The green hero we didn’t know we needed: The Sustainability Committee

As Europe On Track edition 5 already stated, ‘Go green or go home’. An AEGEE committee that takes this opinion to heart is the newly established Sustainability Committee. Sustainability is and is going to be an important topic as our world is changing and facing enormous environmental, social and economical challenges. In this interview AEGEE’s new green engine introduces itself.

Thank you, Julia and Diederik, for participating in this interview! Can you tell us what the Sustainability Committee is all about and who the current members are?

The Sustainability Committee of AEGEE-Europe was established in the light of the current climate and sustainability crisis and its harmful impact. We strive for a systematic cultural change within AEGEE which fosters a sustainable mindset and introduces a sustainable behavior in all of AEGEE’s facets.

In order to reach these goals we measure AEGEE’s impact on the environment and other relevant aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as improving the sustainability standards of AEGEE and educating and motivating the network to act in accordance with these standards. As one of Europe’s biggest interdisciplinary student organizations, it is important that AEGEE sets an example for its members, other big organizations and young Europeans. 

We currently have 11 motivated members: Anne Altenburg, Diederik de Wit, Ilona Vieten, Jana Niedringhaus, Julia Gospodinova, Julian van Loo, Laura García Rueda, Maartje Zaal, Marie-Claire Graf, Martyna Giera and Teresa Oberhauser.

What are some of the tasks your committee (wants to) takes upon itself?

Our main aims are measurement, implementation and education.

Measurement: In order to improve something, we need to know where we stand at the moment with regard to sustainability. We are going to prepare criteria with which we can measure the sustainability of European events and European AEGEE bodies according to the UN’s SDGs. We might want to do the same for AEGEE locals in the future.

Implementation: Knowing where the weak points of the network are, we will try to implement systematic cultural changes within the network, which will lead to the overall improvement of sustainability in AEGEE.

Education: The topic of sustainability is broad and often scary-looking, but we will try to break it down and explain what it is, why it is important and how we, as individuals and as a community, contribute to a better future.

Why do you think sustainability is such an important topic within AEGEE?

AEGEE has a wide reach around Europe, and has the possibility of raising awareness and teaching many people about sustainability. Things like sustainability, climate change, loss of biodiversity are unfortunately still largely misunderstood, or underestimated, as it can be a VERY difficult topic. We, as a committee, hope to change that.

In our network there is a lot of potential to improve our impact on the environment. We travel a lot, we have many events and due to that our ecological footprint is naturally high. So AEGEE should take a little bit of more responsibility for its actions and adapt to the political and social changes we see in the world.

What are the big (environmental) issues within AEGEE that you would like to see differently? How would you like to change this?

This is certainly a big question. One of the first key points is travelling. With a network spread from Baky to Manchester and from Gran Canaria to Tartu and so many events taking place all over Europe, AEGEE is responsible for many emissions. We would like to promote more sustainable ways of travelling, suggest alternatives to flying whenever possible and  introduce bigger reimbursements if a sustainable option is taken. Carbon offsets are also something we might try to introduce. 

Another big issue during events is the produced waste. It is common to see lots of flyers or plastic cups filling the garbage bags during an Agora or an EPM. We are going to work closely with the main organizers in order to reduce that to a minimum. We want to make sure that if there is trash, it is going to be divided and recycled accordingly. In a perfect world AEGEE could become zero waste, but we still need to take many little steps in that direction.

The biggest challenge will be changing the way the members think about sustainability. A big issue is the love AEGEEans have for merchandise. Stacks of T-shirts, 20 stickers, new sunglasses and a batch of condoms – there is everything you can think of. But do you really need this new T-shirt? Or will it be still another AEGEE T-shirt dying into oblivion on the back of your shelf?

How do you want AEGEE members to get involved? 

We want them to get involved in so many ways!

Like many may have probably seen, at this moment AEGEE members could be involved with our Veggie challenge for Agora Yerevan! The production of meat is notorious for the amount of water and resources it needs in comparison with plant-based alternatives (around 20% of the world’s carbon emissions). Having vegetarian or vegan meals during events will definitely bring a smile to the face of Mother Earth. The idea is that we could raise the percentage of Aegeeans that choose a vegetarian or vegan diet during Agora Yerevan. 

Although a lot of people are not ready to give up meat and that is not necessary either, moderation is the golden answer. If people ate meat just once or twice a week, this would have an enormous effect on our environment. Hence even if there was a global meatless Tuesday, the impact would be remarkable. But back to our challenge – The Agora takes 5 days. 5 days without meat. Can you do that? Show us! 

Another campaign that is gradually being implemented more and more is ‘Bring your own cup!’. The campaign was started by SEIG and we are beginning to enlarge the campaign with ‘bring your own cup, cutlery, lanyard etc.’ This enlargement sounds like a lot, but you will be surprised by how big the impact of bringing your own items is. Oh, and it takes up little space in your suitcase, so it’s a win-win situation for you and the environment!

– Talking about the Veggie Challenge, what is your favorite vegetarian meal?

Curry with sweet potatoes and carrots is a big favorite of the committee, but more of our favorites are listed in our recipe book. Don’t forget to check it out! It contains about twenty vegetarian recipes with quantities for bigger groups. You could use them to cook for Summer Universities, local events or just together with your AEGEE friends.