Working Towards Sustainable Science Practices: The Sustainable Research Symposium

Last year I wrote about the Green Labs project in the Netherlands, and as a follow up I am going to attend their upcoming Sustainable Research symposium.

The Sustainable Research Symposium 2022 will be held on May 19th between 9am – 3pm CET at the Princess Maxima Center, Utrecht Science Park in the Netherlands and can be followed online.

The symposium is a unique free symposium about sustainable research which can be followed in person or virtually. It was organized for the first time in 2021 and this year the honour falls to Green Labs. More details in my post from last year:

The program covers topics such as innovative ideas to increase sustainability in research, sustainability criteria in research funding, environmentally responsible conferencing and more!

Time table:

08:50 – Welcome and introduction
09:00 – Session 1: Current state of sustainability in science & future outlook

  • 09:00 – Nikoline Borgermann – Ava Sustain
  • 09:20 – Sustainable European Laboratories network (SELs)
  • 09:35 – Hannah Johnson – Green Labs Netherlands
  • 09:50 – Klimaatgesprekken 
  • 10:10 – Marlène Bartes – European Commission, MSCA Green Charter

10:30 – Coffee break
11:00 – Session 2: Innovative ideas to increase sustainability in research or industry

  • 11:00 – PAN Biotech
  • 11:15 – Loic Lannelongue – University of Cambridge, UK
  • 11:30 – Jan Heidelberger – Max Planck School Matter to Life, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 11:45 – UNI-ECO
  • 12:00 – Daniela Farina – LEAF implementation

12:15 – Pitch your idea

Short pitches of ideas how to increase sustainability in science selected from submitted abstracts

12:30 – Lunch and poster session

Poster presentations selected from submitted abstracts

13:45 – Session 3: Panel discussion: How to make scientific conferences more sustainable?

Jeroen Dobbelaere – Max Perutz Labs, Vienna, Austria
Viktoria Lamprinaki – Company of Biologists

14:45 – Closing
15:00 – Networking event

Registration is free for both the in-person and online participation. Further details are available through the symposium website.

See you there!

Fair Energy Transition for All: FETA Project

Image from the FETA website

In this post I would like to take a quick look at the project FETA, Fair Energy Transition for All.

Energy Transition

Energy transition refers to the move towards carbon neutral energy production, and the concept under discussion is how this transition process can be made as fair as possible for the largest number of people.

How could it not be fair? We might ask this question, but we might come up with some simple suggestions: the transition is going to cost money, tax money and consumer money, and this added expense is not going to be felt equally across the population (we are talking about Europe here). If a government adds a cost (to use a current example) to the price of electricity in order to fund wind generation, this extra cost represents a different percentage of disposable income for different groups. If you spend 2% of your income on electricity it might not be noticeable, but if you spend 20% then it certainly will.

The current crisis with energy costs has already demonstrated the fragility of a population that relies on power for heat and electricity in any form, and any transition tax applied a year ago will today both raise more money and put more strain on poorer households. And subsidies for insulating houses, buying new white goods or towards the cost of an electric car require outlay on the part of the consumer, which means that it excludes those without access to such funds. And that says nothing about the skills needed to navigate the bureaucracy

Adding charges to bills and subsidising energy efficient purchases is a top down approach though, decisions taken by governments and energy company bosses (my rather cynical interpretation coming out here), but this is a a problem that FETA aims to address.

Some thoughts from the website:

For the energy transition to take place, policy measures need to be put in place that will have an impact on housing, energy, transport and other aspects of our everyday lives. However, the impacts of climate policies, such as rising fuel taxes or the closure of coal mines, affect socially and economically disadvantaged groups the most. This leads to economic and social conflicts: many people feel alienated by climate change policies, which they perceive as elitist issues, and they feel that the elites are out of touch with their lives and are not aware of their interests.

For climate action to be successful, widespread public acceptance is needed. European and national policy-makers need to develop climate change policies that everyone can relate to and benefit from! Policy-makers should listen to those whose voices are being left out of the current debate and include them in the policy and communication process. That is the only way in which a fair energy transition can be achieved – for all!

All of which boils down into three main questions:

  • How can the EU and its member states prevent climate policies from hitting the pockets of poorer households the hardest?
  • How can policies be designed so that everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the energy transition?
  • How can the energy transition be combined with social justice?

To find answers, the project is conducting public participation events that involve 1000 participants in 90 focus groups spread across Europe, while the Bassetti Foundation (our funding partner) is working on policy proposals by running some expert workshops in Italy. The aim is to better understand the emotions, fears, views and needs of vulnerable people with regards to the energy transition and its current and potential impact on their living conditions, in order to provide input to national and European policy-makers, researchers and stakeholders to help them develop fair energy transition policies and enhance the communication with the target group.

The website offers more information and is well designed and really easy to follow.

Just down our street at Technology Bloggers we might say.

OECD Conference on Technology in and for Society

In this post I would like to offer some take-aways and personal thoughts on the recent OECD Conference on Technology in and for Society, held on the 6th and 7th of December 2021.

Innovating Well for Inclusive Transitions

The conference rationale was Innovating Well for Inclusive Transitions, based upon the arguments that the world faces unprecedented challenges in health, food, climate change and biodiversity, solutions for which will require system transition or transformation. The technologies involved may bring fear of negative consequences and problems with public acceptance, as well as raise real issues of social justice (primarily of equal access, thinking today about covid vaccination inequalities as an obvious starting point).

Good governance and ethics will therefore be necessary to harness technology for the common good.

Towards a framework for the responsible development of emerging technologies

The following is taken from the rationale page of the conference website:

The conference will explore values, design principles, and mechanisms that operate upstream and at different stages of the innovation value chain. Certain policy design principles are increasingly gaining traction in responsible innovation policies, and provide an organising structure for the panels in the conference:  

Inclusivity, diversity and stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder and broader public engagement can be means to align science and technology with societal values, goals and needs. This includes the involvement of stakeholders, citizens, and actors typically excluded from the innovation process (e.g. small firms, remote regions, certain social groups, e.g. minorities etc.). The private sector too has a critical role to play in governance. 

Goal orientation

Policy can play a role in better aligning research, commercialisation and societal needs. This implies investing in public and private sector research and development (R&D) and promoting “mission-oriented” technological transformations that better connect innovation impacts to public policy needs. At the same time, such innovation and industrial policies need to be transparent, open and well-designed so they foster deliberation, produce value for money, and do not distort competition.

Anticipatory governance

From an innovation perspective, governance approaches that engage at a late stage of the innovation process can be inflexible, inadequate and even stifling. More anticipatory kinds of governance — like new technology assessment methods, foresight strategies and ethics-by-design – can enhance the capacity to govern well.

The conference included round-table and panel events alongside institutional presentations, introductions and scene setting as well as wrap-ups. Video of each event is available via the conference website, supported by an introduction paragraph and series of questions.

One of the roundtables I attended may be of particular interest to Technology Bloggers readers as it was all about carbon neutrality:

Realising Net Carbon Neutrality: The Role of Carbon Management Technologies

Description

Reaching net carbon neutrality is one of the central global challenges we face, and technological development will play a key role. A carbon transition will necessitate policies that promote sustainable management of the carbon stored in biomass, but not exclusively so: technology is increasingly making it possible to recycle industrial sources of carbon, thus making them renewable. The idea of “carbon management” may capture the different facets of the answer: reduce the demand for carbon; reuse and recycle the carbon in the bio- and technosphere; and remove carbon from the atmosphere. But a reliance on technologies for carbon capture and usage (CCU) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) may present barriers for other more radical transformations.

● What knowledge is necessary to better guide national and international policy communities as they manage emerging technology portfolios for carbon management?

● What can more holistic approaches to carbon management offer for developing technology pathways to net carbon neutrality?

● What policies could ensure that one technology is not a barrier for implementation of another?

I took a lot of notes, including the following points:

What kind of technology and knowledge is necessary when steering the development of emerging technology?

There are both opportunities and challenges for finding the right mix between technology and policy

Carbon capture alone will not be viable, we have to reduce emissions

The energy transition will have to be dramatic but there is no international agreement on the phasing out of carbon fuels

There is an immediate need for investment, social acceptance and political will

Use technology that is available today rather than using language about innovation

Policy-makers have to see a whole picture, just cutting carbon from some of the big emitters will not be enough

Real structural change is necessary

The old economic sectors and the poor should not be those who pay

Success requires not only information, but communication

The truth about both economic and social costs should be available

Why not watch the video here? It’s just over an hour long.