Annemarie van Zeijl-Rozema Annemarie van Zeijl-Rozema Foto: Sacha Ruland

Fencing off the Limburg hills is not sustainable

In Society
Written by  Jules Coenegracht Thursday, 16 June 2011 12:01

Five or so years ago the question was raised at the Province of Limburg: how are we doing in terms of sustainability? A budget was made available to find the answer, and Annemarie van Zeijl-Rozema’s PhD research was born. “When it comes to sustainable development, you need an environment that supports and facilitates. A province can be highly suited to this.”

“Sustainability is about much more than just the environment”, says Van Zeijl-Rozema. This comes as a surprise, because in the minds of many people the two concepts are closely linked. The point, she says, is that in our actions we weigh up not only environmental aspects, but also social and economic ones. “A mobility plan for the Maastricht hills (the Heuvelland), for example, is not first and foremost a sustainability plan. If it were only about the environment and you wanted to let nature go its own way, you could just as well put up a fence around it. But that’s not economically sensible, because you want to attract tourists. Nor is it practical socially, because the residents there need to be able to get from A to B. In sustainable development you always make certain judgements. And by identifying all these considerations, you make your choices very transparent.”

In her dissertation, Van Zeijl-Rozema examines the barriers that are obstructing the implementation of sustainability policy in the Province of Limburg. “One very important one – and this is not specific to Limburg – is the lack of vision. There’s no academic definition of ‘sustainable development’. You can’t say: if you do this and that, you’re being sustainable. It’s about a vision of the future: what sort of Limburg, what sort of Netherlands, do you want to live in? If that vision is already there, it’s not linked to sustainability aspects.”

Another barrier that Van Zeijl-Rozema identified stemmed from the fact that people do want to behave sustainably, but aren’t sure what to do. “People don’t see economics, for example, as a part of sustainable development, although their actions are largely determined by economic aspects.” Moreover, a more sustainable lifestyle need not cost extra time or money. This is where a change can be made, suggests Van Zeijl-Rozema: use legislation, regulation or fiscal measures to make the sustainable choices the most obvious ones. “Having said that, fiscal measures were not the most popular among my respondents.” Along with her dissertation, Van Zeijl-Rozema will also write a policy report for the Province. “I didn’t want to do something purely academic; I wanted something that would be useful in practice too.”

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