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Green Office Utrecht: The British Invasion

In the interview series I have been working on, I have chosen to save the closest to be one of last. The Green Office where I worked previously as an intern, where I met most of my friends including my interview partner Floor van den Elzen, and where I currently spend most of my time: Green Office Utrecht (GOU). This office is home to a diverse range of nationalities and today we chose to take the ‘British perspective’.

gouOur two British Green Officers are George Parsons (left) – a bachelor’s student on exchange from Exeter University, originating from Malvern, England – and Emily Swaddle (right), who is doing her master’s in Gender Studies at Utrecht University, previously studied in Scotland, and grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Both interns had a bit of a startling beginning.  George’s predecessor left for Ireland two hours after meeting him and Emily was one of the last interns to be hired, so it felt as though everyone else had a better idea of what was happening than she did. Also, Emily wasn’t aware who her predecessor was, but quickly learned… (it is me!) However, after the first brief moments of confusion they both felt that the team was welcoming and kind, and the friendly ambiance made them feel right at ease.

What is the atmosphere of this office? Both Brits agree that the GOU is a cozy, welcoming place. “The layout of the office is nice, because one side is good for work – and a bit of play, and the other side is for being casual, and hanging out with Barry (pictured in George’s arms above).”

Emily tells me that the office has a level of professionality that is sufficient for what they do, but that they “aren’t inherently particularly professional…” “Hey! Speak for yourself,” George quickly interjects, his cheeky grin never leaving his face.

For both Emily and George, working at the GOU has changed their ideas and level of sustainability. After working at the GOU, George has realized how even the smallest actions can make a difference, and that sometimes the most unexpected people are the ones thinking about sustainability. He now promotes sustainable thinking even more than he ever did before, and he thinks about small things in his life now, like turning the lights off, using the washing machine eco-cycle, and – of course – getting organic wine. At least when it’s on offer.

Before coming to Utrecht, Emily traveled trough North and South America working on farms. During that time she had a very personal relationship with sustainability, and the change she invoked was largely with her own life, and the lives that were close to her. Upon moving to back into the urban world, her sustainable ideas were able to grow and have a far broader reach. Working at the GOU, Emily has come to appreciate that change takes time, because in order for it to be sustainable, the change needs to come from the individuals themselves.

Since they’ve started work at the GOU George and Emily feel that the team has become more social and cohesive, as can be seen in their team retreat picture (left). They find that the GO was naïve in the beginning assuming everything would go off without a hitch, but has become more realistic in its ambitions and projects. Where did this change come from? The university has created a sustainability program team, and now has a clearer focus of its role in sustainability, and thus the GOU has a clearer role within the university. As George puts it: “When you have policy and action working together, you have the biggest impact”.

Is it a good thing that the GOU has such a diverse cast? Well, we are quite good singers and dancers,” George jokes. He does think it helps that everyone comes from different academic and national backgrounds, it is balanced and works well as a team.

Life after the GOU? George finishes his year abroad in July, and has to go home to write his dissertation. He will try to join the GO Exeter (Green Unit Exeter). He is interested in a project using cigarette ash for fertilizer. Emily has only recently extended her sustainable involvement from personal to professional, but now that she has some experience in the area, it is something she would like to continue in. “Sustainability was something that I did for me…” Emily stated. Only to hastily add: “Oh, and for the world, haha, whatever”. She feels like she’s starting to see opportunities to work in the field of sustainability while retaining her focus on gender-related issues, but hasn’t formed a full idea of what that would look like as a job.

What do these interns do in their spare time? What spare time? I’m always here!” Emily is currently working towards a trip this summer to Tanzania where she will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, in support for World Wide Cancer Research. She has raised all the funds, but the mental preparation is yet to come. George, when he’s not with the Green Office, plays for a local football team here and goes out once a fortnight to meet with them. He also just started playing cricket for a local team.

gouu“Anything you’d like to add?” I ask.  Emily puts on her serious face and answers: “The Green Office has infiltrated every aspect of my life. I started this internship in September, then increased my hours here, I’ve met most of my friends here, I now live with two people who worked at the GOU, I spend my social time with people from the Green Office, and wear Green Office clothing in and out of office. There is never a day that goes by that I don’t say Green Office at least a hundred times.” And she loves every minute of it.

Valerie Brown

Valerie is a recently graduated master's student at Utrecht University in Sustainable Development. She has worked as the Green Office coordinator for the Netherlands and Belgium, together with organizations Studenten voor Morgen and rootAbility. She is now exploring her options for employment in Utrecht and continuing to learn about and pursue a sustainable lifestyle.

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