Column: Otto Kaaij

Everyday Sustainability

The climate crisis is so important that sustainability must be included in every single decision, writes Otto Kaaij, our new student columnist. While he believes that TU Delft is making good progress, it is not there yet and an advertising hoarding is the crazy proof of this.

Otto Kaaij zit op een bankje

Right at the very end of the EEMCS building is the entrance to the Electrical Sustainable Power (ESP) Lab. In front of the door is an advertising hoarding which has been driving me nuts for months.

The hoarding consists of two posters and two large TV screens. A slide show of 14 photos rotates continuously on the screens. I have cycled past so often that I know them all. Two empty office chairs? Check. Dilan Yeşilgöz pressing a green button? Check. A man soldering? Check. On dark wet evenings, the screens are visible all the way from the IDE building.

To me the hoarding symbolises the fact that TU Delft has a long way to go in terms of sustainability.

Let me explain. TU Delft is working hard on sustainability. New buildings – such as Echo and Flux – are built with a large sustainability factor; canteens are vegetarian; and the campus is switching to sustainable geothermal heating.

Of course it is not yet perfect. Three professors are paid by Shell (but we do not know which ones!), and, despite ‘sustainable aviation’ clearly being a contradiction in terms, TU Delft is working with others on greenwashing the aviation sector.

We need a culture change and social safety

But while it looks like TU Delft is making good progress, something is clearly missing. I suspect that it is because decisions about sustainability are almost always taken in meetings and in projects that are already about sustainability.

But the climate crisis is so important that sustainability must be included in every single decision. From the small things such as an advertising hoarding to the big things such as undertaking certain research or partnerships or not, or whether to attend a conference or not. We should not only think about sustainability when the topic is sustainability itself, we must always think about sustainability. Exactly when decisions seem to be unrelated to sustainability is there much ground to be won. We need – forgive me for the buzzwords – a culture change and social safety for this.

A culture change where it is okay – no, desirable – to not do something or do it more austerely with sustainability as the only reason. And where we always weigh up the usefulness of what we are doing against the climate impact in our everyday meetings and thus avoid bad decisions such as the advertising hoarding in the ESP Lab.

And social safety so that everyone working at the ESP Lab can ask the boss without fearing repercussions whether it would be a good idea to choose the best photo in the slide show of 14 photos and use it on a poster (my vote goes to the moving photo of a walking man!).

Otto Kaaij is a Computer Sciences master’s student and musician. As a computer scientist he is passionate about algorithms, science communication and sustainable software, and as a musician he tries to work with as wide a spectrum of music as he can.

Columnist Otto Kaaij

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