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Sustainable

At VU Amsterdam, we’re working together towards a sustainable, liveable and fair world. We take responsibility in our academic education and research, as well as in our operations. Sustainability is therefore a priority area. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our points of reference.

Climate change, nitrogen emissions, the energy crisis, environmental pollution, hunger, poverty, increasing inequality… Our planet and society face enormous challenges that are strongly interconnected. For Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, sustainability is not only about the environment, but also about the human, economic, social and cultural aspects. Sustainability is therefore one of our priority areas.

At VU Amsterdam, we’re passionate about working on sustainable solutions for the interconnected challenges of this century. As a university, we see an important role for ourselves. We educate the leaders of tomorrow. We research sustainability from multidisciplinary perspectives. We develop scientific knowledge and insights. We create value for society. And with more sustainable operations, we also take responsibility for our own organisation. For the planet and society, for current and future generations.

Sustainability starts at home

As the VU community, we contribute to the transition towards a sustainable campus, university and society – every day. An ecosystem in which knowledge about sustainability flourishes and spreads – both within VU Amsterdam and beyond. Almost all faculties and departments of the VU organisation are involved. Because being sustainable starts at home. Join us!

Science for Sustainability is one of our profile themes. Take a look at how we work towards an ecologically healthy, socially just and economically viable world, not only in our operations, but also in our scientific education and research.

The most sustainable university in the Netherlands

VU Amsterdam has been ranked as the most sustainable university in the Netherlands by SustainaBul, and comes in second place overall. This ranking is organised annually by Studenten voor Morgen (Students for Tomorrow). On the basis of a survey, Dutch higher education institutions are assessed on sustainability in education, research, operational management and best practices. VU Amsterdam scores full marks for research and best practices.

Contribution to the SDGs

With sustainability as our priority area, we contribute to all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): no poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), good health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), reduced inequality (SDG 10), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14), life on land (SDG 15), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16) and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).

Following the principle that “to measure is to know”, the Aurora Network has developed the SDG dashboard under VU Amsterdam’s leadership. The dashboard measures and shows our sustainable impact on society based on the 17 SDGs. Our focus on sustainability is also reflected in the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking 2022. For example, our teaching and research ranks among the top 15-20% of 1,406 universities worldwide when it comes to impacting the SDGs: gender equality (SDG 5), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), reduced inequality (SDG 10) and climate action (SDG 13).

Organisation

  • 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.

    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.

    BREEAM
    For renovation, construction and demolition, we use the BREEAM methodology of the Dutch Green Building Council (DGBC) to provide insights into our targets and implementation.

    New buildings
    As far as possible, new buildings are designed and certified in accordance with “BREEAM Nieuwbouw” (new build) at the “Excellent” level. The Nieuwe Universiteitsgebouw (new university building) has been awarded the BREAAM Excellent level for its design and execution.

    The Onderzoeksgebouw (research building) is currently under construction. Based on the final design, we expect to achieve the Excellent level. It will be a bespoke laboratory building that does not fall within the scope of the standard assessment guideline. In cooperation with the DGBC, VU Amsterdam has started a special process to reach a “BREEAM bespoke” assessment guideline.

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

    The Opleidingsinstituut Zorg en Welzijn (OZW) (care and welfare training institute) is the first existing building to be tested for BREEAM. The building has been awarded the “Very Good” level in both the Asset and Management categories, and has Energy Label B.

    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 Hoofdgebouw – the main 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 Wis- en Natuurkundegebouw (maths and physics building) will be demolished as sustainably as possible.

    In the meantime, we will maintain the green space as well as possible in areas where construction will not take place immediately. For example, the  Zuidas Botanical Garden (formerly VU Hortus Botanicus) has been renovated for use until at least 2023. The special plant collection will remain in place.

    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 have already been completed, but the existing old buildings like the maths and physics building will only be phased out and demolished over the coming years. That’s why the campus is temporarily experiencing slightly higher energy consumption.

    Maintenance
    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.

    Green VU campus

    Watch the video.

  • 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.

    Electricity
    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.

    Gas

    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.

    Parking
    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 will be a further 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.

    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.

    Fairtrade

    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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