On Friday 10 May Queen Mathilde visited Ghent University within the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During her visit, she addressed students and academic staff.
In addition to education and children’s rights, likewise the subject of sustainability is one of Queen Mathilde’s primary concerns. As one of the 17 international advocates of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Queen attaches great importance to the role and commitment of young people and the academic world in the implementation of the Agenda 2030 . On Friday 10 May, the Queen visited Ghent University to become acquainted with its sustainability policy.
Sustainability policy at Ghent University: vision and achievements
Sustainability is one of Ghent University’s top priorities. The university wants to be a leading standard bearer in its goal for a future that will ensure ecological, social, and economic sustainability within a local and global context. Ghent University integrates sustainability into education, research, and the provision of social services, and implements sustainability in its professional activities and organisation, amongst others in its energy, mobility, and nutrition policies, and through its ’environmentally friendly" investments.
Sustainability has been a theme incorporated into our agenda for the longest time. As a university institution that is both of and for the entire community, we consider it our social mission to not only generate and contribute scientific knowledge via research and to disseminate such acquired knowledge via education but, likewise, to place that knowledge at the service of the society and to address and respond to the questions and challenges that we, as members of that society, are constantly presented with.
Last Friday, Rector Rik Van de Walle presented Queen Mathilde with a small sample, a selection from Ghent University’s accomplishments in those areas. For instance, with respect to the impact of our activities, we can unquestionably point out major and wide-ranging distinctions; locally, here in Gent, where our university is one of the major ’enterprises’ and hence cannot fail to leave a significant ’footprint’ in and upon the city but, likewise, and in a much broader context, by our exemplary role that we can play vis-à-vis other universities, organisations, and businesses in general.
Because of the ever-increasing internationalisation of research, education, and the provision of sundry services to our society, Ghent University collaborators are annually engaged in constant travel for professional purposes, a large percentage of this travel being conducted by air. It is estimated that nearly 15% of the total CO 2 emissions generated from Ghent University’s activities is caused by such professional travel. The major portion of such travel is within Europe.
Hence, is the answer then a reduction of the internationalisation of our research, education, and social services’ Not at all, what is needed is rather a careful monitoring and judicious distribution of the movements that are demanded by it. And to do this, Ghent University developed its sustainable travel policy.
An ever increasing number of private individuals and organisations are questioning whether these days it still is justified to continue investing money in lucrative, albeit not altogether ’clean’, shares of companies that derive their profits from mining and exploiting fossil fuels.
This is a question that we at Ghent University no longer bother to consider since we have firmly decided to stop investing our funds in fossil fuels.
Education, Research, and Social Services
However important, and even authoritative, our professional operations may be as a whole, they do nonetheless not constitute the core of our activities. What characterises a university are its core activities: e.g., education, research, and social services. And likewise amongst these key tasks we need to go searching for ways to integrate sustainability. In the same manner as, for instance, we proceed with our internationalisation or the stimulation and promotion of entrepreneurship.
For example, the Ghent University student Tibbe Verschaffel was this week proclaimed the Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur of the Year 2019! Tibbe founded Planet B, a project that manufactures sustainable bamboo-bicycles, and he is also starting other projects to combat the warming of the planet.
University-wide policy choice
In conclusion, Rector Rik Van de Walle also explained sustainability as one of six major strategic themes which we will during the coming year continue to pursue and expand, with professor Thomas Block appointed as Administrator, ’Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development’ and instructor of ’Sustainability and Governance’ within the department of Political Sciences.
Ghent University further wishes to assume a leading role in matters of sustainability and teach its students how to deal with these. Sustainable development will subsequently be integrated more explicitly into the study programme offered by professor Block.