On the occasion of World Environment Day on 5 June, seven student teams from Maastricht University participated in the 2013 Sustainability Competition hosted by the city of Maastricht. Sustainability is an important topic for the city and Maastricht University, since both aim to become climate neutral by 2030. In fact, one of the students exclaimed: “You have only 17 years left, so start today!”
Albert Nuss, Councillor for Mobility, Sustainability and Knowledge at the municipality of Maastricht, stressed the importance of engaging with students on the topic of sustainability. He said that the current generation of students is better able to incorporate the concept of sustainability into their mindset. “By immediately identifying points for improvements, they are better able to tackle the big challenges ahead,” he said.
Nuss’ observation was quickly validated to me when I overheard two students in the audience whispering remarks about the inefficient halogen lighting and the outdated heating system in the city hall, which the Councillor nevertheless described as “the most sustainable building in Maastricht because it has been used since 1654.”
The teams from the master’s programmes in Sustainability Assessment (ICIS) and Business Innovation and Sustainable Development (SBE) were given no more than ten minutes to defend their respective projects in front of the jury and their peers. The short pitching style challenged the students to reduce their eight-week long research projects into concise presentations. It also forced them to be more creative. A highlight moment of the afternoon was when one of the students, dressed in a suit, kept his balance on a sustainable cup to prove its strength and durability.
The topics of the presentations ranged from new technological products such as sustainable fitness machines and intelligent lighting systems, to strategy and policy recommendations for the university and the municipality. Each presentation was followed by a series of critical comments from the jury, who delved deeply into the sustainability performance of each proposed strategy with questions on CO2 reduction percentages and stakeholders’ engagement.
The variety of the topics must not have made it easy for the jury, consisting of Councillor Nuss and several representatives from local businesses, policy makers and university staff, to pick the best proposal. However, it should be noted that the jury was keen to select a project that was not only ready to be implemented, but also backed up with solid arguments and logical academic reasoning.
The three final prizes were awarded to the following projects:
1) Towards a Sustainable Waste Management at Maastricht University (ICIS)
The first prize went to a project which took the phrase “act local” to a new level by analysing sustainability at Maastricht University itself. The students found that the waste management programme left a lot to be desired and mapped out different scenarios to reach the university’s ambition to become climate neutral. The team advised it to change its waste management programme and conveyed its message by saying that the university should “kick ass in sustainability”.
2) Moving towards Climate neutrality in Maastricht (ICIS)
What if the city of Maastricht were to implement all the new sustainable innovations available today? The second team researched the topic and concluded that Maastricht cannot even get close to reaching climate neutrality. The students came up with a new way to engage the community, companies and organisations to work together and make climate neutrality a viable scenario once again.
3) Green Wall – Coping with Air Pollution (SBE)
Because of its location in a river valley, Maastricht has always been plagued by particulate matter. With its history of industrial activity and the A2 highway running right through its core, Maastricht suffers one of the highest rates of particulate matter in Europe. The Green Wall project proposed to literally turn Maastricht green by covering grey walls with green vegetation to help the air become clean and healthy once again.
The three winning teams were awarded a certificate and in the spirit of healthy competition, all other teams received small presents as well. After an inspiring discussion on the topic of sustainability at the Maastricht city hall, the master’s students returned to their academic environment.
As far as I understood, the winning proposals will not be implemented but will be taken into account during future city hall meetings. However, if Maastricht policy makers would like to know more about sustainable buildings, they are always welcome to join us for an interactive brainstorming session under the green roof of the School of Business and Economics.
By Marcel van Dijk
Marcel van Dijk, 22 years old, is now studying International Business: Strategy and Innovation at the School of Business and Economics, after completing a bachelor’s in Media and Entertainment Management at Stenden University, the Netherlands. Marcel worked on a sustainability project ‘Ranking the UM in an international sustainability ranking for universities’ for the course Business innovation and Sustainable development.