UTServicesCFMSustainabilityNewsRob Nengerman: building a sustainable campus

Rob Nengerman: building a sustainable campus

For the last three and a half years, Rob Nengerman has been construction project manager at University of Twente. “That means I supervise large-scale building projects like Technohal and now Langezijds from start to finish”, he says. “Those are challenging projects. There’s a lot of detail involved in the design, planning and budget. You also have to work directly with the end user and all the stakeholders involved in the project. Sustainability is a huge part of that process.”

Sustainability in construction

You might not immediately associate sustainability with the profession of construction project manager. And yet it plays a substantial role: “Making buildings more sustainable has always been an important part of my work – not just at the UT, but also in my previous jobs in real estate. Sustainability issues are crucial for all the projects I supervise, from start to finish.” It starts in the planning document and programme of requirements, which lays down the sustainability goals for a project. “The UT has high ambitions when it comes to the sustainability of building projects, which I take as a serious challenge.”

“To me, it goes without saying that we focus on sustainability”, Rob says. “I myself am highly conscious of the issue – not only at work, but also in my private life. I would really like to leave something valuable behind for my children. I find that I’m primarily motivated by the technical side of sustainability: how should we be using materials and natural resources? Can you recycle solar panels? What kind of new technological developments are available? It’s because I always look at things from my position as project manager, and also work on this at home.” The role of sustainability in day-to-day work is changing rapidly. “What I see now is that sustainability has become more of a given. You don’t have to fight any more to get sustainable solutions into building projects, and there are more possibilities available than there used to be. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges any more: you never really find a perfect fit solution for all the ambitions of a specific project.”

Sometimes the different objectives for a building contradict one another. “For instance, when you want to achieve the highest possible sustainability score, but also want to put up a well-insulated building. The additional insulation will lead to a lower environmental performance score. This means that right away there’s a tension between your own different ambitions, which you and the design team are supposed to get the best out of.”

Challenges and ambitions

After drawing up and translating sustainability ambitions into a building project, there’s a lot more that has to be done. “Communicating to the user what makes a building especially sustainable is one important aspect.” That’s a big challenge. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement. For example, in the Technohal, and later on in Langezijds too, there’s a lot of technical aspects that make them sustainable buildings. The trick is to inform as many people as possible about what these are. The next step for us is to expand awareness about sustainability for many buildings on campus.” When people know more about sustainability, it becomes more normalised and expected, and then they do something about it themselves. “How to convey this to the users in an effective and logical way is something that occupies me a great deal, but I haven’t yet found the perfect solution.”

Time and money are the other challenges. “The things you have to do to make a building sustainable simply cost money, as well as time to implement them. But you only have a limited amount of both. Sometimes you have to scale back your ambitions due to such limits. That tension will certainly still be with us in the coming years, which makes it a constant challenge. This means you have to keep getting smarter just to be able to achieve your own sustainability goals. Luckily, you can use what you learn from experience in the next project.”

Rob’s other ambitions are mostly in the area of the circular economy. “This is where there’s still a lot to gain from the materials that we use in construction. What’s the lifespan of the material? How can you recycle it in the future so that instead of waste it becomes raw material for another project? These are the kind of questions that really get me thinking right now.” Lastly, keep innovating is an important ambition, and that we reach the sustainability objectives of Shaping2030: “I see UT as a living lab for innovation – it’s really in our genes.”

More sustainable users

It’s not just the building team who work on the sustainability of our buildings, users can help meet these goals, too. “The most important thing is to use your common sense: don’t leave the lights or the heating on when you’re not in the room, and don’t have the heating and air conditioning on at the same time. But it also means having a healthy conversation about why certain things should or shouldn’t be done. This is how we can make it clear to each other and do it together. Students and staff can also put forward suggestions during the design stages. This kind of collaboration also helps raise awareness so that a sustainable building really belongs to everyone.”

Sustainability at UT

Sustainability is an important priority area of Shaping2030, the University of Twente’s strategic plan. In addition to finding sustainable solutions for societal issues, the UT wants to set a good example of what it means to be a sustainable organisation. To reach this goal, the ambitions of Shaping2030 need to be put into practice. Many members of the UT community are hard at work translating the sustainability objectives into our work on campus – transforming the way we work, teach, learn, travel, build and more. In this series, we invite them to talk about what motivates them, what the role of sustainability is in their day-to-day work, and what they would like to achieve at our university.

Want to find out more about sustainability at UT? Please go to utwente.nl/sustainability.

Written by Elizabeth Westra