Interview with Green Office coordinator Erwin Kerkhof

Works for: Dienst Huisvesting

Age: 39

GO coordinator since: November 2017

100% Future Friendly, that’s the name of the membrane research project Erwin is currently enrolled in. Together with Hannie Horvath he organizes a roadshow with an installation about the project around different buildings on campus with the aim to put sustainable research in the spotlight. The installation shows that you can generate electricity when fresh water and salt water come together, “which forms a great possibility to generate electricity at for example the Afsluitdijk and in river deltas, which are characterized by densely populated urban areas.” Erwin explains. The project is only a small part of the work Erwin does at the university. Another responsibility of him is coordinating the GO Green Office.

Why did you join GO Green Office?

“The office already existed for more than a year before I joined. Back in November 2017 I applied for the job of sustainability advisor at this university; the combination of making policies and the Green Office really appealed to me. I always have the aim to make the place where I work more sustainable and this university for me is like a small village within the city. A village where you can achieve concrete changes and where you can work together with enthusiastic and smart students on tangible projects. These project can have a direct impact, while making policies on the other hand always takes time before you can see a result. That’s why I like the combination so much.

GO Green Office TU/e got initiated because the university wanted to have more focus on sustainability. The team was a good opportunity to make this aim more comprehensible and palpable by actively involving students.”

What is your function within the team?

“I’m the sustainability advisor and coordinator of the team. I’m also ultimately responsible for the Green Office. As the only fixed member in a very dynamic team with many changes in its composition I try to maintain coherency and I try to be the link between the students and the higher levels of the university. I hope that I can give a bit of directions to where the office is heading and to our role within the university.”

What do you like the most about the work/team?

“I really enjoy the team dynamic and the students are always enthusiastic. I can see the progress students have made when they worked at the office for a couple of years. I give them a lot of freedom, mostly intentional, and I can see that the students take responsibility and that they almost always keep to agreements.”

After Erwin got interrupted by a phone call about the 100% Future Friendly installation, he continues; “this exactly shows the dynamism I like so much. At first it caused me a lot of stress, but now I often think “it will be fine”. You kind of have to, otherwise it will drive you crazy.”

What would you like to improve on the university with respect to sustainability?

“Phoeh. My wish is that we as a university, as a small village within the city, can become the city of the future. That we will become so sustainable that we can offer people a look at what the rest of the city will look like in the future. To show where we will develop towards in 20 to 30 years’ time. We have the knowledge, the location, people and money to do it.” Erwin grins; “Not everyone will agree with the last point though. However, I believe that we have to understand better what our goal is as university: to teach and give our students the right example since they will eventually determine what the world will look like in the near future.”

If you can give out any advise to your fellow students, what would it be?

“Try to continue with studying for as long as possible. Try to see something of the world (which might be a contradiction to sustainability) and try to find out what you really enjoy; that well-payed job and fancy Tesla will come anyway.”

What do you do to be more sustainable at a personal level?

“Me and my wife barely use our car, as we try to use the bike as much as possible. But I have to say we are not saints. From a sustainability standpoint, we became 95% vegetarians and insulated our house where possible. The next step will be to purchase solar panels. I started separating our waste only after I got my current job, so being sustainable is infectious in a way and it also becomes a bit of a game to live as sustainable as possible.”

Where do you want to work when you finished university?

“I currently don’t have the feeling that I’m finished with my work for this university. The university’s new sustainability vision needs to be rolled out and I want to see the results of this first before moving on. I don’t see myself leaving this place soon because I enjoy it a lot and like the freedom and dynamism of my job. My next step though would be to work abroad, preferably in England. I love the language and culture and visited it a lot on holidays. Furthermore, I already started building up a network overseas.”

If you could interview anyone on the topic of sustainability, who would it be?

“I would like to interview Berend Aanraad from the Natural Step. He helped creating the new sustainability vision and he is very good at expressing what this vision should be. Besides Berend, I would like to interview Barbara van der Ploeg; she works for the Smart Cities program within the Department of the Built Environment and has a strong view on sustainability at the campus. Next to that, she is able to think outside of the box.”

This interview is part of a series of interviews with GO Green Office members. Don’t forget to check out the other interviews in our blog if you want to learn more about the team!