“A lot of people are looking to universities of technology for solutions, but Maastricht has a key role to play”

“A lot of people are looking to universities of technology for solutions, but Maastricht has a key role to play”

Second UM Star Show: who will lead us into a sustainable future?

14-06-2022 · Background

MAASTRICHT. There are plenty of ways to make the world more sustainable, but how can we ensure that it actually happens? That was the main question during the second edition of UM Star Show, an alumni event that was held last Wednesday evening at MECC Maastricht. Several hundred in-person and online attendees saw a panel of industry experts and politicians, among others, discuss questions from UM alumni.

“Climate change is no longer a technical problem. It’s a social challenge”, states panel member Erwin Coolen, an entrepreneur who has been working in the wind energy industry for almost thirty years. He has stepped in tonight to replace Diederik Samsom, Head of Cabinet of EVP Frans Timmermans, who had to drop out of the event due to family circumstances. The other experts on the panel agree with Coolen’s statement. Sustainable alternatives already exist; the next step is for people to feel the necessity to use them on a large scale.

The panel members see a role for UM in this development. “A lot of people are looking to universities of technology for solutions”, says Sander Geelen, CEO of Geelen Counterflow, a manufacturer of energy-efficient food processing equipment. “But it’s really about using technology that has already been developed. It’s about legal frameworks, new business and economic models, human behaviour – all things Maastricht excels at.”

Breaking ties

That’s why the university is making concerted efforts towards sustainability, explains UM President Rianne Letschert. Not just by striving to be a sustainable institution, but especially by focusing on the issue in teaching and research activities. Ultimately, the aim is to have an impact on society. Students are not always convinced that the university is making enough effort, Letschert has noticed. “But we have to make choices. Our budget is not unlimited.”

So how do you decide where the money goes? “You should break ties with companies or institutions that are not actively committed to the fight against climate change”, believes Geelen. “Focus only on the part of society that takes sustainability seriously.”

A new phase

But just looking to the people in charge isn’t enough, emphasise the panel members. It could have a big impact if everyone got involved and spoke up, says Donald Pols, CEO of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands). He cites the recent decision by Dutch pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, partly influenced by university employees making their voices heard in activist groups. “The takeaway message is this: don’t just be a consumer, but take your responsibility as a citizen.”

According to Letschert, people’s behaviour is already changing. “Students are always bringing up sustainability. That wasn’t the case ten or fifteen years ago. It gives me hope.” And alumni are showing keen interest, too. Last week, more than five hundred of them joined a new LinkedIn group on sustainability, created by alumni. It signals that the university has entered a new phase with regard to sustainability, with even more involvement of employees, students and alumni, is the hopeful message Letschert concludes the evening with.

This is the third part in a series of articles on sustainability at Maastricht University. The first one a about electrical vans you can find here, the second one about fighting food waste here.

The livestream of the UM Star Show can be viewed back here.

Photo: Still from livestream UM Star Show

Tags: sustainability,um star show,alumni,climate change,sustainable

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