A sustainable future ahead of us

gepubliceerd : 07 May 2015

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Do you ever think about how your future children will see the world? No, probably not, because that’s definitely getting ahead of things. However, it is one of the most important questions of this era: what is going to be our legacy? Luckily, the Hanze and the RUG wrapped their minds around this. Currently, they’re setting up the Energy Academy Europe and the building of the Zernikeborg. Groningen is definitely working hard to become a true energy-legacy!

With our focus on future developments and the importance of sustainability, we met with honorary professor dr. Ton Schoot Uiterkamp. He was there when the student rowing association Gyas was founded in 1964 and most of all, he is the brain behind the theme of the 400th birthday of the RUG: ‘For infinity (4∞)’! A creative and inspiring man with a passion for sustainable future!

To start of with… What is your specialisation?

“I am someone who with a biophysical-chemical background rolled into the environmental world, which I have been occupied with on three continents, for about 40 years now. During that time, I have seen the subject (environment) transform from something that initially was a ‘socks in sandal’ story, to an absolute need. I have been occupied with it as a researcher, a consultant, teacher and policymaker, but also as a citizen, father and grandfather.

As mankind we’ve started some 200 years ago with the industrial revolution and we’ve created many incredibly good things…” (A small nod is directed towards my loyal laptop) “.. but at the same time we’ve made a mess. I’ve lived in Caïro and Boston and I can tell you that the air and water are not as clean everywhere as you’d hope.”

What is your mainspring to commit to sustainability?

“I’d rather use the South-African term volhoudbaarheid (‘maintainability’). We should be able to maintain our ways of doing. The way we treat the earth now is not maintainable. My mainspring is to think of maintainable solutions for everything such as: food, transport, health, housing and energy supply.”

“I have been retired for almost 6 years now and still work for the University of Groningen. Among others I do the student discussion groups and one of the reasons I do that, is that I believe that there are things I can tell which aren’t written down. Actually, maybe I should write them down…”

How do you fill in on your passion nowadays?

“As I grow older, the passion for sustainability intensifies. My current occupations aren’t a source of income. Before I start with something new, there are four important conditions: I need to enjoy it; I don’t want to be in the way of anyone who could make his or her money with it; I should have time for it; and my wife and I have to be healthy. That last one is actually the most important factor. Furthermore: ‘life is a joy forever’, as long as it lasts.

How do you feel about the Energy Academy Europe?

“The Energy Academy Europe is fantastic. The EAE covers all energy-related studies in the Northern-Netherlands, from lower education to post-academic studies. That is unique! The MBO (lower education) studies of Drenthe, Groningen and Friesland together form the Energy College. Besides that, we have the Energy Delta Institute, for post-academic trainings. This whole energy-related pillar is going to be situated here at Zernike in a new (environmental friendly!) building for everyone, not just for the experts!”

How can students do something for a sustainable studentworld?

“I think that in the first place it is important to gather knowledge, and second to spread it with head and heart. You could do this for instance to join a sports club, because sports are good for you. Besides that, you could think on how your sports club could be energy efficient. I am one of the founders of Gyas. At Gyas they found out it was more sufficient to isolate the floor than to get solar panels on the roof.”

What can we expect of the Hanze and the RUG in the coming years?

“Not just excellent education and research, but also a truly ‘green’ policy in the way the buildings are maintained and to think about the knowledge we carry out. Most of all, it is important that we don’t just shout out, but give the right example.”

How does Groningen distinguish itself from other cities?

“It is really quite simple: its century long, intensive involvement with students; its range of social and cultural facilities; its compactness; bicycle friendliness and special location in the Netherlands, definitely makes Groningen the best student city of the Netherlands.”

Finally…

“Sometimes we just don’t seem to realise in what kind of ‘lucky wonderland’ we live!”

By Anouk Theunissen
Photo by Nicolas Raymond