“Sustainability is our collective wake up call. The challenge is to tap into our imagination and come up with pathways that lead towards sustainability.” With these words Prof Maarten Hajer launched the annual Utrecht University Pathways to Sustainability Conference at TivoliVredenburg on 9 February 2018. Aimed at creating a meeting place for a transdisciplinary community of sustainability experts, the event inspired nearly 500 scientists, policy makers, consultants, directors, students and practitioners working in various disciplines.
“Bringing people together is the way to tap into the imagination needed to think of new solutions and approaches.” The university has a key role to play here, emphasised president Anton Pijpers. With the Pathways to Sustainability programme, Utrecht University will invest in collaborations with societal partners. “It is an invitation for bright minds to work on a better future”, said Pijpers.
Utrecht as living lab
To illustrate these ideas, Hajer invited Prof John Robinson from the University of Toronto to present his ideas. A renowned scholar on problem-driven interdisciplinarity, Robinson advised the university to use its campus as a living laboratory of sustainability. He shared his vision of a university campus where staff and students, along with private, public and not-for-profit partners, maximise the opportunities to work together on sustainability issues.
The university’s physical plant, and its education and research capabilities are then used to test, study, teach, apply and share lessons, technologies and policies. The idea is to increase both human and environmental wellbeing, through what he calls ‘regenerative sustainability’.
Sea level rise
One of the urgent issues that requires transdisciplinary cooperation is sea level rise, a topic where the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and Utrecht University researchers often collaborate on. Dr Aimée Slangen from NIOZ enticed the audience with her expertise on sea level rise. “We all know that sea levels will rise. But exactly how much? And where? Should we prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario or not?” In her on-stage discussion with polar meteorologist Prof Michiel van der Broeke about the climate sensitivity of the Antarctic ice sheet they both concluded that the sea level will irrevocably continue to rise. Further improving prediction models and reducing existing uncertainties is therefore of great importance. Despite the promising ability of these techniques, they stressed that we should stop greenhouse gas emissions now.
Interaction on four sustainability issues
Ample space for transdisciplinary cooperation was created in the interactive break-out sessions where Utrecht University researchers teamed up with external stakeholders focusing on four topics: Towards Industry with Negative Emissions, Future Food Utrecht: Pathways towards Healthy Planet Diets, Transforming Infrastructures for Sustainable Cities, and Water, Climate & Future Deltas. Hot topics were discussed in smaller working groups, including the question how scientific experts, industry partners and stakeholders can work together to radically transform the industry to meet the Paris climate ambitions. Other issues for debate were pathways for sustainable food production systems, pathways to cities and infrastructures of the future, and the impact of the effects of climate change on delta areas worldwide.
Imagining new futures
With all these topics and opportunities for transdisciplinary cooperation in mind, what would the world of tomorrow look like? Inspiration caught during the day was reflected in the final panel discussion with Prof Bert Weckhuysen (Utrecht University, Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis), Marjan Minnesma (Director of Urgenda), Roald Laperre (Director General for the Environment and International Affairs at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management) and Marco Waas (Director RD&I and Technology at AkzoNobel). The discussion was led by Maarten Hajer.
“Can we envisage a truly sustainable society?”, Hajer asked. “What would be different? What are game changing innovations, for instance in the field of industry and chemicals, in what we consider waste and what is regarded a resource? How can we facilitate the transition?”. Thirty minutes were hardly enough to answer these ambitious questions.
And what should be Utrecht University’s role in this transition? Which key players can join us to create a sustainable world? Marco Waas described his vision for the future: “My dream is that science, government and industries really start working together. We should all adopt the same vision and work together to make the energy transition within twenty years a reality. A lot of solutions are already on the table, they just need extra effort. And for that we need all stakeholders on board.”
|09:00||Registration and coffee|
|09:30||Opening||Prof Maarten Hajer, Prof Anton Pijpers|
|09:45||Making a difference: universities as living labs and agents of change for sustainability||Keynote Prof John Robinson (University of Toronto)|
|10:30||Coffee and networking at the Sustainable Marketplace||Details below|
|11:00||Preparing for sea level rise, do's and don'ts||Keynote Dr Aimée Slangen (NIOZ), Prof Michiel van den Broeke|
|11:45||Intermezzo||Creative Thinkers BreukersGodrie|
|12:00||Introduction break-out sessions||Prof Arnim Wiek (Arizona State University)|
|12:20||Lunch and networking at the Sustainable Marketplace||Details below|
|14:00||Parallel interactive break-out sessions||Details below|
|1. Towards Industry with Negative Emissions||Led by Prof Gert Jan Kramer|
|2. Future Food: Pathways Towards Healthy Planet Diets||Led by Prof Rens Voesenek|
|3. Transforming Infrastructures for Sustainable Cities||Led by Prof Jochen Monstadt|
|4. Water, Climate & Future Deltas||Led by Prof Hans Middelkoop|
|15:30||Coffee and networking as part of break-out sessions|
|16:00||Wrap up break-out sessions||Dr Barbara Regeer (VU), Dr Vanessa Timmer (OneEarth), Prof John Robinson, Prof Arnim Wiek|
|16:35||Panel discussion on Imagining sustainable futures||Led by Prof Maarten Hajer, with Prof Bert Weckhuysen, Marjan Minnesma (URGENDA), Roald Lapperre (Director General for the Environment and International Affairs), and Marco Waas (Akzo Nobel)|
|17:15||Drinks, nibbles and networking at the Sustainable Marketplace||Details below|
Detailed programme of the interactive break-out sessions:
Deep decarbonisation of industry presents a formidable challenge with which we are only beginning to come to grips. This is an especially pressing concern for the Netherlands, where the (heavy) industry sector is comparatively large, and the government has recently announced ambitious emission targets for 2030 (-49% compared to 1990), the burden of which fall significantly on industry, calling for emissions reduction of over 20 Mton.
In this session Prof Gert Jan Kramer will present the proposed hub programme and its ambitions. Dr Pieter Boot, Director Climate, Air and Energy at the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, will put the challenge in context. The main part of the session will be a debate with between the audience and panellists Mr Drs Sanne Akerboom and Prof Martin Junginger (both Utrecht University), Jaap Hoogcarspel (Hoogcarspel Management & Consultancy) and Guus Kessler (DAREL). The debate will focus on the challenges of the transition and the research questions that should be addressed, and will be facilitated by Dr Vanessa Timmer, Executive Director of One Earth in Canada, and visiting expert at Utrecht University.
In this session, chaired by Dr Herman Lelieveldt (University College Roosevelt and author of the book ‘De Voedselparadox’), Future Food researchers and key stakeholders will present the proposed hub research plans in duo presentations. Feedback from participants on the plans will be actively encouraged, both during the session itself and during the coffee break.
After an introduction by Prof Rens Voesenek (Chair of the Future Food Board), the session will include short discussions on specific topics. Prof Corné Pieterse and Clemens Stolk (Innova Connect) will outline the key issues and possible pathways for sustainable food production systems. Prof Aletta Kraneveld en Dr Tjitske Bezema (Immunowell/Hidden Health Solutions) will discuss the opportunities that nutrition can offer to influence the immune system directly or indirectly, improving immune fitness and sustainable health. Prof Denise de Ridder and Cyrille Filott (Rabobank Research) will address questions related to social and cultural change of food behaviour. And last but not least, Prof Stephanie Rosenkranz and Prof Rob Hamer (Unilever and Wageningen University) will highlight key questions regarding the opportunities in the food chain for future efficiencies. Dr Barbara Regeer (VU Amsterdam) and Herman Lelieveldt will wrap up the session by offering concluding remarks.
Changing urban infrastructures beyond incremental improvements and individual domains imposes exceptionally high requirements in terms of the transformative knowledge for decision makers. The proposed research hub will analyse and test the role of transformative techniques and practices associated with long-term urban futures, particularly their role in shaping socio-technical pathways of cities.
After a short overview by Prof Jochen Monstadt and other members of the core team, participants will engage in an urban design workshop on the future of Utrecht’s Merwedekanaalzone. Small working groups will focus on 1) transformative governance, 2) futuring, 3) experimentation, 4) co-provision and 5) sustainability assessment. Participants will choose one of those working groups and provide input to help shape and refine existing ideas. Prof John Robinson will wrap up the session after the coffee break.
After a brief introduction by Prof Hans Middelkoop the session will continue with short interactive discussions on 1) sea level rise, 2) soil subsidence, and 3) scenario planning. These discussions will be co-led by UU researchers and external partners.
Dr Roderik van de Wal and Dr Marjolein Haasnoot (Deltares) will reflect on sea level rise. Dr Esther Stouthamer, Prof Marleen van Rijswick, Dr Mariet Hefting, and Henk van Hardeveld (UU/Hoogheemraadschap De Stichtse Rijnlanden) will discuss the implications of soil subsidence. And Prof Detlef van Vuuren (UU/PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) and Deon Slagter (Rijkswaterstaat) will kick off the discussion on scenario planning. Finally, in addition to Prof Arnim Wiek (Arizona State University), participants will be highly encouraged to contribute their ideas and suggestions.
The Sustainable Marketplace is the place to meet other like-minded people. Get energised with coffee, food and drinks. And be inspired by some of the amazing innovative projects that are already happening today.
UU science driven innovation projects
Six sustainable innovation projects are turning Utrecht’s sustainability ambitions into a reality. Come see the Smart Solar Charging project kick-starting sustainable energy systems at district level. Get inspired about the Werkspoorkwartier project transforming the Utrecht Werkspoorkwartier district into a circular hub developed by and for creative circular entrepreneurs. These and other projects are coordinated by the Utrecht Sustainability Institute and involve Utrecht University reseachers and societal partners.
Great changes, great stories
The transition to sustainable cities needs a radical change in culture. Get inspired by the visions of BreukersGodrie. With these winners of the Post-Fossil City Contest, a unique presentation is guaranteed.
Sustainable UU – Implementing your research
Can your research or insights contribute to make the University’s daily operations more sustainable? Meet the Sustainability Programme and the Green Office Utrecht team and explore how you can help make Utrecht University CO2-neutral by 2030.
Methane emission contest: who wins?
One third of the human population emits methane. What is your methane production? Take part in the ‘methane emission contest’ developed by a team of Utrecht University researchers led by Prof Thomas Röckmann.
Visit the Advanced Research Center Chemical Building Blocks Consortium (ARC-CBBC) and Netherlands Center for Multiscale Catalytic Energy Conversion (MCEC) stand and find out how they are hoping to tackle the issues of growing demand for the finite supply of raw materials and ever-increasing demand for new functionalities.
Sustainable and inclusive
Large-scale investments in biofuels and green energy have a social and environmental impact in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Prof Annelies Zoomers is involved in LANDac and the Shared Value Foundation and will share the latest insights from these multi-stakeholder partnerships with you.
Supporting your research
Money makes the world go round. How can you turn your innovative sustainable ideaa into reality? The University’s Research Support Office (RSO) is here to help researchers ánd societal partners with identifying funding opportunities and advice on how to write successful funding proposals.
Sustainability? Play it!
Dr Karin Rebel, Dr Joost Vervoort and Astrid Mangnus are implementing serious gaming in an educational setting. This is your chance to play some of the sustainability games developed by Utrecht University and HKU students. Their GameJam will take place during the closing drinks of the conference.