DAG investigates: How green is our university?

The UG is always talking about sustainability, that much is clear. DAG will try to spot out the gaps in their green discourse. Now featuring: the ‘Energy Academy Europe’.

By the Sustainabillity working group

When you cycle around the Zernike campus regularly, you will probably have noticed that an imposing building has been added to the collection. The UG calls it a ‘ground-breaking’ project with an amazing sustainability rating and countless innovative gadgets.

This is where the Energy Academy Europe resides: a collaboration between the UG, the Hanzehogeschool and companies who claim that they want to help with the transition to systems of renewable energy. This is a laudable and important goal, which is why it is so important to critically examine what the university is doing exactly to reach this goal. In the weeks to come, DAG will try to find this out.

Energy Academy

Lots of wood and glass and a roof filled with solar panels. The Energy Academy is an example of the way a building can “optimally use the natural elements earth, water, wind and sunlight as the primary source of energy”, as they say at the Academy. This building is therefore the perfect showpiece for an institute that claims to be committed to the ideal of making our society greener.

But when you do some research to find out who is behind all of these wonderful ideals, for example by taking a look at the website, one thing immediately stands out. Whereas the building shows off with sun, water and wind, the companies who have a say in the Academy are far more concerned with a very different natural element: gas.

Fossil industry

So what stands out when you look at the companies that are part of this project aside from the UG and the Hanzehogeschool? You will see companies such as the Gasunie, GasTerra and the NAM [Dutch Petroleum Company]. Ironically, it is because of these companies that the label ‘ground-breaking’ leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.

When you read on, you’ll see that at least they are not being secretive about their objectives. The NAM describes its main objectives as retaining production in gas fields that are already in use, discovering and developing new gas fields and obtaining more gas from the fields by using innovative techniques.

Wait a minute. Is this what they mean by ‘facilitating a green transition’? One could make a case for involving these companies in this project: they are a very important part of the Dutch economy, after all. But it is, at the very least, remarkable that the fossil fuel industry is very well represented, whereas there is no one present to speak up for the other industries: sun, wind and water.

Where are the green partners?

If there is one Dutch organisation that concerns itself with the green transition, it has got to be Urgenda (http://www.urgenda.nl/). So why were they not involved in this project? And why not a producer of solar panels or windmills? Could this maybe have anything to do with the fact that these partners simply do not carry enough financial weight, something that has become an important factor for a university that has become increasingly dependent on financial support from industry?

A quick glance at the website immediately raises a lot of questions. And of course, there are more questions to be asked. What kind of education is given and what kind of research is done at the Academy and what influence do the affiliated companies exert on it? In other words: how independent is this academic institute?

The final issue, not just for people who are fond of the university but especially for people who care about the climate, is what truth there is to the Academy’s lovely slogan: ‘Growing towards a sustainable energy system’. In the future we will not only continue to investigate the green showpiece that is the Academy; we will also look at the other ways in which the UG shapes its sustainability policy.