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“We’re on the right track, but could use a more cohesive effort towards sustainability”

Students research sustainability at RUAS
29 April 2022

“Becoming a sustainable organisation starts with determining how sustainable you want to be, rather than 'for this sum we can get…'. This also applies to the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences," says Gil Feiereisen, fourth-year International Business student, after completing his minor, the main assignment of which was to develop a management model enabling RUAS to monitor its sustainability objectives. He and his team presented the final result of the assignment not only to each other and their lecturers, but also to special clients, namely Dean Mariska Wit of Rotterdam Business School and member of the Executive Board, Wijnand van den Brink.

Gil Feireisen did not go looking for an especially sustainable minor when he signed up for ‘International Sustainable Finance & Accounting’. “I wanted to find out more about finances, the basis for all business decisions. That’s what I learned from my previous internship. I found it interesting how sustainability increasingly has become part of financial considerations.”

Sustainability as part of education

“I think that sustainability is very much alive in our education and research. And it is also well integrated," says Feiereisen. "For example, we didn't only get theoretical explanations of the sustainability goals, which is often the case, but we also learned how to apply them in practice. One assignment was to calculate what it would cost to convert your company car fleet to electric vehicles. That is very useful in practice. As far as business operations are concerned, I don't see much evidence of sustainability at RUAS.

I know that it is present, because I asked around, but when examining reports and data, we couldn't find any coherence. Based on the input, we identified the critical success factors with which the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences can achieve a higher level of sustainability. We also translated these into parameters (KPIs) for RUAS. But that has not yet been implemented. Compared to other universities of applied sciences and universities, there is still a lot of room for improvement”. Other teams that started working on the issue also came up with similar conclusions.

“We asked the students to develop a governance/management model for RUAS”, says Jako van Slooten, lecturer of among other subjects the before-mentioned minor (login op HR Intranet).  Van Slooten, originally a Controller, annually goes looking for practical assignments for the multidisciplinary minor. “With colleagues Dea Knol-Veldhuizen and professor Maaike Lycklama à Nijeholt we found out about ‘Sustainable Together’, a Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences programme, and we came up with the idea to have students get to work on our internal sustainability goals. We progressed step by step. One part of the assignment was to compare to other educational institutions throughout Europa and chart how they have anchored sustainability in their organisation.”

What RUAS can learn from the other educational institutions

“The comparison showed that the ‘best’ educational institutions have a number of similarities when it comes to sustainability, such as clear, measurable objectives and transparent reporting on their achievements. One of the recommendations of the students to RUAS was therefore that clear ambitions should be formulated at an organisational level, and these should be translated into individual objectives for each educational institute, research centre or service department, so that it is possible to monitor the extent to which the ambitions are realised. Some groups took it a step further by defining measurable control variables, both in the field of education and research and, for example, in energy consumption, the amount of waste produced or the carbon footprint.

It has been a great learning process. It has made clear that we, as an institution, stand at the beginning of the process. Various organisational units are ready to give substance to sustainability. It is now important to formulate the ambition clearly and to set deadlines”.

Valuable for student and school, a win-win situation

RBS dean, Mariska Wit, is also enthusiastic about the project and acknowledges what the students have observed. “The fact that we are using our in-house expertise of teachers and students, makes me very happy,” she says. “And that the Executive Board has allowed us the opportunity to do this. I was also pleased to hear back from the students that they appreciate the fact that sustainability is embedded in the study programmes and is not a last-minute concern. The Rotterdam Business School has also obtained the AISHE certificate, the accreditation for sustainability in higher education, on the basis of this education. Sustainability also plays a role in the staff we hire and the partners we work with. We interpret sustainability as a way of life, making sustainable choices to improve the world”.

“There is some truth, I find, in the other comments, that we do not communicate enough about sustainability in the sense of, for example, energy saving, water consumption or waste reduction at our location. We must do that in conjunction with the other study programmes and units. Overarching objectives will certainly help in this regard.”

“It is very valuable that we can present issues to our students," says Executive Board member, Wijnand van den Brink. “We therefore appreciate the results and their recommendations because they are of high quality. The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences has received critical feedback and recommendations to improve, which we take to heart. The students, in turn, have gained insight into a complex educational environment and now have knowledge of a current issue. It is fantastic to see how enthusiastically the students have worked on the assignment. Sustainability in the broad sense and making the impact measurable in order to keep moving forward is an issue that lives in more organisations, and what the students have now learned can be of benefit to them later on. A win-win situation, I would say.”

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