Connie Hedegaard:”Sustainability is part of being an ordinary well-informed person”

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As a student or AU employee, you have to know something about sustainability. And you also have to do something to help make AU more sustainable. This is AU Board chair Connie Hedegaard’s message to all of us. And she’s excited that AU will soon have a sustainability strategy.

2019.03.21 | Lene Ravn

Connie Hedegaard, chair of AU’s board, has pushed for the development a sustainability strategy for AU, and she encourages all students and employees to contribute their ideas. Photo: Lars Kruse

Facts: Connie Hedegaard and the climate

In 2004, Hedegaard was appointed Minister of the Environment, and in 2007, she became Minister for the Climate and Energy.

The EU’s first climate action commissioner from 2010 to 2014.

Minister for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen.

Appointed chair of the board at the green think tank Concito and chair of the environmental foundation KR Foundation in 2015.

Member of AU’s board since 2014; appointed chair in 2017.

The conference: How do we create a more sustainable AU?

 

Translation: Lenore Messick.

The time is now. We have to focus on the travel habits of AU’s researchers, food waste and smart light switches. These are the most effective steps AU can take to become more sustainable, according to Connie Hedegaard, chair of AU’s board.

A long-time advocate for environmental protection, she has served as minister for climate and energy in Denmark and was EU’s first climate action commissioner. And as chair of AU’s board, she has repeatedly proposed that the university adopt a sustainability strategy, because she believes that the university needs to walk the sustainability talk:

“Sustainability is not just something we need to do research on and tell other people what they can do about. The board perceives AU as a huge workplace and institution for thousands of people who have an independent responsibility,” Hedegaard says.

Now AU has decided to prioritize the development of a sustainability strategy, and the first step is a conference on March 21: “How do we create a more sustainable AU?”

The conference is conceived as a big collective brainstorm about what AU can do for the climate and the environment, because according to Hedegaard, the content of the strategy shouldn’t be decided by the board:

“It’s not as if we’ve decided in advance how it has to be – and neither has the senior management team. There’s a genuine receptiveness to seeing what kinds of good ideas can come out of it.” 

As it turns out, a lot of people are interested in that brainstorm, and the 150 seats at the conference were already taken by the end of February.

Sustainable brainstorm

Hedegaard thinks it’s important to address the more sensitive issues at the conference – our habits.

“Talking about sustainability is also about the difficult issues – that is, the culture among the researchers – including the whole discussion about whether you should fly every time you have to go to a research-related event. Sometimes, it’s really important to meet at conferences, but couldn’t some meetings be held virtually once and awhile with the aid of some up-to-date equipment? I hope that people will take up these habits at the conference, get really concrete and ask: What are we actually doing within our own sector?”

Everyone has to contribute

She stresses that the board doesn’t have a formula for what AU’s sustainability policy should look like:

“It’s not the board’s job to say ‘You have to do this and that’. We’re holding a conference, but yes, I do expect that it will be about energy consumption, transportation and food waste,” she says. 

Hedegaard also points to concrete measures such as purchasing energy-efficiency rated computers, including sustainability as a parameter in tender documents and AU’s own investments. 

What is the most effective step AU can take?

“Probably in relation to electricity. Are there lights that turn off automatically everywhere, so lights and machines aren’t running when no one’s using them? This would make a big difference. In fact, a bigger difference that people often assume, and the investment often pays for itself quite fast.”

Sustainability is ordinary 

A number of people have already submitted their ideas for making AU more sustainable in advance of the conference, and in preparation for today’s interview, Omnibus also asked the Green Student Movement and Associate Professor Anders Sanchez Barfod, Department of Bioscience, for their proposals.

We put one of the Green Student Movement’s proposals to Hedegaard:

“AU should introduce a sustainability course in every degree programme about how the particular degree programme should to act in relation to climate change and environmental protection.”

“I don’t know if I agree with that. I think that it should be integrated into almost all degree programmes. For example, should you be able to graduate with a Master’s in economics from Aarhus University without some elementary knowledge of the world’s sustainability challenge? I believe that modern graduates at a modern university should have been introduced to that. Because sustainability is part of being an ordinary well-informed person these days. But whether it should be a separate course  is not for the board to decide,” she says.

We move on to another of the Green Student Movement’s proposals:

Single-use tableware must be sustainable, and we have to get rid of the plastic cups.

“That sounds very down-to-earth, and the kind of thing that can be done relatively quickly – possibly even including plastic bottles.”

The movement also proposes:

All food at AU must be sustainably produced.

“That sound really great, but we have to have a discussion about what that means in practice. There would really be a lot of different opinions about that. For example, does it mean that everything has to be organic, or just that it’s locally produced?”

What if you believe that AU should be meat-free?

“I don’t know if we can agree on that at AU. A solution might be to make a requirement for a meat-free alternative or decide that we don’t serve red meat when we have guests from outside. There are myriads of options in all of these areas,” Hedegaard says.

Printers on vacation

Anders Sanchez Barfod, associate professor at the Department of Bioscience, suggests:

AU should lead the way and use its own grounds to demonstrate innovative solutions that are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals – concretely by fostering nature and biodiversity on the local level in the University Park.

“We need to know more about what that would involve, but the line of thought is interesting. Because after all, it’s not just about what’s inside the buildings, but also about our surroundings. We are one of the most advanced institutions of knowledge that knows most about nature and the environment, and we ought to use that. I hope that he’s willing to get involved in this, so we go farther than just positive declarations on my part. We have to dig deeper,” Hedegaard concludes.

Other people think we should print out less. Do you agree?

“Yes. I have a lot of faith in Educational IT, where you conceptualize teaching digitally, and everything is turned in digitally. And I imagine that we’ve already pretty far down that road. At least we are on the board. We don’t sit there and use a lot of paper – things are sent out electronically, and in that way things are already a lot different than a few years ago.”

Facts: Connie Hedegaard and the climate

In 2004, Hedegaard was appointed Minister of the Environment, and in 2007, she became Minister for the Climate and Energy.

The EU’s first climate action commissioner from 2010 to 2014.

Minister for the 2009 United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen.

Appointed chair of the board at the green think tank Concito and chair of the environmental foundation KR Foundation in 2015.

Member of AU’s board since 2014; appointed chair in 2017.

The conference: How do we create a more sustainable AU?

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