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A sustainable ecosystem

Main accomplishments

  • Sustainability has become a core value at KU Leuven
  • Introduction of a generalized CO2 compensation for air travel
  • An ambitious energy plan for all our buildings
  • The Fair ICT Award for our policy on purchasing and recycling of ICT materials
  • The Green Office’s “Tap it Up” campaign
  • Two university-wide courses on sustainability
  • A first sustainability report that shares our achievements with the world
  • Several KU Leuven Institutes with a clear focus on sustainability
© KU Leuven

Sustainability, a core value for the university

Sustainability is a core value at KU Leuven. Fortunately, this goes without saying nowadays. The increasing pressure placed on our planet by an ever-growing and ever-richer population requires an urgent and thorough transition the coming decades. A university like ours cannot remain on the sidelines. This is why we have pursued an ambitious sustainability policy.

Practice what you preach

A university that wants to represent sustainability should opt for sustainable management itself. It is not just a matter of reducing our direct environmental impact. Our business operations also determine how credible we are as a university. Our students will experience sustainability-related themes as much more relevant when they notice that their university is also putting sustainability into practice. And not only that: the concrete initiatives we take also make others in society reconsider things and take action. As such, the impact of our actions far exceeds our achievements in the direct reduction of CO2 emissions or use of materials. What we do well as a university becomes a benchmark, an inspiration for all of society.

Among other things, we have drawn up a travel policy which includes a generalized CO2 compensation for air travel. Whenever we fly, we all contribute to the KU Leuven climate fund (40 euros per ton of CO2). It is heartening that almost all of our professors have embraced the system and are contributing, even with the possibility to opt out. Their contribution is well-spent, mainly for reforestation in the South. We also support the purchase of video conferencing equipment and CO2 compensation through certified projects. Additionally, the CO2 compensation has set an example: FWO, VLAIO and VLIR-UOS have launched similar systems, and it has aroused international press interest. KU Leuven has clearly been an inspiration.

Our technical services have drawn up a detailed energy plan for our buildings. No, we have not replaced all single-glazed windows yet, but it is part of our multi-year plan and there is room for it in our budget. Our purchasing policy has also become fully sustainable. The outside world is noticing this and  KU Leuven recently earned the Fair ICT Award for the way in which we purchase and recycle ICT material. Sustainability is clearly no longer restricted to a few enthusiasts at our university. All our services contribute to this broad movement and are supported by a reformed Sustainability Council that channels enthusiasm.

Our students as well are important driving forces. The Green Office developed the successful “Tap it up” campaign that encourages drinking tap water. Additionally, the students working at The Green Office actively mediate between supervisors and students interested in sustainability and coach fellow students throughout their research trajectories.

Sharing knowledge

Many professors have integrated topics of sustainability in their teaching, a feat that has not gone unnoticed by the outside world. Our energy-education and, by extension, our university as a whole was recently given a special mention in the Global Sustainability Education Report of EIT-Energy. 

But we need more: our students should all be given the opportunity to acquire the necessary basic knowledge from the many experts at our university, allowing them to see the relationship between challenges. Similarly, they must be given the opportunity to delve into a particular aspect of sustainability in order to try to comprehend it(s reality) in all its complexity. That is why two new courses were introduced throughout the entire university: “Global challenges for a sustainable society”, launched this academic year, and “A socio-ecological approach to sustainability” scheduled for the next. There is great interest, both among our students and those from outside of the university. More than 1,500 participants have already registered for the course on “Global Challenges”.

As a university community, we also shared our knowledge through our very first sustainability report, giving an overview of all the initiatives organized at KU Leuven. Sustainability was interpreted in a broad sense: a good work-life balance and adequate staff facilities are equally essential to a sustainable university. The preparations for a second sustainability report, including up- to-date data and figures, are already on their way/taking place.

Society as a whole

A university is not an ivory tower. Especially when it comes to sustainability, KU Leuven fully immersed in society. Through Leuven 2030, we have developed an intense collaboration with the city of Leuven. KU Leuven has become a member of The Shift, participates in various Green Deals of the Flemish government and is a Climate Ambassador of the European Union. These collaborations are important for exchanging experiences and they enlarge our network. But there’s more. In these networks we also learn about the research needs of our partners. Together with them, we can develop relevant research our students enthusiastically sign up for up.

What about research?

Many researchers are already choosing to conduct research that helps to make our society more sustainable, ranging from better nature conservation to making our energy system more sustainable by means of hydrogen panels and smart energy networks and the development of fairer production and trading systems. Several KU Leuven Institutes have built a distinct sustainability component into their vision. The future of research on sustainability at KU Leuven is looking bright. Our university stands strong when it comes to this area. As this may not always be apparent, we will have to keep up the good work.

Appreciation

Sustainability is everyone’s business at the KU Leuven. What has been achieved was only possible with a limited but passionate sustainability department team, as well as a committed Sustainability Council. But the enthusiasm of our students and the efforts of many employees, including in our Ecoteams, are equally as decisive for the progress we are making. To all of you: many thanks for your efforts.