Idealists with a healthy dose of swagger
For many businesses, the coronavirus pandemic forced them to put their plans on hold. But not for Sustainer Homes. Founded by UCU alumni Gert van Vugt and Jacintha Baas, the company manufactures ‘radically sustainable’ wooden buildings with a self-designed modular construction system. With so many people working from home, there has actually been an unexpected surge in home purchases.
Two people with Sociology degrees who ended up in the construction sector: according to Jacintha, it’s not as strange as it may seem: ‘At the University College, you constantly learn to master new disciplines. You will have to learn new things in your working life as well.’ Gert: ‘You also get a healthy dose of swagger, and it’s a breeding ground for idealists.’
Kicked off campus
Both name Gerard van de Ree, lecturer in international relations and organiser of the honours course at the UCU, as someone who has had a formative influence on them. He taught students to think critically, but would also ‘kick them off campus’ to try things out themselves and look beyond the academic essays.
Outside of that campus, the pair saw that there was still plenty of work to be done on sustainability in the construction sector. This doesn’t mean they were able to jump in and make a difference straight away, Jacintha explains. ‘Not understanding something is sometimes just painful.’ Gert: ‘We discovered that some problems exist for a very good reason.’ Jacintha: ‘Nevertheless, we’ve managed to come up with something that is truly unique.’
Sustainable row houses are the best
With their approach, they have been able to create structures such as beautiful, sustainable villas. But they are most proud of the row houses, intended as social rentals, that they’re currently working on. Gert: ‘People who want to build their own sustainable house have lots of options to do so. You can really make an impact if you also build sustainable homes for people who aren’t specifically looking for that.’ Jacintha: ‘The more boring a home looks, the prouder I am.’ Gert compares it to the goal of producing slavery-free chocolate: ‘It’s still rare for now, but sustainable construction will eventually become the norm.’
"As students, Jacintha and Gert already stood out for their drive and eagerness to learn. Gert was a bit more of the words, Jacintha a bit more of the doing. During a class, Jacintha once said to me: 'I used to only want to make a lot of money. Now I want to think critically in order to bring about real change'. I really like how these two sides, the entrepreneurial side and critical thinking, have come together in Sustainer Homes. It's very inspiring to stay in touch with them and to introduce new generations of students to their approach." - Gerard van der Ree