Local Goal Getter Saskia Hermens devotes her life and career to create a sustainable and circular Maastricht

Saskia Hermens is a member of the city council. Being part of the green, left-wing party GroenLinks, she likes doing things that inspire her. Saskia was born and raised in Maastricht, and is passionately devoted to creating a green, sustainable, and circulair municipality. She has been active in local politics since 2003. In this year, she started as a citizen council member. In 2006, she was elected to be a full council member, and she has been fulfilling that role with joy ever since. The portfolios she works on include nature, waste policy, sustainability, and an ecological landscape. Her interest in these topics does not end when she closes her laptop after a long day working from home. Rather, they seem to be a big part of her whole life. An example of this is her garden, in which we are drinking tea together. In this small place, she manages to grow a wide variety of vegetables and herbs. On the wall, there are several bird houses. Next to that, there is a big barrel where rainwater is stored. From the picnic bench in the middle of her garden, she tells me everything about how the global development goals come together in both her work and private life.

A greener city

Saskia advocates for a municipality where bubbling city life and calming nature meet in a sustainable way (SDG #11). She wants to inspire her two kids, and all other young people, by letting them explore the beauty of nature – even in a city as hectic as Maastricht. She wants to do so by for example creating nature playgrounds, where kids can ‘get their feet in the mud, get dirty, and learn about the beauty of nature’. She also wants to cover the walls of houses and buildings in the city centre with plants, and replace concrete with trees. Not only is a green inner-city aesthetically pleasing, but it will also have a cooling effect in the increasingly hot summers, which is of big importance in a changing climate (SDG #13).

An example for the new generation 

There are many ways in which Saskia wants to inspire the new generation. For example, she is working hard to implement a new, circular waste system in the 24 elementary schools of the municipality of Maastricht. It frustrates her to see that, despite attempts of the schools to separate waste, all the waste often gets combined when it is picked up by the waste company. This gives the children a wrong impression of recycling, and it also leads to a gigantic landfill. Together with colleagues from different political parties, she is working on a programme that should allow the municipality to pick up waste in an efficient way. This way, the waste will not get combined and thus, recycling is possible. However, Saskia sometimes struggles to get things done. This is partly to blame on strict rules and regulations, and also on her limited mandate as a city council member. Fortunately, though, she is not one to give up easily.

Very small, and also very big 

An example of her perseverance concerns the water points in the city, an initiative of Saskia. There are poles placed in several locations in Maastricht where people can get clean water for free. This seems fairly easy, however, it took her almost a year of talking to stakeholders and creating a detailed plan before the first pole was placed. These water points ensure a great decrease in the use of plastic water bottles (SDG #12), and also provide clean water for everyone in the city (SDG #3 and #6). ‘A water point is such a small and simple thing, but to me, it means a lot, it is actually very big’ she says proudly.

Change starts with you

Saskia is sure that our children will only be able to live on this planet in the future, if we put an enormous effort into fighting climate change. How? It is simple. Our society is driven by consumption, but Saskia does not believe that makes us happy. She rarely buys new things. When she needs something, she first asks her neighbours if she can borrow it. Or she makes things herself, whether it’s laundry detergent, bags, clothes, or toys from her children. The most important thing to her is showing her children the importance of living a sustainable life. Instead of going to H&M or Zara, she takes her daughter shopping in the closet of her cousins or her friends’ daughters. And her son? ‘He joined the climate strike last year, they even wrote about him in the newspaper!’

The new generation 

In many ways, Saskia tries to be a role model, whether this is for her children or her coworkers. But, she finds, we still have a long way to go. Her passions and ambitions sometimes clash with bureaucracy or misunderstanding from others. She is sure that the solution for this can be found in cooperation between generations. The older generation is often the ones in power; they should actively try to make better, more sustainable choices. A new culture of young activists can help by making their voices heard. Because, Saskia says, they are the future, and only with their help we can make sure the sustainable development goals will not only be goals, but reality.

Interview: Fleur Leijte

Pictures: Fleur Leijte

Design: Linda Vecvagare