You can't fix the whole world, but you can do something to help! Following the call to action put out by theatre director Lucas de Man last month, Vox went in search of students who are setting the right example. Today we meet Joris Olde Rikkert, a student who has made his neighbourhood greener and more social.
Why does sustainability play such a big role in your life?
‘I have a very critical eye and I’m always looking for ways to improve things. When I see how wasteful we are or how little we’re doing to help the environment, I think to myself: there must be something we can do to change things. That’s why I focus on doing things that, at the very least, help other people or animals. I try to live my life according to this important rule. Sustainability naturally plays a major role in this.’
How do you turn this thought into action?
‘During the summer holiday a year and a half back, I wanted to do something to make my neighbourhood more sustainable. So a friend and I walked around asking neighbours if they’d be interested in spending an evening brainstorming about sustainability. We rounded up twelve neighbours and set up six project groups that focus on everything from cohesion to greenery. We organised a neighbourhood party and had water-saving taps and cavity wall insulation installed. But to me, the most valuable aspect of this project was getting to know my neighbours. I became very close friends with one neighbour and we still meet once a month to discuss new ideas.’
‘We also have a shortage of students, so all interested students are more than welcome’
These neighbourhood activities eventually put you in touch with major companies via AGREEn.
‘Lara Depla came up with the idea to start an organisation that encourages students to get involved in sustainability projects. That organisation was AGREEn. Some organisations have strict selection criteria or aren’t willing to grow, but AGREEn offers everyone the opportunity to get involved. People who are committed to sustainability are few and far between and should be cherished. We also have a shortage of students, so all interested students are more than welcome.’
What did you learn from these initiatives?
‘Two things. Firstly, that followers are just as important as leaders. A leader without followers is just a run-of-the-mill crazy person. The first follower validates what that crazy person says. And the other followers help make the leader’s words socially acceptable. Sometimes, we don’t appreciate followers enough. I may have set up the sustainability initiative in my neighbourhood, but my neighbours are the ones that made it possible. And at first, I was just someone who followed Lara at AGREEn. I also believe a good message will always be heard and will always be spread.’
‘Make sure your stories are good and your message is strong’
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
‘A little while ago I gave a lecture on sustainability at my old primary school. I loved it. When I shared my idea with a teacher friend of mine, he thought the message was so good he decided to introduce sustainable crafts in his own classroom. I think awareness is extremely important and I plan to set up a project via AGREEn to bring sustainability lessons to primary schools.’
What would you tell students who want to get involved with sustainability?
‘I think a lot of students are worried that their ideas aren’t good enough or are afraid to start because their ‘baby’ would then be open to public criticism. But the people in my own life have always been positive about my initiatives. In one of our meetings, my neighbours – who are all over fifty – said how it great it was to see a young person like me get involved in sustainability. That was really moving. I also came to an important realisation last week: if you share a story with two friends and the next day they share it with two more friends who then pass it on to more people, the whole world will know about it in just 33 days. That means you can spread a message around the world in just over a month. That’s amazing. So again: make sure your stories are good and your message is strong.’