Green travel competition: Green Office puts study societies on the path of sustainable travel

Daantje Berghuis

Internships in Suriname, an association trip to Sri Lanka or a study trip to Vilnius: students travel quite a lot. “There's nothing wrong with that, of course, because gaining international experience is an important part of studying,” says Daantje Berghuis, mobility coordinator at the Green Office. “But in the meantime, the university launched a campaign in 2019 to encourage employees to travel more sustainably and I was thinking about how students could join in on this.” This is what led Daantje to come up with Our Big Fat Green Trip, "a project in which study associations encourage each other to travel sustainably,” she explains in a phone call.   

While the university was developing campaigns for employees in 2019, Berghuis was also looking for a way to make students more enthusiastic about sustainable travel. After all, by 2030, the university aims to reduce the number of flights taken by students and staff by 50%. “The challenge was to reach students outside the Green Office's own sustainable supporters,” she explains. In conjunction with the Green Office, she therefore decided to get the 50+ study associations of Utrecht University involved in the project. Maries Koster, secretary of 'Sams', the Medical Students Faculty Association thinks that was a good idea, “students are more likely to read an e-mail from their study society than from the university. I think that we are acting as interpreters of university policy to students, that is where the power of study associations lies”.

You see more of the world from trains or buses than when you fly over it.

Dominique van Beekveld
SVF Cercle, the Utrecht study society for the French language and culture

Our Big Fat Green Trip

Berghuis launched the first edition of Our Big Fat Green Trip with a competition to encourage study associations to make greener travel plans. A 'green travel ranking' was drawn up, in which study associations were rated by means of transport type and distance to their destinations. The Green Office put 500 euros up for raffle among the first enthusiastic participants. On top of this, tips on low-cost bus companies, interesting destinations that are easily accessible by train and booking tips from green associations were collected and shared on social media to make the other societies realise that a great trip can just as easily be sustainable.

Recognition

SVF Cercle (study society for the French language and culture) is one of the associations participating in the project. For the last four years, the association has chosen to take the train. As Chair, Dominique van Beekveld remarks: “This has now become a tradition, because we want to travel as greenly as possible.”

Sustainable associations appreciate the recognition that they get from the university when the environment is taken into account in their plans, Maries and Dominique say. “Being a sustainable association, it's nice to get a reward from the university. In the meantime, this makes other associations think: we are lagging behind, we are not being environmentally aware,” says Dominique.

No sacrifice

Sustainable travel doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all, according to the two board members. The bus is ideal for a large group of students, and therefore not only sustainable but also simply practical, Maries believes. Dominique also finds that the trip becomes an experience in itself. "You get there quickly by plane, but we think it’s more fun to go by train; even the journey feels like a holiday as the atmosphere is just more fun, and you see more of the world from the train or bus than when you fly over it".

This year, some 13 associations have already opted for sustainable transport to their travel destinations. The Green Office will aim even higher next year and will reward associations that show an improvement with an extra prize. Hopefully, this will provide additional motivation for these societies to ignore the plane as well.