There are about 20,000 of us, on four different campuses, all working hard in research, education or supporting services. In other words, we're talking about a large organisation. Inevitably, there are permits, authorisations and reports which all have to be in order. Besides these, the environmental service is responsible for collecting and disposing of all the university's waste correctly. At the same time, we are keeping a close eye on our carbon footprint as we gradually take steps towards becoming more sustainable.
A large organisation with many different activities
Our research commitments and the many internal services both involve a multitude of different activities: (environmentally) hazardous products, wastewater, gases, pathogenic or genetically modified organisms, laboratory animals, cadavers... these are all things which have to be stored and disposed of properly.
The Environmental Office handles the red tape and maintains an overview of all the permits and authorisations needed. We ensure that everything is in order, along with the research unit or service involved. Where biosafety is concerned, we rely on external experts.
The Environmental Office is often called upon to provide recommendations for renovations or new-builds in order to limit the environmental impact as much as possible.
A tidy house is a tidy mind
The university's four campuses generate a total of about 220 tonnes of waste annually. It goes without saying that this mountain of waste has a significant impact on the environment, and also that processing this waste is a costly undertaking. In order to ensure that the waste we produce is kept to a minimum, the university implements a well-defined waste policy.
The Environmental Office maintains an overview of the quantities of industrial waste produced, the various waste flows and the ways in which the waste is processed. Sorting waste properly at the source is very important both for complying with legislation and for securing good prices with waste processing companies. And because raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce, we believe it is important to collect pure fractions as these are the most interesting types of waste in the next processing phase.
Where possible, disposal and collection of waste is billed directly to the services or departments which generated it. In this way, we hope to encourage our employees to be more conscious of the waste they generate and to consider using alternative products, thus reducing the overall amount of waste produced.
It goes without saying that we sort and recycle our waste but we also encourage our employees to do their bit in cutting down on waste. This might mean bringing your lunch in a lunch box instead of in aluminium oil, using mugs for your coffee instead of plastic cups, photocopying on both sides, or better yet, not photocopying at all unless absolutely necessary. Often, during meetings for example, information can be projected onto a screen instead.
Reusing things also saves energy and raw materials, so we work with charity shops and recycling centres when it comes to materials that are still usable. The Central Purchasing Office has a wide range of reusable or recycled items available for internal orders.
Energy-conscious at all levels
The University of Antwerp has elected to use green energy, but this doesn't mean that we can use it without thinking. The experts from Technical Services continuously check whether a process could be made more energy-efficient. Whenever equipment or facilities need to be replaced, we choose a more energy-efficient option.
A few days before each holiday period, all employees get a reminder about switching off appliances that might otherwise be left on standby. The many positive responses we've had to this initiative are a testament to its success.
Greenery management and biodiversity
It's an unavoidable fact that several of our campuses are situated in green areas. We believe in trying to increase biodiversity on all of our campuses: there is a green roof on the Stadscampus, bee hotels on Campus Groenenborger and Drie Eiken, signs put up during toad migration and a new forest management plan on Campus Drie Eiken. We take an environmentally-friendly approach and don't use herbicides or pesticides, and when planting new plants we choose indigenous species which are easy to maintain.
Sustainability: from menus to bike repairs
In addition to our far-reaching waste policy, we also believe strongly in sustainability. The University of Antwerp has a sustainable vision and wishes to implement sustainability throughout its operations. One of our core tasks is to make students and employees more aware of sustainability and we are happy to see that reusable cups are being used much more often during all kinds of events, for example. Students can always turn to the sustainability coordinator for tips and advice.
The student restaurants are also in the process of becoming more sustainable. Thursday Veggie Day, a campaign run by the non-profit association EVA, was introduced to promote vegetarian food: every Thursday, the university puts a vegetarian dish in the spotlight. All of the rice and pasta we use is organic. You will only find seasonal vegetables in the salad bar and take-away sandwiches and soups are packed in biodegradable pots and packaging. All of the coffees and teas served at the university are fair trade.
The University of Antwerp is also becoming increasingly sustainable in terms of mobility. We want to discourage car use by investing in bike facilities (showers, additional bike sheds and bike repair facilities in the workplace, additional incentives through Bike-to-Work), public transport (third-payer system) and carpooling (in the future there will also be specially reserved parking spaces for carpoolers). We receive additional funding from the Flemish Minister for Mobility, Hilde Crevits, via the Commuting Fund (Pendelfonds).
Finally, we also take part in campaigns like Dikke Truiendag, Ik Kyoto and World Water Day, and some exams are now being taken on iPads. This means that in some cases we can save up to 200 sheets of paper per student. In cooperation with our employees and students, we will continue to work hard to make our university a greener and more eco-conscious organisation.