Esmee Tanis, Econometrics student at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), has been working for years to make the university more sustainable. She was manager of the Erasmus Sustainability Hub and chair of the Rotterdam Climate Roundtable on Consumption. She also received the 2020 Student Societal Impact Award from EUR for her efforts to make Rotterdam more sustainable. What drives Esmee is: “How can we optimise the way we live together in this world without causing so much damage?”

Esmee Tanis started the double study Economics and Econometrics at EUR in 2017. Sustainability was not something she was hugely concerned about at that time. She was already a vegetarian  which led her to find out more about the meat industry. “That was when I started to learn more about how our general consumption behaviour impacts our world, and it’s also how I came across sustainability,” explained Esmee. “I want to make the world more sustainable in a broad sense, which includes social aspects. Take the new organic cotton lines from well-known clothes brands: how do we know that the people who work in production are treated well? I came across system thinking via DRIFT and Derk Loorbach, which made me realise that sustainability is extremely complex. There are so many aspects to it and it takes place on so many levels, which is also what I find so interesting about it.”

Address complex problems together

Her drive to improve the world started to take up more and more of her time. Esmee joined the Erasmus Sustainability Hub, a meeting place for students who are committed to sustainability and who want to make an important difference to the university community. Partly thanks to Esmee, the organisation expanded from 8 to 60 active members. She decided to stop studying Economics to improve her work-life balance. According to Esmee: “I learned so much by working together with students from other disciplines and examining complex problems – I really have no regrets that I stopped studying economics.”

Consumption on Rotterdam’s agenda

Just after this, Esmee was also offered a fantastic opportunity. As student she was allowed to become the Chair of the Rotterdam Climate Roundtable on Consumption. The roundtable’s focus was on food transition (sustainable consumption and less waste) and the transition to a circular economy (reducing, reusing, recycling and repairing).  “I actually didn’t really know what I was getting into!”, explained Esmee. “But I’m so proud of being able to contribute to the Rotterdam Climate Agreement. I also hope that I’ve managed to encourage the civil servants that were involved to look at the issues in a different way. Consumption was not really a theme for the municipality, but we’ve been able to make this a focus point.”

Foto: Arie Kers

Achieving successful climate agreements

She worked on this together with Arno Bonte, Alderman for Sustainability. He wrote in her letter of recommendation for the 2020 Student Societal Impact Award: “ With hard word and sound chairmanship, she commanded recognition from many of those involved… During her chairmanship, she continued to use her steadily growing network to achieve successful climate deals. When it became apparent that the Consumption topic was too broad to achieve enough impact within a short time, Esmee chose an effective strategy of having the roundtable focus on organic waste and food waste. Her commitment resulted in a creative search for new ideas and possibilities. Her boldness in thinking outside the box has resulted in Rotterdam having five fantastic climate deals to make our city and the world more sustainable.”

‘I really have something to contribute’

The thing Esmee is most proud of to date is the speech she gave to a digital audience of 9,000 people when she received the 2020 Student Societal Impact Award from EUR. “I’m actually rather modest, and speaking in front of such a large audience is not something high on my agenda. But I noticed that I really do have something to say and something to contribute, and I’m really starting to enjoy it”. That is the hallmark of Esmee’s approach: start small and start with yourself. “I used to think a lot about where my passion lay, and I began to wonder what I could do to change the world. That’s how I started. And I noticed that by simply doing different things, what I actually enjoy doing became much clearer to me.”

In addition to studying, her focus in the coming period is on connecting people and bringing together those with good sustainability ideas. “I want to use my knowledge and network to help other people further develop their ideas.”

Header Photo: Alexander Lima

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