledge about green roofs in Amsterdam. Watch a film about the roof garden.

    Right next to our campus is the Zuidas Botanical Garden, home to an enormous variety of plants. Its aim is to inspire people of all ages by showing them the beauty and diversity of plants, thereby increasing their knowledge. Students and employees alike visit the garden to relax.

    This video shows what VU Amsterdam – together with nine other universities and colleges – is doing towards biodiversity, and underlines its importance for our campuses.

  • Energy

    Vision and Enviro-meter

    At VU Amsterdam, we aim to manage and continuously reduce our environmental impact in a systemic way, and to be transparent about this. That’s why we produce annual reports (since 2010), on the progress of our environmental performance in the areas of energy and CO2, transport and mobility, water and waste, purchasing and social return, and food, sustainable catering and Fairtrade. We also include all consumption figures, performance indicators and footprint calculations in our environmental barometer report, which we have been publishing since 2003.

    Energy and carbon emissions

    We’re working with the Amsterdam UMC – VUmc location to be fossil-fuel-free by 2035: 100% natural-gas-free plus 100% sustainably generated electricity. When it comes to energy supply, we are reducing energy demand, optimising efficiency and making production more sustainable. The target is to achieve at least 2% energy efficiency every year, as agreed in the Multi-Year Agreement on Energy Efficiency. The agreement expired in 2020. We continue to aim for a 2% energy reduction – for example, through green ICT and energy-efficient lighting. And we’re actively working on putting a new agreement in place.

    In addition, our ambition is to make 100% of the electricity we purchase greener, with a mix of wind energy generated in the Netherlands and in Europe. We aim for 100% of our purchased electricity to be green by 2035.

    In 2017, VU Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC – VUmc location established the Energy Master Plan 2035. The plan describes our long-term vision for the transition from energy management to a sustainable VU campus. We have already started the plan’s implementation and are using approximately 45% less gas since 1 January 2021, as planned. This makes us ambitious: VU Amsterdam is ahead of the Paris Agreement, as well as the targets of the Netherlands and the municipality of Amsterdam. Our goal is to be in the top three universities and university medical centres in the Netherlands for sustainable, affordable and reliable energy within ten years. We monitor and update the progress of the Energy Master Plan every five years.

    In 2020, VU Amsterdam subscribed to the Sectoral Roadmap for Universities. Subsequently, uniform roadmaps for each university were drawn up. The roadmap for VU Amsterdam is a technical document in which we indicate which measures need to be taken per building to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.


    We have our own central power plant because our energy supply needs to be uninterrupted: for example, for VU researchers and the operating rooms at the Amsterdam UMC – VUmc location. A power failure could cause life-threatening situations or the loss of scientific research experiments.

    100% of our purchased electricity comes from wind power. In 2021, this originated 50% from the Netherlands and 50% from other European countries. Our ambition is to increase the percentage of wind energy from the Netherlands every year and to generate 10% of the electricity requirement on our own campus.

    The next step in making energy generation gas-free was the installation of a Diesel Rotary Uninterruptible Power Supply (DRUPS). The DRUPS was put into use on 30 January 2021. This installation, which provides emergency power in the event of a connection failure, is decoupled from the regular electricity for heating and cooling. This saves us 30-35% in gas usage.


    In the Netherlands, the production of green gas is not yet large enough to meet the demand from VU Amsterdam and other universities. That’s why we generate some green gas ourselves. We’ve done the research: if we collect all the kitchen and food waste from the Zuidas and ferment it into green gas, we can produce approximately 1% of our gas requirement. We will work on this in more detail with VU students.

    In collaboration with the Green Office and the Green Business Club Zuidas, VU Amsterdam is investigating the possibility of installing a composting facility for kitchen and food waste in the Zuidas. In addition to producing green energy, it will reduce waste and create useful products – making it a form of upcycling.

    Storage heating and cooling

    VU Amsterdam is controlling the temperature of more and more buildings by using stored heating and cooling that’s not generated using gas (see also our Energy Master Plan 2035). We now have two such storage units: one under the care and welfare training institute building and one under the new university building. The research building will also have a storage unit.

  • Water

    We take various measures to reduce our water consumption and make it more sustainable. For example, we opt for water-saving equipment when renovating toilet and shower facilities, and we take technical water-saving measures. We use the BREEAM criteria for economical water use.

    In addition, there are several other initiatives for reducing our water use:

    Join The Pipe

    We encourage drinking tap water through “Join the Pipe” drinking taps in busy places on the VU campus. The accompanying refillable water bottle (BOGO) is for sale via vending machines. For every BOGO bottle sold, one bottle is donated to a schoolchild in a developing country.

    Water-retaining roofs

    The sedum roof (planted with succulents) on the O|2 Lab building absorbs water and has an insulating effect.

    Water covenant

    In order to prevent flooding as a result of the campus development, VU Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC – VUmc location have signed a water covenant with Waternet. Sufficient water storage must be made available to prevent flooding. Due to building development, there is a higher risk of flooding as well as less surface area to store the water. We compensate for this by creating the same surface area for water or by using alternative water storage systems on campus. Examples of this are the construction of the Buitenveldertsegracht and the green roof on the new university building.

  • Waste

    Vision on waste 

    In 2019, a new European tender for waste was carried out, for which a new “vision on waste” was one of the starting points. This vision covers the next ten years.  

    Our ambition is to reduce the amount of waste at VU Amsterdam, through waste prevention, better separation of waste flows, and raising awareness among students and staff. The collection of waste is simple, user-friendly and fits in with VU Amsterdam’s reputation. The removal and processing of waste has been outsourced to a well-known waste supplier. Waste is safely and sustainably stored, disposed of and processed in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. We work with our partners to do all this in an efficient and effective manner. The results of the waste policy can be found in the environmental barometer report.

    Separation of waste

    We separate our waste into more than 20 different types (paper, glass, etc.). In the future, we will focus even more on separating plastics from residual waste and on better disposal of electronic waste. We reduce the amount of waste by setting requirements when purchasing goods for the collection of packaging by suppliers, as well as for the packaging itself, in order to contribute to a more circular economy. Examples include:

    • Separating plastics on receipt of goods and at the central warehouse;
    • Placing waste containers for three streams at strategic locations;
    • Recycling furniture and books;

    Setting requirements for electronic waste when purchasing equipment. Equipment that is recycled after use must be processed according to the WEEELABEX standard, at a minimum.

  • Transport

    Transport and mobility

    In recent years, VU Amsterdam has been successful in making commuter traffic and business/service traffic greener.

    VU Amsterdam encourages people to cycle more. Shared bicycles are available for VU pass holders, and we subsidise people to use their own bicycle for commuting. In the coming years, we will make every effort to improve the facilities for cyclists and electric bikes, such as more parking spots, charging points, lockers, showers and so on. Commuting by car has already fallen sharply, while moving the parking for bicycles and cars underground will improve the quality of the public space and create more space for greenery on campus. In addition, we are affiliated with the Higher Education Cycling Mission together with 12 other educational institutions. The mission is intended to motivate employees to cycle more.


    We discourage car use via a restrictive parking policy. An employee only receives a parking permit in exceptional cases – for example, disability or poor public transport connection. Car-poolers are also eligible.

    The VU Amsterdam-VUmc parking company has equipped various parking locations with charging points for electric cars and plug-in hybrid cars. The 25 charging stations, 20 of which are in the P2 garage under the ACTA building, are accessible to employees and visitors with a universal charging card. There is a parking garage under the new university building with space for 600 cars as well as 1,600 bicycles. In the new P3 VU campus parking garage, there are 25 charging points for electric cars, with the option to easily expand to 120.

    Sustainable travel policy

    Since 2022, VU Amsterdam has opted for sustainable travel alternatives for business trips, which encourages employees to make travel choices that are less harmful to the environment.

  • Food and drink

    VU Amsterdam wants to offer an attractive range of food and drinks that meet the needs of current and future students, employees and visitors to the campus. The range is diverse, offers plenty of options and is available throughout the campus. This contributes to the development of a lively and hospitable VU campus, with a high-quality, attractive offering. Sustainability and health are of paramount importance. Priority areas in the field of sustainability include:

    • Aiming towards a plastic-free campus: we’ve already banned the sale of disposable plastic water bottles; the next step is a ban on soft drink bottles.
    • Offering reusable water bottles and “Join the Pipe” water taps throughout the campus. The catering company also offers glassware or returnable cups.
    • Making catering more sustainable in various ways: Fairtrade, organic, local and regional products.
    • Offering vegetarian food: the catering company offers sufficient vegetarian options, including Meatless Monday. Our goal is to shift to a planet-proof restaurant as quickly as possible, for which a roadmap will be drawn up in 2022.
    • Minimising disposable items: disposable products are only used where necessary. When used, they are sustainable, including compostable, recycled or sustainably managed products.
    • Implementing improvements: the catering company regularly consults with the Green Office to discuss and implement improvement actions and targets. One of the results is the plastic-free bottle policy.
    • Reducing packaging: we opt for tableware that can be used several times. If that’s not possible, we opt for packaging with a relatively low environmental footprint, such as paper, cardboard, plastic or wood.
    • Reducing food waste.
    • Using sustainable products, such as local or seasonal products and products with an environmental or sustainability label. For example, coffee machines with 100% plant-based milk are available in all VU buildings.

    Visionary catering company: Eurest – Compass Group

    Eurest has been VU Amsterdam’s catering company since 2018. Each month there is a central theme, about which various facts, tips and tricks are shared. The themes are:

    • Food waste: there are four campaigns per year to draw attention to the theme of food waste, in collaboration with local entrepreneurs For example, “Verspilling is Verrukkelijk” (waste is tasty) is a platform for entrepreneurs with solutions to food waste. They make meals from food that would otherwise be thrown away, fermented or processed into animal feed. And Eurest is a participant in “Too Good To Go”, where leftovers are given a second life.
    • Plastic: Eurest has its own “Klikk” cutlery made from environmentally friendly, food-safe material. It is 100% recyclable and BPA-melamine-free (BPA-melamine is the chemical composition that is used in the manufacture of plastic). Eurest offers a 10% discount on hot drinks if you bring your own cup.
    • Vegetarian and vegan food: Offering less meat is a priority. Eurest is participating in the Week Without Meat. The number of vegan alternatives has increased, the meals contain at least 30% vegetables and the salad bar is completely meat-free.
  • Purchasing

    VU Amsterdam has a sustainable purchasing policy. When purchasing goods and services, we always balance economic, human and environmental elements. In tenders, effects on the environment and society are taken into account as standard, in accordance with the guidelines of PIANOo, the tendering expertise centre of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. When purchasing, we follow the current product groups from 2019. At VU Amsterdam, the minimum requirements are the lowest threshold. We already purchase almost 100% sustainably, and where possible we go more sustainable still. In relevant tenders, such as catering and vending, we involve students and employees in drawing up the tender requirements and making the decision.

    Social return

    The VU web shop limits the product range that faculties and services can purchase. All products have a basic level of sustainability and are produced in countries that respect universal human rights.


    In 2011, VU Amsterdam was named the first Fairtrade university in the Netherlands. We therefore attach great importance to serving a sustainable offering in the catering facilities – paying particular attention to Fairtrade. The steering committee of the Fairtrade municipality campaign evaluated that VU Amsterdam meets the organisation's strict campaign criteria.

  • Sustainable community

    To make sustainability an integral part of our organisation, we are introducing a small, dedicated team of employees and students for each faculty and service. This team of so-called Green Ambassadors work together to make their faculty or service more sustainable. Best practices are shared with all Green Ambassadors at VU Amsterdam.

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