Discussing sustainability challenges
At 2 o’clock all 500 participants split up into six different break-out sessions. During these sessions they could discuss sustainability challenges in more detail. Participants were challenged to come up with their boldest step to create fully circular cities. Others attended a heated panel discussion about decarbonising the industry. A third group had to roll up their sleeves and tried to imagine how our Dutch delta looks in the future. What pathways should we walk to get there?
During another session plans were made on how to optimally use the Utrecht Science Park campus as a living lab where researchers, students and partners shape, test and further develop sustainable innovations on campus. Another break-out session elaborated on the keynote speech of Jeroen Willemsen, raising the question how to transform our diet from animal proteins to plant based proteins. The last session used the plastic whale in the canal outside as a metaphoric ‘whale in the room’ to conclude that narratives are crucial in the transition to a sustainable world. And circular economy alone is not enough anymore.
How should universities reinvent themselves?
All this sustainable buzz came together during the concluding panel discussion. Moderated by Dr Vanessa Timmer and Prof Maarten Hajer, experts across the disciplines sat side by side to discuss how should universities reinvent themselves to advance sustainability? King’s College Professor Frans Berkhout, Water Law Professor Marleen van Rijswick, Diederik Samsom, Utrecht University honorary doctor Sybil Seitzinger, paleoceanographer Prof Appy Sluijs and the spirited Elizabeth Dirth came with pointed suggestions. The days of the scientific ivory tower are over, so much was clear. And although the participants differed on the ‘how’, they all recognised that we need to go outside and engage with the world. Through students, through civilians, through media or by connecting science with societal stakeholders and institutions.
The panel discussion, however amazingly interesting, had to come to an end, and concluded the conference as well. Many participants stayed for a few drinks and some delightful snacks to have some final discussions. Many thanks to all the participants and organisation who made this conference possible.