Sustainable places in Leiden and The Hague

Are you a new student at Leiden University and finding your way around? Or just looking for some more sustainable places in the area? Then you’ve come to the right place! We’ve listed some of our favourite ‘green’ spots in Leiden and The Hague for you below. And feel free to let us know if we’ve missed any of your favourite sustainable spots.


  • Zaailing  (they also have refillable washing liquid)
  • Verpakkingsvrije winkel (plastic free shopping, will be opening up again soon)
  • EkoPlaza (first supermarket in The Netherlands to open a plastic-free aisle)
  • “Leidse Markt” (Leiden) on Wednesday and Friday, along the Botermarkt, Vismarkt, Aalmarkt en Nieuwe Rijn
  • “De Haagse Markt” (The Hague) on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, along the Herman Costerstraat


  • WAAR (cute gift store)
  • Dille & Kamille
  • Plantenasiel (collect or bring unwanted plants)
  • Holland & Barrett
  • Het Warenhuis (second-hand store for furniture)
  • Wegwerpwinkel (second-hand store)

Clothing shops:

  • Het Warenhuis
  • VNTG
  • Hartendief
  • Vintage Island

Other interesting green stuff:

  • DuKo The Hague (sustainable discounts for students!)
  • Conscious Kitchen (a cheap, yummy dinner with left-overs from the local market – you can also cook yourself!)
  • InStock The Hague (almost over-date food from Albert Heijn is turned into delicious meals)
  • PLNT (a creative space for entrepreneurs and projects)
  • Vrijplaats (all-round cool place to hang out)

Book Club – No Impact Man

Book Review of Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man







Read this book to find out what it’s like to live with no net environmental impact for 1 full year in a Manhattan-based apartment. One family. One year. No negative environmental impact. Meanwhile they just had their first child, a daughter of 1.  

By Nadia Bouwsma

Ever felt completely ridiculous to go to the gym to run in the same place on an electronic device? For 1 year Colin Beavan and his family turned off their electricity, they went on an organic diet, cycled much more, and decided to not use plastic or toxins in their day-to-day life.

In ‘The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process,’ a.k.a. ‘No Impact Man,’ Colin Beavan details how he and his family transformed their lifestyle in a no impact manner. This meant no using elevators, no pre-packaged products, no television, no subway, and no trash.

Do you think this could be possible while living in one of the most expensive areas in the world? Or is creating an environmental impact an inescapable part of living a modern lifestyle? Beavan broke down his life into six areas: trash, sustainable eating (eat local), reduced power use, environmentally-friendly water use, carbon-producing transportation (live without), and inconspicuous consumption (not buying new) and explains how he tackled each area in the book, and has in addition listed many concrete action points on the website,

Read Colin Beavan’s book ‘No Impact Man’ or watch the documentary with the same title to find out how you can make your life have the least amount of negative environmental impact possible and Beavan also speaks of building a positive environmental impact. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.


More resources

TEDxPotomac – Colin Beavan – To Hell with Sustainability:

What’s good for people and for the planet: On how to create the most sustainable lifestyle.

No Impact Man – The Documentary

Follow the Beavan family as they commit to making no net environmental impact for a full year while living in an Manhattan-based apartment.

No Impact Man – The Book

More detailed experiences on what it’s like to live a no negative impact lifestyle in urban Manhattan.

Colin Beavan – No Impact Man – Interview with ABC Radio

On how his own lifestyle was contributing to the problem


Conscious Kitchen Leiden

By Mathis Gilsbach

With the vegan month coming to an end, the question is: what now? Many of you may have found new inspiration in the vegan recipes posted during the month and don‘t want to eat anything else anymore. Others may still feel like they could use some more inspiration. In any case, everybody will appreciate cheap vegan meals that, on top, fight foodwaste.

That is the Conscious Kitchen. Originally founded in The Hague and  leading the cooking combat against food waste they throw food from the market into their pans and pots instead of the bins.

Guess what, they are coming to Leiden!

This Sunday, the 29th of April, they will host their very first official Dinner in Leiden at the Rapenburg 100.

So grab a friend and an empty stomach and come for a delicious vegan meal and lovely people. The plan is that there is a dinner every second Sunday from now on.

Reflections on the Funky Phone Challenge: Why should we recycle our mobile devices?

By: Mathis Gilsbach and aleksandra jovanovic

Whether you are  reading this article on a smartphone right now, or a laptop, it most definitely will be an electronic device with a screen, unless you had somebody write down this article per hand for your reading pleasure. All kinds of electronic devices, most notably, smartphones and computers have become omnipresent in our lives, to the extent that we wouldn’t even know how to survive without. But what happens when our smartphones and other devices, end their life of service. We use them daily but seldom think about what materials are in the electronic products we use every day, we don‘t know where the resources to make them come from nor what happens to them after we throw them away.

To give you some more information about these topics we decided to write an informative article on e-waste.

What is e-waste?

E-waste refers to any electronic device that is being discarded, either because it is defunct or because it is being replaced by a new one. To get a sense of scale, worldwide we produce about 50 million tons of e-waste every single year, tendency rising. And alone in the US over 57 million phones are thrown away per year.


Why should you care about e-waste:

There are two main arguments: the moral argument and the economic argument.

In the current system a large amount of our e-waste gets dumped in garbage sites in Africa and Asia where locals, often children, almost always under horrendous conditions sort the trash to get everything out that is remotely valuable. They are working without any notable protection, surrounded by toxic clouds, emanating from the burning plastic piles. This has to do with a lack of regulation in the export market for e-waste. With an increase in recycling there would be a strong incentive to keep the e-waste and recycle it properly instead of exporting it to dumping sites on the other side of the world.

Source: National Geographic

The economic argument is as follows: at the current rate of use, many of the materials required for electronic products will only last for about 10-20 years if we get them fresh from the mines. At the same time there are millions and millions of phones which are being thrown away each year. And the depth of recycling, how much of the materials can be re-used if properly recycled is rather high at around 95%. When the mined materials will become sparser, recycling will only become more profitable: To give an example, in one Smartphone are on average 30mg of gold and 305mg of Silver. That may not seem like much but but if you compare how much gold you get out of 1000kg of smartphones versus 1000kg of rubble in a mine, the numbers become more impressive, from the phones you can get about 300g of gold and from the rubble only about 3g. Now combine that with the enormous amount of thrown away phones and it becomes a substantial source for materials.

Samsung SGH-X660 – rear cover and printed circuit board

Funky Phone Challenge: Lets collect and recycle those unused phones!

It now becomes clear that traditional mobile phones and smartphones are more precious that we are actually aware of.  However, besides creating awareness on the potential of e-waste recycling, our goal is to stimulate YOU to get your unused phones a better future. Dear human beings, it is time for some action!

The most important measure for increasing the optimization potentials in the recycling chain for smartphones is clearly to raise the currently low collection rates.
This is just one of the many reasons Leiden University Green Office decided to participate in the Funky Phone Challenge organized by E-Waste Arcades. E-Waste Arcades is a young and sustainable startup from Eindhoven, founded by designer Joris Petterson and transition scientist Timmy de Vos. In this competition, we are accepting the challenge of collecting as many old phones as possible. This way, the unused mobile devices can be either refurbished or recycled for which the raw materials are brought back into the cycle. Circular economy it is!

A Unique Collection Infrastructure

Of course, the young entrepreneurs are aware that an improved collection infrastrure with targeted information is needed to increase the collection rate, and hence, recycling rate.
The old phones are collected with the E-waste Arcade: a game console cabinet built from discarded electronics that reward you with fun games for returning a discarded phone. Lets make recycling fun!

So instead of your phones lying around your home(s) or ending up in developing countries via illegal exports of waste equipment, you can choose a better future for these mobile devices.
And, why not recycle while playing a game against your friends during a study break? No challenge is possible without YOU… We need your help! Lets beat those other universities!

Phones can be handed in until the 8th of February.
Also: you can get a FREE voucher for a soup from uw this week from 11am-13pm at the E-Waste Arcade (Lipsius).

To keep track of the collected phones, see:

Style vs. Sustainability: Can we do fashion better?


By: Kashish Masood

Hi everyone! The last couple of months was an exciting period for us, and hopefully for you as well, as it was packed with events about sustainable fashion. There was a clothing swap organized by our own Leiden University Green Office (LUGO) right here in Leiden. Other cities also had active events going on such as the clothing swap organized by Qure in Rotterdam.
With so much buzz around the topic of sustainable fashion, I thought that would be nice to dive a bit deeper into the topic and explore what taking such actions actually means for us and the environment. Don’t worry though, I’ll do my utmost best to keep this article from turning into a snooze fest. So, without further ado; let’s see what sustainable fashion has to offer us!


Birthday time!

Starting right off the bat, let’s put the focus for a second on an important recurring event; birthdays. For many of us this means lots of yummy cake, drinks, wrapped presents, and laughter with friends. But, after this period is over, what happens to all the gifts we got that we are actually not using? A lot of them end up in the dumpster never to see the light of day again or keep on lying around your house, unused. For example that jumper from your lovely granny that just does not fit you… So how can we be more eco-friendly and sustainable this season? This might not even require huge changes but some little differences in our shopping habits. If you don’t have a lot of money to spare on sustainable gifts, why not have fun crafting DIY gifts for all your loved ones? A personalized gift is sure to leave a memorable impression on your loved ones without you breaking the bank and being sustainable at the same time. I’d call that a win-win situation for sure!

Style vs. sustainability?

Now some of you fashion lovers out there might be wondering whether there are high quality fashion pieces available on the sustainable side. Well, with an ever increasing interest in sustainable fashion, ethical fashion brands are on the rise as they know are realizing a potential market for their products. Some examples of these brands include Rent the Runway and Veja. Rent the Runway’s motto is literally “Endless styles. Infinite possibilities.” This brand rents off outfits that have been seen on the runway and in this way stimulates the sharing economy. This means your clothes do not end up in the back of your closet but are rotated in a closed loop system. The Netherlands has its own starting version of this called the LENA fashion library. Another brand making a name for itself Veja, which focuses on producing sustainable sneakers that actually look good as well.

Can we do fashion better?

So going back to the starting question now, can we do fashion better? Using fashion libraries is certainly a start and buying from ethical brands will result in an overturn of negative environmental effects that the fast fashion industry causes. But the truth is, it’s a gradual process. These ethical fashion brands need an ever growing market to keep up with high production costs otherwise a high price tag is the only result we’ll get. We need a big effect. Through mine, yours and everyone else’s small contributions. So let’s get started!


E-waste. What about our university’s electronics?

Source: e-waste collective

At a university with around 35,000 students and employees there are also many computers, phones and tablets about. Each device is written off every several years to make space for new, improved electronics. But what happens to all the old devices? Wim van den Berg, Co-ordinator Work Area Support of the ICT Shared Service Center (ISSC), answers some of LUGO’s questions.

By: Aoife Fleming

What does the lifecycle of electronic devices within the university look like?

Wim: Since 2014 the ownership of devices lies with the faculties. This means that each faculty can decide when to buy new devices and when to get rid of old. We recommend buying new computers every four years but in practice this can vary a lot. For example, the budget of the faculty of science is very dependent on research funds, so some computers are seven years old and have been handed down to students or researchers.

Does sustainability play a role in the acquiring of electronics?

Wim: Every four years a committee draws up criteria for the devices, sustainability is definitely a part of this. When selecting a new producer we look at various aspects of sustainability. For example, how are the computers packed and transported, what materials are they made of and how much energy do they use? In the end the producer with the most favourable deal, which also means looking at the finances, gets a contract for one year.

What happens to the computers when they are written off?

Wim: We have a contract with a Leiden based company called Infotheek. We collect all the devices and then Infotheek takes care of the rest. They wipe all the data from the devices so they’re untraceable to the university. Infotheek also refurbishes old electronics which means that our old computers can be reused again in schools for example. This process works well for computers, with tablets and phones it’s harder. Old phones end up in a drawer or are handed down to an employee’s cousin. Unfortunately this means that I don’t have any idea whether these devices are recycled responsibly or whether they just end up in the bin.

What possibilities do you see to ensure a responsible recycling for phones and tablets?

Wim: There are around 7500 work places in the university, which means it’s virtually impossible to account for everything that happens. The best way to get a grip on the recycling of old devices is through regulation. A better collaboration between the ISSC and the Staff- and Organisation Services is key to this. The S&O Services are the ones who deal with an employee leaving the university. At that point there is a good opportunity to take the electronics back again and make sure they are recycled responsibly. I also see the Funky Phone Challenge that LUGO is participating in as a great initiative to prevent phones from ending up in the bin. In the end we live in a time period where it’s not possible anymore to lack behind on the subject of sustainability.


Do you have an old phone at home? Bring it to the e-waste arcade and set a new high score! The Funky Phone Challenge continues until the 8th of February.

How Your Old Phone is Polluting Nigeria

Have you ever wondered what has happened to your old phone? Is it in some drawer, did you exchange it for a newer model or did it end up on a landfill in a developing country? This last scenario is very likely because it is cheaper to transport our e-waste to developing countries than recycle it ourselves. This was one the confronting facts shared by Chimere Ohajinwa, a public health specialist, during Green Office’s first lunch lecture.

The e-waste lunch-lecture, December 11th, 2017.

Research in Nigeria

Ohajinwa’s talk was centred on the topic of e-waste, an issue she has spent much time researching and reporting on. E-waste is short for electronic waste and includes any discarded household devices, phones, laptops etc. For her PhD research at Leiden University’s Institute of Environmental Sciences, Ohajinwa travelled to three different locations in Nigeria to conduct tests on the level of environmental pollution on and around e-waste processing sites. Her results leave little doubt: action has to be taken for the sake of the environment and workers’ health.

Valuable e-waste

E-waste recycling is the most expensive type of recycling compared to, for example, paper or plastics. This makes it unattractive for governments to invest in sufficient collecting and processing infrastructure. “In developed countries it is more expensive to repair our old phone than to buy a new one. In developing countries the opposite is true.” This leads to large-scale informal collection and unregulated processing in developing countries, where for example useless devices are burned to extract valuable metals and minerals.

 Source: Al Jazeera News

Workers’ health

Processing e-waste in unprotected ways leads to soil contamination and exposes workers to serious health issues. In many developing countries workers, including pregnant women and children, work on the processing of e-waste without special protection gear such as gloves and masks. The effects of breathing in and touching certain chemicals during the process of extracting the valuable metals and minerals can manifest years later, for example through respiratory problems or cancer. Ohajinwa emphasises the lack of awareness amongst workers. “When I ask workers if they have suffered any occupational injuries they think of cuts and blood. They don’t link the growth of cancer twenty years down the line to their current jobs.” This means that workers won’t demand special protection gear. However, Ohajinwa emphasises, a radical improvement of the situation doesn’t lie solely with the workers. “For them it is about getting on day to day.” The ones having to take responsibility are consumers in the West. We have to make demands for better regulation of where our e-waste ends up.

 Source: Al Jazeera News

Governmental action

One of the solutions Ohajinwa sees to this issue is to have more effective enforcement of imports and exports legislation. “The e-waste business works as a cartel involing some illegal trades” Ohajinwa explains. For every 25% of useful e-waste, businesses in developing countries are also forced to take 75% old electronic devices that are useless to them. If there would be fairer trade deals these businesses would be more profitable and could provide better circumstances for their workers. Nonetheless, she also thinks more awareness should be raised amongst the workers to demand special protective gear and better work circumstances. However 66% of Africa’s economy is informal, with similar values across Asia. The e-waste industry in developing countries is largely unregulated, which makes effective governmental enforcement very hard.

 Source: Al Jazeera News

Join the E-Waste campaign!

If you want to recycle responsibly, join the Green Office’s Funky Phone Challenge.
On the 15th of January the Green Office will place an E-Waste Arcade at Lipsius. This is an old-fashioned game arcade, that collects mobile phones in exchange for an interactive game! All the collected e-waste will be recycled responsibly by E-Waste Arcades.

The E-waste arcade: let’s make recycling fun!

If you are interested in finding out more about this challenge, join the Green Office for the second Lunch-Lecture by Timmy de Vos, co-organizer of the Funky Phone Challenge, on January 15th from 13:00 – 14:30 at Plexus Spectruumzaal.

See you there (and bring those old phones from your homes)!

Let’s talk about Veganism!

Authors: Kirsten Steunenberg and Aleksandra Jovanovic

In the blog Reflections on the  LUGO Challenge – What is veganism?, we introduced our readers to the concept of veganism and its effects on our environment. But, what is it like to be vegan?  LUGO has interviewed two students from our university that were more than happy to tell us more about their personal lifestyle and what triggered them to become vegan or try the plant-based diet out. Let’s talk about veganism!


For how long have you been vegan and what spurred you to become Vegan?

Saskia: I have been vegan for 2,5 years now.  I have always been busy with topics such as nature, climate change and environmental preservation. However, there was one moment in my life that has changed my personal lifestyle.
During a holiday, my friend and I were driving to the beach with the car, the air conditioning on its maximum level At one point, we started to have a discussion global environmental issues, and that we should think of how to change the current situation on an individual level. However, I realized that what we were doing at that moment (driving the car, full on airco) was everything but sustainable.
This situation triggered me to do some research on how to decrease my ecological impact on the environment. This soon brought me to the topic of veganism. I got super into it and I decided to try the vegan lifestyle.

Do you miss certain things in your diet?


Saskia: Well, I am a big cake lover… If I have lunch with a friend, we usually share a nice cake together. So, that’s something that I am finding difficult as a vegan, as sometimes there are no vegan options. However, I always try to bring my friends to places that are vegan-friendly and offer many alternatives for me as a cake lover! There are so many vegan lunchrooms these days, but this does need some prior research.

How do you substitute the things that you miss?

Saskia: When I first started reading about veganism, my first reaction was: No way … How can I replace my daily yogurt with muesli and fruits. I am so used to this, I can’t do this!
Yet, I soon realized that I can substitute my dairy breakfast with many plant-based options. For breakfast, I love to have fruit smoothies with almond milk. Or… oatmeal!

Breakfast time! Oatmeal with oatmilk, cinnamon, fruits, dates and goji berries…

Also, I have always been a cheese lover, but I sometimes treat myself with vegan cheese from organic supermarkets. Also ‘edelgistvlokken’ (nutrional yeast) is a good substitute for grated parmesan cheese for pasta dishes. So, there are replacements for everything these days!

Vegan Pasta Pesto: one of my favorite dishes.


Sometimes people can be quite negative and ‘joky’ about vegans. How do you deal with this?

Saskia: I think that this negativity around the word ‘vegan’ mainly comes forth
from human ignorance. Some people are just not aware of what veganism entails and think in a very simplistic manner. ‘Oh, vegans just eat carrots and cabbage. They are not getting enough proteins…’. These just some stereotypical examples.
One of the most negative personal experiences was during a day of work at a beach restaurant I have been working at.  A man came to pay his bill and said that he really enjoyed his piece of bavette (steak). He asked me whether I have ever tried one. I answered him that I do not eat meat, so that I have not tried it. 
His first reaction: Ridiculous! ‘These cows are slaughtered anyway… and soybean plantations are super bad for the environment’. At that point I thought to myself ‘Yes, but the majority of these beans are fed to the cattle…’. But, I had to hold myself from getting into that discussion.
Even though I felt quite mad inside, I thanked him for his feedback and wished him a pleasant day thinking ‘I chose to be vegan for myself, not for others, and I do not I do not work here to impose on others what they should and should not eat, I rather give them more options to choose from’.

Do you have some last words that you want to share with your reader?

When you start to eat more plant-based food, do not force yourself to give up everything non-vegan all at once. Do try to focus on the things that you can eat. There are so many vegan options that will only let you discover new tasty things and experiment with that! Also, sometimes it is okay to choose a  middleway. Especially in the beginning of a vegan challenge: you do not have to be full-on vegan. It’s already a great thing if you are vegan for a couple of days a week.

I think the most important thing is to stay conscious about what you are consuming and where it comes from. That consciousness is very meaningful, and from there you can make your own personal choices that will have a more positive impact on the environment.
Broaden your food horizon with creative alternatives!


How did you hear about the LUGO Vegan Challenge?

Vera: I heard about Leiden University Green Office for the first time at an information market from the University. LUGO had a stand over there to inform students about their activities and tell their goals. This made me enthusiastic and I decided to like LUGO on Facebook to stay up-to-date on their activities.
So, Facebook was also the platform where I first heard about the Vegan Challenge. I informed my roommates about the challenge, because I live in a house where we all try to live as sustainable as possible.


What was your first reaction?

Vera: At first I was quite enthusiastic, and one of my roommates as well. We decided to participate in the Vegan Challenge together. I have been a vegetarian for about 2,5 years already and I don’t have any issues with this whatsoever. This made me think that eating vegan for a month would be quite easy as well.

What did you eat in the first week of the challenge? How did you feel: stronger, weaker, tired, hungry?


Vera: Hummus! *Laughs* Lots of hummus… On top of that, my roommate is a really good cook and she loves to explore the vegan cuisine. She cooked us delicious, creative meals with tofu, tempeh and lots of vegetables. Cooking our own soup also turned out to be really easy and delicious as well.

But, I have to admit that the vegan challenge took place in a really busy period of the year. The exams were coming up and I had some other things to work on as well. Therefore, I didn’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking the delicious vegan meals that are around.

At first I felt really good, although the vegan challenge was harder than expected. As a vegetarian I thought skipping on other animal products would be easy, but some people around me didn’t really get why I wanted to try this and I was struggling more than expected. After two weeks I became sick and I honestly don’t know if this was because of a lack of nutrients. I decided that, with the exams coming up, going back to my old vegetarian diet was a smart choice to make sure that I would feel better soon. After almost three weeks I quit the vegan challenge for that reason… Maybe I didn’t read enough about veganism beforehand to ensure I got all the necessary nutrients or maybe the vegan challenge just happened in a badly timed period for me, I don’t know.

Did you have a moment of weakness?

Vera: My moments of weakness were mainly around social events. My aunt cooked yummy food for her birthday and I felt really bad refusing something, just because there was only some milk in it. Also, eating out with friends was really hard. I found out that there are three types of restaurants: 1. hip and vegan restaurants that serve the best vegan food, 2. ‘in between’ restaurants that know about veganism but struggle to serve something good or don’t have vegan options on their menus and 3. restaurants that are, in my opinion, a bit old-fashioned and don’t serve vegan food and rather see their vegan guests eating somewhere else.

Vegan yummy food at the Vegan Junk Bar, Amsterdam

I experienced the latter unfortunately, when I rang up a restaurant to inquire about their vegan options and they didn’t serve anything good at all. These were some moments when I was struggling with being vegan, because I just wanted to have a nice night out with friends.


What is your general experience, will you turn into a vegan?

Vera: I definitely want to know more about veganism and I will stay passionate about sustainability in the future. I think for environmental reasons, veganism is still the best way to go and the vegan challenge didn’t change a thing for me about that. Although the challenge was harder than expected, haha. I will try to cut down on my dairy consumption, but for now I am not going to be a full-on vegan.

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences girls!


Max van Deursen – Youth Engagement and Climate Activism

Max van Deursen is a student of Global Public Health and Environmental Sustainability at Leiden University College. But more importantly (for this interview), until the 30th of October 2017 he was the Dutch Youth Representative on Sustainable Development to the United Nations. A position he held for two years.

He gave us the honour of an interview about his time as Youth representative, Youth Education and Youth activism and the problem of acute under-representation of young people in politics.

Lugo: Thank you for talking with us. First, let me ask you, how did you get the idea of running for the position of youth representative?

Max: After finishing high school I decided to go abroad for a year. During that year I spent a few months in Tanzania as a school teacher for physics and mathematics. At some point, we had a debate in school about climate change and I was supposed to prepare my class for the discussion. But, looking back, my class taught me much more because they made climate change very tangible and real. Previously, I had seen climate change from a very abstract perspective, it was about numbers, calculations, science and overall it seemed rather far away. But for my students’ climate change was about droughts or flooding, about the harvest, about very tangible things, close to home.

That got me really interested and I wondered why we had such a different idea. It made me want to learn more and I applied to an Indian NGO which works on environmental education. There we went to schools in the area, giving lectures about environmental issues. After India, I went back to the Netherlands and started studying at LUC. But after a few weeks of studying I quickly got the feeling, that while learning a lot of theory I was not making any change. A fellow student, who is actually my girlfriend now, told me about the job opening for becoming Youth representative. I decided to apply, got through all selection rounds and got elected.

Lugo: How does your work look like? You work with students, but also lawmakers, right?

Max: Yes exactly, these are the two main aspects but working with young people is the core duty because your whole legitimacy is based on the fact that you speak and engage with young people.

I mainly do that by giving guest lectures to young people from elementary school to secondary school, in institutions for vocational training, in university, all across the board. But it’s not only about educating them about sustainability and climate change. It is also about discussing with and getting feedback and new ideas from the class.

The nice thing about this is that you reach a broad range of young people, not only those who are and involved in sustainability. Some of them even say that they really don’t care about the whole problem or that they have no clue about it while some others are actually quite enthusiastic.

This is also a good reality check because often you are in a bubble with people who already think that sustainability is quite important and we have to quickly change things. But standing in front of a class you see that there are still a lot of people who have no clue at all about the transition we are going to go through.

On the other hand, with the lawmakers there is also a big battle going on. Young people are not decision makers. We don’t have the same status as a country on the negotiation tables. You need to make your voice heard in other ways. Imagine it as a big movement, comparable to the gender equality movement and it is a very long process to give young people a stronger and more equal voice. But how do we do it in practice?

The unique point of Youth representatives is that we are members of the official delegation of the Netherlands to international conferences, which means that we have access to all meetings and negotiation rounds. But our Mandate is to speak on behalf of young people not for our country. That gives us the chance to talk to many different people and try to convince the actual decision makers to include our points in the negotiations.

In Paris for example we even managed to write text proposals which actually made it into the final agreement.

In short, we lobby lawmakers for the rights and future of young people.

Lugo: Let’s look at some examples. You have been to Paris as well as Bonn if I’m not mistaken?

Max: In total, I went to about ten conferences related to climate change. My first one was in Paris, which was a very dramatic, kind of Olympic event where I was only one of over 30.000 persons.

That really was an overwhelming experience but I luckily had a senior, who guided me during that time.

And we managed to get a lot done. For example, article 12 of the Paris agreement, on climate change education and public participation would not have been in there without the engagement of young people. It’s only because my predecessors as Youth representatives together with some other young people, pushed hard to have this article in the agreement. Also, the mentioning of intergenerational equity is a gain for young people. We had to fight against the resistance of many country delegates and now it is at least in the preamble.

Lugo: You talked a lot about the formal part of the negotiations, but usually there are many actions, like protests outside of these conferences. Have you been part of that as well?

Max: Yes, especially in Paris I was involved in that as well. These demonstrations are rather important to build up pressure and media attention. What was interesting in Paris is that there were many actions inside of the conference rooms. I was part of one with hundreds of activists. With so many people involved, usually the security guards would come and throw everybody out, but in Paris there was so much media that there was no way to do that without a lot of bad press. And this kind of actions put pressure on the negotiations and help to put things on the agenda.

But there are also more subtle actions. There is a nice example from my predecessors. It was in South Africa at the time when the Copenhagen negotiations had failed and there was the question whether we should extend the Kyoto protocol for another term. Only one country was against it, the Netherlands.

Two Youth representatives from the Netherlands saw the Dutch Minister and asked him to take a picture with them. They wore t-shirts with the label: ‘we love the Kyoto protocol’ and asked the minister to wear the same t-shirt for the picture which surprisingly he did. This picture then made the front page of Dutch national newspapers on the next day and the government suddenly was under pressure to change their stance and they decided to sign the protocol.

Similarly, in Paris, initially most European countries and the US were against setting the target to 1.5 degree but actions by activists and ensuing media attention played a big part in changing the opinions of those in charge, which shows the power of such actions.

Lugo: Let’s move on to what individuals can do. We know many young people who want to become more active on sustainability but don’t exactly know where to start.

Max: In my opinion one of the best ways to get started, is to join a youth organisation working on sustainability.

Lugo: Any examples of such organisations?

Max: Studenten voor morgen work a lot on making the higher education system more sustainable. There is Jongeren Milieu Actief, basically Young Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which are more activist. You have the Jonge Klimaat Beweging [Youth Climate Movement] who organised the Youth climate summit for example. There is the National Youth Council, Jong en duurzaam. And many more. Interestingly, many of these organisations are rather small but have an enormous impact.

Joining a youth organisation and putting your time into it, is an important contribution. But if you don’t want to join an organisation right away, you can also go to a conference.

Just look online for sustainability conferences in the Netherlands for example. Once you get in there you could meet interesting people to work with and get your foot into the door.

Also within your own university you can make a difference. If there is a green office you can work there. But even if not, you can try to work with the student board or other bodies to get some sustainability policies going.

Or you can start your own initiative, become a social entrepreneur, start your own business or organisation, which is another big way to make impact.

Lugo: How to reach the people who are not yet interested in or engaged with sustainability?

Max: That’s the million-dollar question! One way is via the education system. To that end we are lobbying to get sustainability and climate issues into the curricula so that everybody at least gets the basics.

Apart from that, it is a nice challenge and quite important to engage people who are sceptical especially in your closer surrounding, with family, friends, colleagues.

An important aspect here is being a role model. Talking about sustainability is one thing but doing something is way more visible. For example, when I talk about my time as youth representative it is rather abstract and less tangible for people. Soon I am going to study in Malaysia for six months and I will go there by train instead of flying. This became a hot topic with my friends and my family and they were asking things like: is it really that serious? Is it really such a big problem? Or even: Oh, I had no idea that flying was bad for the environment! I even got reactions on Facebook, arguing that the train is less environmentally friendly because you need to print multiple tickets and in the plane only one and more paper is worse for the environment. But at least it gets a discussion going.

And the same thing goes for becoming vegetarian or changing to a sustainable bank etc.

Lugo: As you mentioned, vegetarianism. How would you promote behaviour changes?

Max: As for personal behaviour change I am more a proponent of gradual change. Behaviour change is extremely difficult but I think gradual change can go a long way. Try to gradually phase out eating meat. Try to gradually go for less and less and less. As for others, again the role model approach works well. If you want to convince somebody be a role model and instead of saying you should do this or you need to do that give small and tangible examples like a nice vegetarian recipe.

Lugo: Two more questions related to the political level: why are so few young people getting into politics and what are the biggest challenges for them to get heard?

Max: About how to get heard. Maybe a short anecdote. One year ago, I was at the sustainable development goals summit in New York. It was about reviewing the sustainable development goals and there were only six youth representatives there from four countries, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Sweden. Which was pathetic especially as one big topic of the summit was youth representation.

“He said to us, that we have a right to make our voices heard, to speak up and we should not be afraid to speak to anybody and ask anybody to address the issues important to us.”

That was when we decided we need to get vocal and to meet with as many persons as we could and address the issue. We spoke to delegations, with representatives of the general assembly and we thought: let’s just try and send a letter to Ban Ki-Moon, then Secretary General of the UN and ask him for a meeting. And guess what, he said yes and invited us to his office for almost an hour. He said to us, that we have a right to make our voices heard, to speak up and we should not be afraid to speak to anybody and ask anybody to address the issues important to us.

I think that is a very important message for young people, not to be afraid to speak to someone only because they are a CEO or a lawmaker and have more experience than a young person.

Regarding formal politics, there is a trend among young people, that they are getting less and less interested in formal politics. One of the reasons is probably that due to the current under-representation many young people feel that they cannot change anything anyways, so they stay away from running for office, which perpetuates the issue of under-representation.

But at the same time young people are getting more and more engaged in informal politics. For example by getting involved in activism, or social entrepreneurship but also via social media and by reflecting on what they buy.

Nonetheless it is a shame, that there are not enough young people in Parliaments and formal politics. Because you notice each and every time that there is a big difference between talking about young people and talking with them. The moment you have more young people in politics, the setting changes automatically as well as the outcomes. So, there should something be done about it. And this is also a message for young people not to wait until they are forty to run for office. Better sooner than later.

Lugo: Looking back, what were the biggest successes and challenges during your time as Youth representative?

Max: One of the biggest challenges is that you are fighting such a big problem and to figure out where to start. Another challenge is being taken seriously as a young person. So often people just use you as a photo-op but don’t actually talk with you.

Lugo: did you have a case where you managed to change somebody’s opinion and convinced them that it is worthwhile listening to the youth?

Max: Yes, I once had this moment when I was invited to the publication of a book and they wanted to symbolically hand over that book to a representative of the youth. I initially thought that this will be a picture moment but that I won’t have an opportunity to talk to the people there. I decided to agree but only under certain conditions. One was that I can have a meeting with the author beforehand to discuss the book so that I would be able to say something meaningful about it. The second was that during the hand over I would be allowed to ask some questions and say something on behalf of young people. That way I turned this into something more useful than a mere photo moment.

“Sometimes as a young person you need to stretch the rules a bit to make your voice heard”

One last example, that I really like is from one of the meetings in Bonn were us as Youth representatives were in the negotiation rooms, but only as observers. So, we basically had no say. But at some point, we decided to make our own nameplate, like those of country delegations and put it on the table into speaking position. The chairman was quite confused and said: ‘it seems like the Youth constituency would like to make an intervention, are there any objections. There were none and we were allowed to speak. In that way, we brought ourselves into the negotiations.

Sometimes as a young person you need to stretch the rules a bit to make your voice heard.

Lugo: That were all our questions. Thank you for your time.

Reflections on the Leiden University Green Office Vegan Challenge – What is veganism?

Last October the Leiden University Green Office took part in the Vegan Challenge: a challenge to eat only plant-based food for a month. This month we will reflect on the vegan challenge with some information and fun facts about veganism and the experiences of the vegan challenge participants and more experienced vegans. This blog will take you through the basics of veganism and will discuss the effects it has on the environment, as well as some useful tips if you are considering to become (partly) vegan yourself!

Tell me more about veganism…

Firstly, what exactly is veganism? Veganism is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”[1] This basically means that a vegan has a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey – as well as products like leather and any products that are tested on animals. This blog will only focus on the diet part of veganism, as this is also what the vegan challenge comes down to.

There are several positive effects often mentioned relating to a vegan diet. Besides preventing animal cruelty and suggested health effects, switching to a vegan diet has a big positive impact on the environment. And this is why.

Since the world population is going to increase from 7 to 10 billion people by 2050, the biggest challenge we are facing now is how we are going to feed all these people. Next to population increase, wealth is increasing and more people are demanding a rich Western diet relying heavily on meat and dairy products. By 2050 we need even more mass food production to feed all these mouths, but the Earth still has a limited area available for food production  (note: the quality and quantity of available agricultural land is declining as well because of desertification, deforestation and other ecological issues caused by global climate change).

Diets consisting of a huge amount of meat and animal products are a waste of these scarce resources: animals consume a lot more protein, water and calories than they produce. So, instead of livestock, many more plants could be grown on the same amount of land.


Therefore a varied vegan diet requires only a third of the land needed for a meat-based Western diet. In addition: 3.5 billion people could eat of the food currently fed to livestock. Quite shocking, isn’t it?

There are so many more positive effects veganism has on the environment, but another fact is that a vegan diet can be hard to adopt; especially for students living with roommates, regularly sharing meals and eating out. To help you out, Leiden University Green Office has looked up some tips for those of you who would like to try a vegan diet!

  1. Feeling hungry is not done

Do not forget that a vegan meal is bigger than a meat and dairy-based meal. Compensate for these ingredients with plenty of vegetables, beans, nuts and grains such as pasta, rice, couscous and quinoa. Oh, some peanut butter can quiet you down as well…

A tasty vegan-proof bowl

  1. Prepare yourself

Prepare yourself when you want to start eating vegan: nothing is as awful as feeling hungry during a busy day at uni. Read about the nutrients you need and inspire yourself with tasty recipes on the internet. You will find loads of new ingredients for your vegan meals!

  1. Be positive and stay positive

Start your vegan challenge positively and see it as something positive you are going to try. Do not get caught up in your own rules or let people around you get you down by mentioning all the things you are not allowed to eat. Focus on learning to love to cook, try new cuisines and explore what works best for you.

Have you participated in the vegan challenge? Or, are you going to try to eat more plant-based foods? Let us know your experiences!