Tracks

After your first year, you’ll be choosing one of four tracks so as to acquire extra in-depth knowledge. You’ll also be able to put together your own track, or choose other subjects, both within and outside this Bachelor’s.

These are the four tracks:

Water, Climate & Ecosystems

Climate change has a big impact on the availability of water. The same applies to changing land use – for instance, when a plot of land is drained or is used to cultivate biofuels. The behaviour of humans and animals as well as government decisions, all impact natural systems. What does the past and today’s situation teach us? And what can we expect in the future?

This track deals extensively with the processes within natural systems (soil, plant, water and atmosphere) and the action of these processes and systems on each other. You will study the interaction between ecosystems, humans and animals, and the nutrient and water cycle, and you’ll be taught how to research and model them. You’ll learn how to apply this knowledge with a view to developing sustainable solutions for water management, natural-area management and restoration, and the use of land for different purposes, such as agriculture or energy-crop cultivation.

In this track you’ll be taking courses in:

  • Chemistry of System Earth
  • Global Climate Change
  • Ecohydrology

In addition, you’ll be taking three courses in the following list:

  • Integrated Water and Soil Management: What problems can you solve through integrated water and soil management?
  • Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation: What impact do hydrological processes have on ecosystems? How can you develop an effective model for the management and restoration of natural areas? This course also includes fieldwork.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment: How can you determine in advance the impact of a large project – e.g., construction of a road or factory – on the landscape, and thus anticipate the harmful consequences for the environment?
  • Land Change Science: How can you chart the current land-use situation, and the implications of a change in land use? What are the consequences of this change in terms of CO2 storage and of the availability and quality of water?
  • Environmental Health: How can you measure different forms of environmental pollution – particulate matter in the air, for instance – and (statistically) analyse it in the correct manner, so that your research actually makes a contribution to people’s health?

The Bachelor’s thesis: the crucial test
You’ll conclude your track with an individual research project. You’ll be drawing on all the knowledge and experience you will have acquired in the field of Water, Climate & Ecosystems. This project will allow you to show how you develop a plan of action, how you implement it and how you report and present it.

Energy & Resources

The sustainable use of energy and resources lies at the centre of this track. People need energy, among other things, for their work, to keep warm and to light up the dark. Resources are being depleted and/or have a harmful impact on our environment.

To discover new sustainable energy sources, you’ll need a knowledge of physical and thermodynamic processes. You’ll also learn about how all the components of our climate system interact. What does the past and today’s situation teach us? And what can we expect in the future? In the third year you’ll build upon this knowledge by deepening your understanding of methods to analyse energy-production and -use cycles and the impact of product life-cycles (from raw material to production to waste). You’ll also study in-depth the possibilities of achieving a sustainable use of resources and a better use of sustainable energy sources, such as wind, water, solar and biomass.

In this track you’ll be taking courses in:

  • Physics of Energy & Transport
  • Applied Thermodynamics and Energy Conversions
  • Global Climate Change

In addition, you’ll be taking three courses in the following list:

  • Energy Analysis: How can you optimally match energy supply and demand by analysing the energy cycle, and by reflecting on the efficient use of energy and ways of storing it?
  • Life-Cycle Assessment: How can you analyse the environmental impact of products from a life-cycle perspective, from production to waste?
  • Sustainable Resource Use: What are the characteristics of different renewable and non-renewable resources, such as energy and metal sources (geographical distribution, availability, sustainability)? And how can we use them in a sustainable manner?
  • Sustainable Energy Supply: What is the historical, current and the future role of innovative energy sources, such as wind, water, solar, biomass and geothermal. What is the potential contribution of innovative energy technologies to a more sustainable society?
  • Land Change Science: How can you chart the current land-use situation, and the implications of a change in land use? What are the consequences of this change in terms of CO2 storage and of the availability and quality of water?

The Bachelor’s thesis: the crucial test
You’ll conclude your track with an individual research project. You’ll be drawing on all the knowledge and experience you will have acquired in the field of Energy & Resources. This project will allow you to show how you develop a plan of action, how you implement it and how you report and present it.

Governance & Societal Transformation

This track addresses the societal origins of sustainability questions, the transformations that are needed to make society more sustainable, and the strategies required to achieve this objective. This involves examining the role of government, international organisations, companies, social organisations and citizens.

In the first and second year, you’ll learn how to examine and evaluate the political and administrative processes related to sustainability issues. Without knowledge of the international legal framework, you won’t be able to form a well-founded opinion. In the third year, you’ll deepen your understanding of specific sustainability areas, such as spatial use, water- and nature-management, and energy supply. 

In this track you’ll be taking courses in:

  • Politics of the Earth
  • Policy Evaluation and Design
  • Environmental Law

In addition, you’ll be taking three courses in the following list:

  • Sustainable Land Use: How can governments, companies and private citizens contribute to a sustainable distribution and use of land, so that both nature and the economy benefit?
  • Integrated Water and Soil Management: What problems can you solve through integrated water and soil management?
  • Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation: What impact do hydrological processes have on ecosystems? How can you develop an effective model for the management and restoration of natural areas? This course also includes fieldwork.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment: How can you determine in advance the impact of a large project – e.g., construction of a road or factory – on the landscape, and thus anticipate the harmful consequences for the environment?
  • Sustainable Energy Supply: What is the historical, current and the future role of innovative energy sources, such as wind, water, solar, biomass and geothermal. What is the potential contribution of innovative energy technologies to a more sustainable society?

The Bachelor’s thesis: the crucial test
You’ll conclude your track with an individual research project. You’ll be drawing on all the knowledge and experience you will have acquired in the field of Governance & Societal Transformation. This project will allow you to show how you develop a plan of action, how you implement it and how you report and present it.

Business & Innovation

Technological development and innovation are important in solving a number of sustainability issues. Organisations play an key role here. Not only do they contribute to the development of innovative solutions, they themselves have an impact on the environment. Organisations and innovation, in the context of sustainability, are the core of this track. You’ll acquire insight into technology, into innovation and innovation processes, into different types of organisations, into the key organisational processes, and into the part played by an organisation’s environment. You’ll also learn how technology and innovation affect the economy. In the third year you’ll build upon this knowledge by deepening your understanding of sustainable entrepreneurship, and of what companies can do to ensure that innovations are produced. You’ll be taught methods to analyse energy-production and -use cycles and the impact of product life-cycles (from raw material to production to waste). You’ll also study in-depth the possible ways that organisations can use resources sustainably.

In this track you’ll be taking courses in:

  • Principles of Economics
  • Organisation and Innovation
  • Economics of Innovation

In addition, you’ll be taking three courses in the following list:

  • Business, Sustainability and Innovation: What concepts, tools and techniques are available to organisations to enable them to (better) contribute to sustainability? This course includes the conduct of a case study for an organisation.
  • Life-Cycle Assessment: How can you analyse the environmental impact of products from a life-cycle perspective, from production to waste?
  • Sustainable Resource Use: What are the characteristics of different renewable and non-renewable resources, such as energy and metal sources (geographical distribution, availability, sustainability)? And how can we use them in a sustainable manner?
  • Management of Innovation Processes: What theories and models exist for the management of innovation? You will research this in practice at an organisation.
  • Energy Analysis: How can you optimally match energy supply and demand by analysing the energy cycle, and by reflecting on the efficient use of energy and ways of storing it?

The Bachelor’s thesis: the crucial test
You’ll conclude your track with an individual research project. You’ll be drawing on all the knowledge and experience you will have acquired in the field of Business & Innovation. This project will allow you to show how you develop a plan of action, how you implement it and how you report and present it.

Balance natural, social and interdisciplinary courses per track

Track bèta gamma bèta-gamma
Water, Climate & Ecosystems 45% 10% 45%
Energy & Resources 50% 10% 40%
Governance & Societal Transformation 20% 30% 50%
Business & Innovation 25% 40% 35%

Insight through research cases

By taking a look at the research that is conducted by our researchers, you might gain an even better insight into the possibilities of this Bachelor's programme. Therefore we have collected a few examples of research cases:

 

Research case Water, Climate and Ecosystems
Case Drylands

Drylands

The problem

Drylands include all terrestrial ecosystems where water scarcity limits the production of agricultural crops, foraging, and other ecosystem practices. They cover about 40 percent of the earth’s land surface and are home to over two billion people. Climate change scenarios predict that in many drylands drought periods may become more frequent and more intense. The combination of intensified land-use (e.g. overgrazing) and climate change may result in rapid degradation of drylands that will be difficult to reverse. Such sudden degradation can affect the livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries and is a threat to food security at the local and global level.

The challenge

An important research question is: How can we predict when drylands are on the brink of sudden degradation? Early warning signals are needed that can tell us when we need to intervene to prevent dryland degradation by, for example, replanting vegetation or by informing land-users to change their land-use practices.

Research

In order to understand dryland degradation, we performed fieldwork studies in the semi-arid South East of Spain and in Cyprus. In Spain, we combined observational and experimental studies. Using observational fieldwork, we assessed vegetation structure and how vegetation structure changes with increased drought or from pressure from goat grazing. We did experiments to measure plant reproduction along a goat grazing gradient. In Cyprus, we measured soil mound development under shrubs, soil fertility and plant water stress. We combined this data with aerial photos made by a drone to develop early warning signals for future degradation.

Results and solutions

One of the outcomes of the studies in Spain is that plants can effectively protect each other in grazed drylands. Shrubs can shelter young plants and protect them from being grazed. This is an important process in keeping an ecosystem vegetated. One of the outcomes of the studies in Cyprus is that the fertility of the soil surrounding shrubs is a better early warning signal for degradation compared to the fertility of the soil directly under the shrubs. When bare soil around shrubs is eroded, the water will run off and vegetation cannot sustain itself.

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Research case: Energy & Resources (1)
Case Solar panels

Solar Panels PV

The problem

With rapid urbanisation and growing population, the demand for electricity is increasing. Fossil energy resources are not only more difficult and more expensive to mine, they are also adding to the problem of unsustainability and not providing a solution. This calls for the use of renewable resources for the production of electricity to meet our daily needs. The sun is a continuous source of energy and could play a part in the solution.

The challenge

The problem with a solar energy driven electricity market is, oddly enough, the sun. Nights, cloudy days and winter months (especially in the extreme Northern and Southern hemispheres) present a challenge as direct sunlight is limited or absent. Additional challenges include supply-demand balancing (can we use the electricity when it is produced?) and the need for materials and policies  that help making solar electricity competitive.

Research

In order to check if solar energy can cover most of the electricity demand, it is important to first analyse the potential of the technology. We prepared a case study for the city of Utrecht for the residential sector. With the help of high resolution height information models, we were able to check if individual rooftops were suitable for solar photovoltaic (PV) panel installations, for example, in relation to orientation to the sun and shadow. If they were suitable, we calculated the potential solar capacity for these rooftops along with an estimation of annual production.

Results and Solutions

The total potential for residential implementation of PV for the city of Utrecht is estimated at 271 MWp taking into consideration that only 40 percent of the total roof area is feasible for PV. The remaining roof area is either in shadow or obstructed by chimneys or dormers. This potential translates to approximately 237 GWh of annual electricity, which is enough for about 75,000 households.

The next stage of the research is to investigate whether PV production matches local electricity demand. To keep the lights on electricity production from PV and domestic demand should be in continuous balance. Solutions for this include:

  • Local storage for use at night, for example, in concepts such as a ‘power walls’
  • Use of electric vehicles and keeping them connected to the grid when parked
  • Smart self-consumption (smart freezers and washing machines)
  • Offering good incentives for tariff setting (electricity prices for buying and selling)

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Research case: Energy & Resources (2)
Case Phosphorus

Phosphorus depletion

The problem

Phosphorus is an exhaustible natural resource which is used as an artificial fertiliser. It is produced from phosphate rock which comes principally from mines in China, Morocco and the US. Phosphate reserves are however being depleted: soon there will be no more phosphorus fertiliser available for agriculture. This will endanger world food supplies.

The challenge

The threatening shortage of phosphorus stands in stark contrast to its current wastage in the form of over-fertilisation. Moreover, over-fertilisation leads to the extinction of many plant species. The challenge is to stem the waste of phosphorus through its recycling and economical use, and to adequately protect nature from excessive phosphorus in the environment.

Research

We research what the reasonable levels of fertilisation would be, how we can recover phosphorus from waste, water and the soil, and how biodiversity is connected to phosphorus in the environment. In doing so, we use the following applied techniques, models and data:

  • Land-use models
  • Data on phosphate reserves
  • Technological innovations for phosphorus recovery
  • Data on phosphorus in the soil and water, and plant diversity

Results and Solutions

The research results have highlighted a number of possible solutions:

Introduction of phosphorus rights which would limit fertilisation in agriculture.

Recovery of phosphorus at slaughterhouses (bones contain a lot of phosphorus), from wastewater (wastewater treatment plants) and from urine at pop festivals (the higher the concentration, the easier the recovery).

Creation of buffer zones around nature areas, where phosphorus fertilisation is prohibited.

A combination of measures of this kind constitutes a starting point in solving the phosphorus wastage problem and in protecting nature. To this end, the university works together with organisations such as Waternet and Natuurmonumenten in teams of researchers, engineers, nature managers and Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students.

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Research case: Governance & Societal Transformation
Case River flooding

River flooding

The problem

The risk of river flooding in urban areas across Europe will increase enormously in the coming decades. This is partly due to climate change, but also because of the increasing urbanisation of river areas. TransAdapt is a project focused on analysing and designing policies in order to manage this risk. The following research questions are central to this specific research case:

  • How do community-based bottom-up initiatives in (urban) flood risk management emerge?
  • How do they perform, and how can they be upscaled to induce a societal transformation for climate change adaptation?

The challenge

European cities are highly important with regard to human, cultural and financial capital. Due to a shift from government to governance, citizens and companies are expected to take more responsibility with regard to societal issues. Due to climate change, there is a higher risk of flooding. Cities in particular are vulnerable to floods: they are often situated close to rivers and – in comparison to the countryside – water absorption by soil is reduced as paved areas cover much civic space.

Research

Since flood risk is relevant for many European cities, researchers from France, Ireland, Austria and the Netherlands are cooperating with each other. All countries perform three case studies with regard to climate change adaptation (flood risk management). The ‘Rotterdam Dakpark’ and ‘Kockengen Waterproof’ are examples of bottom-up initiatives studied in the Netherlands. Based on interviews and on analysis of policy documents, the drivers and barriers for the emergence of such initiatives is sought. This is followed by an evaluation on how successful the cases are with regard to climate change adaptation.

The case studies are undertaken at local and regional levels, but final scenario workshops with national governments should lead to ideas on how successful initiatives can be upscaled and therefore lead to a societal transformation. Methods used in this research include case studies, interviews, analysis of policy documents and formative scenario workshops. Through active support, participation in the workshops and dissemination of the results, the stakeholders are involved deeply in the research project.

Results and solutions

The TransAdapt research project is currently still in progress.

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Research case: Business & Innovation
Case Start-ups

Start-ups

The opportunity

Young, technology-based firms (‘start-ups’) are important drivers of innovation and economic growth. Consequently, governments all over the world are taking measures to improve the conditions for start-ups to survive and grow. In the Innovation Studies group, we look at successful high-tech regions around the world to identify best practices. Our research enables Dutch policymakers to design more effective policies to support start-up firms in the Netherlands.

The challenge

The key lesson is that every region has a unique ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ that is embedded in the local regulations and cultural values. In Israel, the military is an important source of technological knowledge, for example, in the field of cybersecurity and big data. Former military personnel can use this knowledge to start successful businesses. One of the drivers behind the success of Silicon Valley is the ‘pay it forward’ culture, in which successful entrepreneurs feel a strong urge to support young entrepreneurs with funding and with their experience. These factors are unique to each region, which makes it difficult to simply copy policies from abroad.

Research

We have conducted interviews with entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers in Israel, the United States (Silicon Valley and the Boston area), Australia and Asia.

Results and solutions

Regardless, policymakers can certainly learn from these successful regions. For example, Israel is similar to the Netherlands in the sense that it has a very small domestic market with only 8 million inhabitants. This can make it difficult for start-ups to reach global markets and grow into successful businesses. To solve this problem, Israeli investors and incubators enable start-ups to partner with large, multinational companies. These companies provide start-ups with access to a large, international network, which enables start-ups to expand their business beyond the small Israeli market.
As with the Netherlands, Australia’s culture traditionally does not encourage entrepreneurship, as risk taking and ambitious thinking are not as socially accepted as they are in Silicon Valley. We found that co-working spaces enable entrepreneurs to overcome these cultural constraints. Being surrounded by other like-minded entrepreneurs creates a unique culture in which individuals inspire and motivate each other.

Implications

In 2015, we wrote an article in the Dutch newspaper ‘het Financieele Dagblad’ recommending that the Dutch ‘special envoy for start-ups’, Neelie Kroes, stops trying to copy the success of Silicon Valley. Instead, we recommended that she pays close attention to the unique characteristics of the Dutch context. After publishing this article Neelie Kroes reached out to us, and we work together to try to improve the conditions for Dutch start-ups.

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