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The road to a sustainable and bustling VU Campus

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has a clear vision and strong set of ambitions in the field of sustainability. To achieve them, the VU grounds are undergoing a complete overhaul to create a new, green campus. The project has three strategic aims, one of which is to increase activity and enhance the quality of life on the university campus, where nearly 30,000 people come daily to work and study. This will encompass the development of a sustainable VU campus, contributing to sustainable area development, improving the natural environment and fostering a blend of residential facilities and urban amenities. So how will these plans take shape over the years ahead? Hello Zuidas talked to Franc van Nunen, director campus development, and Willem Verduyn, real estate manager at VU Corporate Real Estate and Facilities (FCO), who is also the newly appointed board member of the Green Business Club Zuidas.

INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY

Years ago, VU's main building was located in the very heart of Amsterdam. But as the student body got bigger and space got tighter, the university traded the city centre for a new campus on De Boelelaan in the 1960s. 'Up until around 2005, many people felt that the university was located on the fringes of the city', Franc says. 'But given the pace of city development since then, we now find ourselves back in the thick of the urban structure. We couldn't be happier, but it also made us realize that we had to think about transitioning from what used to be a relatively closed and largely independent campus to one that's far more integrated with the area and everything that is happening here. We want to make ourselves more visible to the outside world and increase our accessibility, both now and in the future. Lots of people simply pass by the campus, but everyone is welcome to use our facilities or grab a coffee here.'

A SUSTAINABLE CAMPUS

One step on the way to creating a sustainable campus for research and education was the foundation of the Green Office in October of last year. This is a sustainability platform run by and for students and staff who are committed to a greener, more eco-friendly university. 'It has already given rise to a number of fantastic sustainable projects', says Willem. 'For instance, take Join The Pipe, an initiative to install drinking fountains all around the campus, where students can get drinking water and which has led to a drop in purchases of bottled water. Other examples are the creation of a rooftop garden and a recently unveiled charging point on the campus square, where people can charge their electronic devices using solar energy.'

Water and energy are two key components of the plans for greening the VU campus. VU Amsterdam and VU Medical Center have also jointly signed a water storage and management agreement with Waternet. 'This stems from our deep-seated awareness that as a major occupant in an area undergoing massive development, we have a serious responsibility to bear', explains Franc. 'Besides, we're also renewing our energy master plan, which involves upgrading the capacity of the existing power station to guarantee a reliable, affordable, sustainable and environmentally friendly on-campus energy supply for the next 15 years.'

SUSTAINABLE AREA DEVELOPMENT

Apart from creating a sustainable campus, VU Amsterdam is also keen to contribute to sustainable area development, as attested by its recent signing of the Sustainability Ambition Statement of the Zuidas Green Business Club.

'We're one of 25 organizations to have signed the statement, underscoring our commitment to sustainability efforts not only on campus, but also across the entire Zuidas district', explains Willem. 'We feel that we're an integral part of Zuidas and therefore also believe it's important to be an active local player. It's wonderful to be a part of the whole community here. Apart from the social dimensions, our main concerns are mobility and the green quality of the area. Thousands and thousands of visitors come here every day, so it's crucial that transport to and from the area is structured as sustainably as possible. And we are also working actively on water storage. One concern is to prevent flooding during heavy downpours. These are responsibilities that we all share here in Zuidas.'