Book review by Lowik Pieters:
Prosperity without growth by Tim Jackson
It seems like the world is changing rapidly, but one thing has been stable for centuries: our need for (economic) growth. To date, the EU and the UN stick to the mantra of ‘green growth’, arguing that over time, our economic system will function separately from its resource demands. Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, UK, immediately exposes that ‘decoupling’ material and energy input from economic growth is a myth. In his book Prosperity Without Growth, Jackson doesn’t preach a post-material phantasy, he offers serious solutions to a flaw in the fabric of our economies.
Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations For The Economy Of Tomorrow was first published in 2010 and immediately gained attention among scholars and economy students: why was ‘post-growth’ economic thinking not part of their curriculum? When it’s second edition was published in 2017, the book was no longer regarded a radical narrative. Instead, it offered a clear vision for a post financial crisis world, with proposals for changes in the financial sector.
Tim Jackson inspired Kate Raworth to write her bestseller Doughnut Economics and his book is seen as a ‘landmark in the sustainability debate’. The Guardian called it a manifesto for an emerging movement that is trying to convince economists that there’s more than GDP growth. In fact, GDP growth is eventually limiting prosperity because of its unequal distribution. Today, many countries acknowledge that GDP isn’t a good indicator for prosperity measurements, but they seem to fear to take action on how to deal with prosperity issues differently.
The dilemma of growth
Tim Jackson’s ‘dilemma of growth’ resulted in his book Prosperity Without Growth and several scholarly publications. According to Jackson, prosperity means flourishing, a steady state that strives for wellbeing for everyone. This isn’t a very new way of thinking, though. Already in 1973 the book Small Is Beautiful was published by economist Fritz Schumacher, who urged economies to transition to regional systems, focusing on social and ecological principles. It reads like a hands-on economy focused sequel to Limits to Growth.
In what way is this book different from Doughnut Economics and earlier publications that address the dilemma of growth? Jacksons work offers a solid theoretical background, but also includes concrete solutions to problems of capitalism (such as employee ownership, revitalization of social investment, changing investments in general). Would these solutions be the perfect answer to neoliberalism?
By Ankita Singhvi.
A quarter of the world’s population lives within 100km of a shoreline, with urbanisation on the rise. Coastal space is scarce and valuable, but it is becoming increasingly vulnerable due to climate change. The main hazards that the coast needs to be protected against are erosion (the loss or displacement of land, or the consistent removal of rocks and sediment along a shoreline due to waves, currents, tides or storms) and flooding (when sea height exceeds the elevation of land and covers it, caused by high tides or storms). In order to protect the coast, various interventions are taken on the shoreline: e.g. dikes, dunes, seawalls, beach nourishment. In particular, multifunctional coastal protection has increasingly been receiving attention due to its promise of enhancing adaptation to the threats of climate change, as well as relieving the pressures of increasing urbanisation. Multifunctionality refers to the multiple benefits that an intervention can provide beyond risk reduction. The concept emphasizes the explicit interweaving of ecological, social, and economic functions. What does this look like in practise? Here, I will describe two cases in the Netherlands – one ‘nature-based intervention’ and one ‘grey’ intervention.
Sand Motor, Monster
The coast of Monster has a large, man-made hook-shaped peninsula (see image above) – one of the few interruptions to the otherwise uniform shoreline of the Netherlands. This peninsula is a beach nourishment project called the Sand Motor (also referred to as Sand Engine and Zand Motor). It was constructed by placing 21.5 million m3 of sand on the beach with the aim of reducing the speed of coastal erosion and protecting upland infrastructure from storm surges or high tides. Typical nourishment projects are a repetitive process; a coastline is artificially replenished every five years. In contrast, five times the volume of the average sand nourishment was used at the Sand Motor with the expectation that replenishment would become unnecessary along the Delfland Coast for the next twenty years.
The Sand Motor’s design uses an ecosystem-based conceptualisation of multifunctionality and emphasizes ‘building with nature’ in its design philosophy. In other words, the multiple benefits that the coast provides in addition to protection are dependent on the newly created sandy ecosystem. The hook-shape of the peninsula is crucial for the creation of a shallow lagoon, which supports kitesurfing, recreational swimming, fish habitats and soil organisms. The sediment size and grading of the sand, as well as the presence of shells allows dune formation, which supports an underground fresh water lens and above-ground vegetation and habitats for wildlife. The width of the beach supports recreation, and the entire system is a pilot project that benefits research and education.
Scheveningen Boulevard, The Hague
Scheveningen’s boulevard has a 2km long dike integrated into it for the purpose of flood defence. The boulevard has an undulating course that follows the historical coastline. On the sea side of the boulevard, the beach has been widened to reduce the impact of waves on the flood defence structure during extremely high water. This allows a lower crest height for the dike to suffice. Furthermore, sand supplementation has made the beach ~50 metres wider with the aim of creating a smooth transition from the boulevard to the beach. The core principles that guided the design of the boulevard are: accessibility, vitality, spatial quality and strengthening the identity of Scheveningen.
The boulevard takes a spatial planning conceptualisation of multifunctionality: it uses the dike-in-boulevard to increase the capacity of the shoreline to provide services such as parking spots, hotels, residential buildings and commercial zones – which are all built on top of the dike. The premise of this multifunctional dike is that it is more cost-effective than a conventional dike because it optimises land use by providing multiple real-estate development opportunities. In addition to coastal protection, the dike serves the town with a mixed-use program that should be interesting for both tourist and business visitors, and secure a year-round programme to attract more long-stay visitors. Scheveningen is the most popular seaside resort of the Netherlands, and the dike aims to support this function rather than subtract from it.
To summarise, both coastal protection interventions showcase multifunctionality in different ways: in the Sand Motor, it stems from the ecosystem, and at Scheveningen it stems from the urban system. In the context of increasing scarcity of space in urban areas, it no longer makes sense to build mono-functional infrastructure. The cases show how multiple functions can increase the adaptivity of an intervention to an uncertain future by making it useful even when there are no immediete flood or erosion hazards. Multiple functions help in building public and political support for large investments, and they support the creation of multiple lines of defence – leading to safer, higher quality spatial planning for our cities.
By Lowik Pieters & Quirien Reijtenbagh.
It is often assumed that profit is to capitalism as sand is to a beach. The constant growth of resource extractions, essential in a for-profit economy, is aggravating ecological and social crises. Currently, many organizations are adopting a not-for-profit structure. How can these structures contribute to an economy that includes environmental and social justice? Hinton & Maclurcan (2018) developed a Not-for-Profit (abbreviated as NFP) World economic model. In this article, we will investigate the potential for a ‘real-world application’ and the possibilities for starting an NFP business after graduating from Industrial Ecology.
What is the NFP business model?
Let’s start with a clear definition: a non-profit organization is legally excluded from making profits, whereas a not-for-profit business model should be understood as a not-only-for-profit business. For such organizations, profit is no longer the key focus. Practically, we use not-for-profit as an equivalent for non-profit in this article, since we think the long term strategies of both business models are the same. We do not favor hybrid structures, which we will explain later on.
Organizations that have adopted an NFP model are seen as mission-driven enterprises, usually with a changed nature of incentives and ownership structure (Hinton & Maclurcan, 2018). The successes of these companies are based on their impact in the community, rather than the profits they generate. NFPs don’t have private owners and financial surpluses should serve social and environmental benefits (Hinton, 2020).
The NFP business model isn’t new. Lately there has been renewed interest in old business models such as consumer cooperatives (Utting et al., 2014). Nowadays, consumer cooperatives often supply food or renewable energy. We think that the NFP business model has been on the rise because of a certain level of distrust in governments and new forms of financing, such as crowdfunding or community bonds.
Hybrid business models?
The profit/non-profit dichotomy is secured in most industrialized countries in regulations with a clear distinction between the for-profit and the non-profit legal status (e.g. foundations, associations are not allowed to make profits). This separation resembles the classic capitalist distinction between market and state. However, in practice, many companies already have diverging operations that make the profit/non-profit distinction questionable (Schmid, 2018). Scholars demand a hybrid structure (Alberti & Varon Garrido, 2017), but we specifically propose a revival of the not-for-profit with an obligation to clearly define objectives and values.
We chose this option because we think that the dynamics of a not-for-profit organization are key to breaking with the capitalist growth mantra. A hybrid structure is diffusing. Social housing corporations represent a pertinent example. Many Dutch housing corporations prefer building profitable houses where returns are high, rather than serving their original objectives: essentially, these organizations should provide affordable household and community services.
The critical role of profit for sustainability
An unfortunate consequence of the for-profit structure is that it is built on the foundations of ‘limitless growth economy’. This system encourages depletion of natural resources, consumerism and social inequality (Hinton, 2020). A typical example of a for-profit structure is the shareholder model with profit maximization. Profits are usually the only incentive for shareholders to invest. Diametrically opposed to this, when the legal structures are well defined, a not-for-profit should only pursue social and environmental benefits. Any generated profits should be reinvested to ensure the continuation of the NFP’s socio-environmental strategy.
Moreover, the diversity of goals of not-for-profit organizations supports heterogeneous economic structures, which helps us to move away from the narrow-minded perspective that economics only includes for-profit enterprises (Schmid, 2018). Contrary to for-profits, NFP structures, such as cooperatives, are surprisingly resilient when coping with (financial) crises (Toia, 2013). The societal benefits of NFPs can be derived from the fact that NFP earnings are maximized for mutual or collective benefit rather than for individual investors (Utting et al., 2014).
Pros for non-profit startups
At the micro level of a company itself, the advantages of the NFP business model are as follows.
Is it always promoting sustainability?
Even though Hinton & Maclurcan (2018) argue that the NFP business model encourages sustainable decision-making by a changed ownership and incentive structure, NFPs are not obliged to have social and environmental aspects as part of their strategy. This is an important limitation that is lacking in legal requirements (Schmid, 2018). Also, the blurry legal structure allows for cheating. Limited supervision by authorities can promote abuse of the regulations such as misreporting on annual accounts (happens at ANBI foundations (In Dutch)).
A Business Model for Sustainability
Schaltegger, Lüdeke-Freund, and Hansen propose a ‘Business Model for Sustainability’, that “helps describing, analyzing, managing, and communicating (i) a company’s sustainable value proposition to its customers, and all other stakeholders, (ii) how it creates and delivers this value, (iii) and how it captures economic value while maintaining or regenerating natural, social, and economic capital beyond its organizational boundaries” (Schaltegger,Lüdeke-Freund, and Hansen, 2016: 6). We agree with the three points of this definition, but would like to emphasize the need of supportive and transparent governments.
The role of the government
Due to their structured course of action and their enormous outreach, we see governments as perfect facilitators of bottom-up initiatives like cooperatives. However, they should not become initiators that try to function as a business. If citizens come up with initiatives, governments should find ways to support them, but not appropriate their ideas. Nonetheless, we encourage governments to arrange appropriate supervision to avoid cheating with the mutually agreed rules. An important condition of this collaboration is that a government should have the trust of its citizens. But a trustworthy government is unfortunately not a matter of course.
We stress that the NFP business model should not function as a substitute for failing government policies. This is how many NFPs started in the 19th century in The Netherlands. In this era, the night-watchman state model demanded self-sustainability of all citizens. Non profit organizations, such as housing corporations, were established to provide services for those who couldn’t afford it.
How to substitute for missed profit taxes
What if many businesses would really adopt an NFP business model? You might think that this article is just a range of utopian ideas. We couldn’t resist already thinking about practicalities that could help you to put these ideas in a realistic perspective. Considering this proposal from a government perspective, we might imagine that policy makers will wonder: What should governments do to replace the missed profit taxes? Let’s look at our current regulations: carbon taxing of current for-profit businesses has not worked so far and nations struggle to implement laws that include external costs of pollution, environmental damage and social inequality. NFPs are likely to be less harmful. For instance, they could be the big equalizers when adopting nature and environmental inclusive values and employing workers that have a distance from the labor market. This will prevent governments from making costs to fix these negative externalities. Even though NFP business models might lead to less tax revenues, we expect that government expenditures could likewise be reduced.
Cons for non-profit startups
In practice, many businesses start with a not-for-profit structure but eventually move to a for-profit model when they grow bigger. This usually has to do with the fact that NFPs have to publish a detailed report of their annual results to the general public. Public scrutiny makes companies more transparent, but also more vulnerable to competitors and prone to social pressure. Since many NFPs strongly depend on a sense of morality, their activities can face opposition. This is why we think that the legal statuses of NFPs should be protected by the government and so should be the level playing field of NFPs. We encourage policymakers to think about instruments for this.
An organization that advocates a separate legal status for NFPs as well is Social Enterprise NL (for info on legal status see here). This association aims to connect members that are businesses acting as a ‘social enterprise’ (read the criteria developed by EU here) by supporting them, inspiring them and facilitating an optimal business environment. An important step of the last goal is legal recognition.
In short, our proposal includes both a top-down and a bottom-up approach. For governments we underline that they should protect not-for-profits legally, they should demand goals related to sustainability and equality and check regularly if these strategies are complied with. For businesses that want to adopt NFP, we deem it important that they include social and environmental values in their statutes. The same holds for non-distribution clauses and asset locks. By including these values, they do not only serve as objectives, but as a pledge for a long term strategy.
Must reads if you are thinking about starting a not-for-profit business:
Alberti, F. G., & Varon Garrido, M. A. (2017). Can profit and sustainability goals co-exist? New business models for hybrid firms. Journal of Business Strategy, 38(1), 3–13. https://doi.org/10.1108/JBS-12-2015-0124
Hinton, J., & Maclurcan, D. (2017). A not-for-profit world beyond capitalism and economic growth? Ephemera, 17(1), 147–166.
Hinton, J. B. (2020). Fit for purpose? Clarifying the critical role of profit for sustainability. Journal of Political Ecology, 27(1), 236–262. https://doi.org/10.2458/v27i1.23502
Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E. G., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2016). Business Models for Sustainability: Origins, Present Research, and Future Avenues. Organization & Environment, 29(1), 3–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086026615599806
Schmid, B. (2018). Structured Diversity: A Practice Theory Approach to Post-Growth Organisations. Management Revue, 29(3), 281–310. https://doi.org/10.5771/0935-9915-2018-3-281
Toia, P. (2013). Report on the contribution of cooperatives to overcoming the crisis (Nr. A7-0222/2013; Committee on Industry, Research and Energy Report). European Parliament. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&reference=A7-2013-0222&language=EN
Utting, P., van Dijk, N., & Matheï, M.-A. (2014). Social and Solidarity Economy: Is there a new economy in the making? (p. 71). United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. http://www.unrisd.org/unrisd/website/document.nsf/(httpPublications)/AD29696D41CE69C3C1257D460033C267?OpenDocument
By Ankita Singhvi.
After months of studying in classrooms, the Interdisciplinary Project Group (IPG) gives IE students the opportunity to put our knowledge to use in the ‘real world’.
We were commissioned to support the beach pavilions at Scheveningen in aligning themselves with the climate goals of the Haags Klimaatpact. The Haags Klimaatpact (Hague’s Climate Agreement) was formulated as a statement of intent in 2018. It is a document that states that various political parties, local businesses and the municipality aim to operationalise and localise the international climate goals to the context of The Hague. Our aim was to propose collaborative measures that the beach pavilions could take to align themselves with these climate goals, suggest how they could be implemented, and then evaluate their environmental, social and financial impacts. In short, the three resulting measures that we came up with were:
These results, along with a list of individual solutions and funding opportunities for the beach pavilions was presented to the beach pavilions owners.
The main lesson to be taken from our research is that there is no single measure that can be the ‘silver bullet’ for reaching The Hague’s climate goal of net-zero carbon emissions. As with all complex tasks, this transition needs many steps to be taken in parallel. We recommend that the first step is gathering insight: the beach pavilions currently know very little about their own resource use and waste, so they should collect data to understand it better. This data can then be used to understand which collaborative measures would have the most environmental impact, which in turn would have to be supported by municipal and national government in order to spread the risk and initial investments needed. Armed with this knowledge, the next step can be formulated, bringing the beach pavilions closer to the climate goals of the Haags Klimaatpact.
IPG project by: Eva Aarts, Marin Visscher, Tessa Baart, Quirien Reijtenbagh and Ankita Singhvi
Full report can be seen on request 🙂
By Lowik Pieters.
The course Sustainable Innovation and Social Change (SUISCY) gave us the opportunity to investigate the innovative way of making synthetic kerosene from renewable sources in North Holland. Our case study showed the possibilities and limitations of the implementation phase of this sustainable innovation.
Let’s first take a look at how synthetic kerosene is produced. Kerosene is made from hydrocarbons. Synthetic Kerosene is an artificial kerosene from carbon and hydrogen atoms. To make it carbon neutral, CO2 captured from the atmosphere or industrial plants can be a source of carbon atoms (CO2 is split into CO – and O2). The hydrogen comes from water through electrolysis when there is a surplus of wind/solar electricity production. The picture below shows how Synthetic Fuel can be produced.
In 2018, a report called “Carbon Neutral Aviation” was published for synthetic kerosene in The Netherlands. In that scenario, production should be based on carbon sourcing from Tata Steel (yes, the graphite rain company), hydrogen sourcing via water from ‘t IJ / the North Sea, Energy from an offshore windpark near the coast of IJmuiden and transport and storage through the Port of Amsterdam towards Schiphol Airport, the proposed consumer.
To see if this could be an option for The Netherlands, and in particular Schiphol Airport we took four perspectives on the case: starting with 1) the Innovation System Perspective, through which potential actors were identified and the technologies were analyzed in further detail. This analysis was followed by 2) the Niche-Transition Perspective (adapted from Loorbach et al., 2017) that allowed us to make a comparison between the niche of Synthetic Kerosene and current regimes of airplane fueling. Thereafter, we included a 3) Sustainable Business Model Perspective for checking if the value proposition could lead to a viable business case. Lastly, a 4) Visioning and Backcasting (i.e. the opposite of forecasting) Perspective paved transition pathways and scenarios that could be useful to predict future developments.
We concluded that synthetic kerosene developments in The Netherlands are depending on different technolgical aspects and various actors. This can be called a complex sociotechnical system, which can threaten a successful implementation. According to our analysis, traditional oil companies could play a key role, but they need to be willing to change the current regime and infrastructure. However, we see many advantages, since the Fischer-Tropsch process is a well established technique, since synthetic kerosene will – unlike biofuels – not compete with agriculture, and since resources and energy are expected to be widely available in the near future.
This project was carried out by: Martijn van Bodegraven, Nico van Eeden, Joel de Saint-Ours and Lowik Pieters.
The full report can be seen on request.
Dr. Benjamin Sprecher will discuss the (critical) raw materials that are needed for the energy transition, from an Industrial Ecology perspective. The event will take place on Wednesday 16 October 2019 from 17:30 at VVM, 2e Daalsedijk 6A, Utrecht.
Nowadays, it can be considered common knowledge that society needs to drastically change its energy system due to the relation to climate change. But what consequences does this have on global material demands to make this transition happen?
Dr. Benjamin Sprecher will show us this resource perspective, which is often overlooked in energy transition debates. Is there even enough metal, cobalt and neodymium to built all those wind turbines and photovoltaics? Can we mine them fast enough and what geopolitical issues can arise when doing so?
These and other questions will be addressed during this VVM café, as a typical example of the field of Industrial Ecology. It is being co-organised by the student association for Industrial Ecology, IESA Shift, and will be held in English, to ensure non-Dutch speaking students and professionals can also participate.
Please register here (website is in Dutch, but the event will be in English). Note that student members can attend the event for free. Not a member of VVM yet? Use the code ShiftVVM and pay EUR 20 instead of EUR 40 for a membership.
By: Kirsten Steunenberg.
“Graphite rains’ look like little sparkles in the air’, says Kyra, 10 years old, light brown hair, with freckles on her face. ‘It smells really bad. Like something burned.’ After a graphite rain, you can find a dirty layer on the playground equipment of the school’s playground in Wijk aan Zee.
On Tuesday the 4th of June, RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) published a report that stated that metals in graphite rains coming from Tata Steel, are posing health threats to children. Metals such as lead, manganese and vanadium were found in particular high amounts. Children who are repeatedly in contact with the metals are under risk of developing ‘neurological development disorders’.
The village of Wijk aan Zee, 2,200 inhabitants, is close to Tata Steel. The inhabitants are familiar to nuisance by the steel manufacturer, through particulate matter, noise, smell and light. According to the town’s mayor, graphite rains fall ‘more than once a month’. The graphite rains come from Harsco, a company operating on Tata Steel’s grounds, processing its rest products. Harsco now operates in the open air, but a huge hall is being built to transfer the activities indoors. The hall will be finished by April 2020.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Wijk aan Zee have mixed opinions on the results of the report. A few women are not surprised that the particles are dangerous: ‘I often have burning eyes and the dust irritates my throat.’ They are annoyed that no one is acting: ‘The whole town is talking about it, except for the people who should solve this.’
But someone else sees that differently: ‘The whole issue is a bit exaggerated. People think we have mountains of graphite over here; that is not the case. No, I do not want to justify all this. It is unacceptable and something needs to happen. But if the graphite rains were really that unhealthy, we would have been dead already. And if Tata stops or leaves, this whole town will be gone.’
Tata creates jobs, both in the factory as for the companies surrounding it. And Tata brings full hotels and restaurants. It is doubted if Wijk aan Zee would have existed without Tata Steel.
So Wijk aan Zee is divided. Parents and teachers remain concerned about the situation. So for now, children like Kyra, will have to thoroughly wash their hands after playing outside.
This article was adapted and translated from three different news articles (in Dutch):
More in English can be read here:
And do you want to know more about other solutions to Tata Steel’s environmental problems? Read our article on the SUISCY project of synthetic kerosene!
By Ankita Singhvi.
In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is generally agreed that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere must remain under 400 ppm. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a climate mitigation strategy that promises to contribute substantially to keeping CO2 under this limit. The IPCC has stated that the costs of regulating climate change will be twice as high without CCS, and the International Energy Agency adds that it is the most important new strategy for a low-carbon society. Nonetheless, implementation of CCS has met many obstacles over the last decade. There has only been one operational CCS facility in the Netherlands (K12-B CO2 Injection Project), and even that was closed in 2017. This begs the question, what is holding back the deployment of CCS in the Netherlands?
We approached this question by analysing stakeholder expectations about CCS and how the Dutch government has translated these expectations into values and actions. Expectations are important because they do political work; they mobilise resources and script actions into the present. We found that there have been five dominant narratives over the last two decades, and that with each one, the Dutch government has reformulated its values to re-align itself to the relevant stakeholders. Values are the government’s attitude or intentions towards CCS, whereas actions are interventions such as policies, laws or funding.
As the table above shows, we found that the main obstacle for CCS has been the government’s value-action gap (also known as an intention-behavior gap). The government has often failed to take concrete actions that accelerate the development of CCS; there have been subsidies, but no clear laws or policies that suggest a commitment to formalising a place for CCS in meeting low-carbon targets. Without this commitment, stakeholders do not trust that their investment in CCS will be worthwhile. Therefore, we conclude that to accelerate the mainstreaming of CCS, the government needs to explicitly signal that emitting carbon will be consistently expensive enough in the future to justify the deployment of CCS technology.
This article is adapted from a report by: Ankita Singhvi and fellow IE students. It was an assignment from the Closed Loop Supply Chains (CLOSCY) course. The original can be viewed on request.
by Martijn van Engelenburg.
The evening of the 9th of April. A gathering took place. It was a gathering of recruits. Starting in their journey to get ready for writing their thesis. It’s a daunting task for most of us, and it is a task filled with struggles. That’s why we gathered in Delft, to share our fears and listen to the heroes who made it out alive. Oh and maybe a few drinks to give us some liquid courage, but mostly for the stories.
Failing forward was the theme of the night and expert heroes about failing forward had gone through the struggle the year before, but they all made it out alive.
Currently in the process of finishing the thesis, Nena started the evening with being the hero of writing the thesis now. It has been a long fight, but there is just so much work to be done that the hardest thing is to determine the point when you are done. Once you get into writing the thesis, there is so much literature out there that it becomes like a rabbit hole. Deeper and deeper you go, but time doesn’t stand still. Luckily she is almost at the point of finishing, so her struggle will soon be over.
Proper preparation prevents poor performance. That’s what this speech reminded me of. Of course not without bumps in the road, but it can be said that Teun’s thesis flow was pretty smooth. That’s what he stated as well, see it as a 9 to 5, like a normal job you will get after you’re done. Make sure to start early, and get the work in each and every day. Also don’t forget to do stuff to get your mind off of the thesis when you need to. Find a hobby people.
An interesting speech this one, for many reasons. Graham took us through the adventure that was her thesis. Filled with emotions and struggles, but in the end also with a great success. The hardest part, was the start. Graham had plenty of ideas at the start of what she wanted to do, but most of those were not found to be matching with ideas of potential supervisors. That’s the lesson from this hero is to find a supervisor first, and then the topic will follow from that expertise. During the studies you will meet plenty of teachers, and there will be some that are more interesting to you than others. Keep track of the interesting ones, and ask them early if they want to supervise you. Your thesis likely won’t be your career, so don’t worry too much on what you do, just do.
Like a proper Leeroy Jenkins, Tom wanted to be done with it. Three months he said for himself, and at the start it looked like it would be three months, but as is thesis life when things go smoothly there will probably be something coming in your way. And as Tom put in many hours, and lots of energy it kind off burns you out on the topic. Motivation will drop, and along with it the energy to work on it. So see it as marathon, not a sprint. Ride the wave of motivation when you have it, but don’t force it.
I hope to join these heroes in the hall of graduates soon with these lessons!
by I.G.P. Photo: Roos van Tongeren.
With this issue we want to introduce projects that IE-ers are working on, either after graduation or during their studies. We hope that this gives an idea about the experiences, working environment, fields of research and interest of our fellow students.
Our first chosen project is Energy for Refugees, a project group building PV-systems for the refugee camps on Lesvos in Greece. Energy for Refugees has received a lot of media attention, but in case you want a recap (or an introduction), check out this video:
[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOX4HZ0AmVc&feature=youtu.be” ]
We asked some questions to Anurag Bhambhani, one of the initiators and fellow Industrial Ecology student.
Nilli: How was the project initiated in the first place?
Anurag: The TU Energy Club called for applicants who want to work on a project on a refugee camp and they chose us by our applications and motivation letters. Then we started working on a project that was planned on a certain camp in Greece. But it did not really work out because their requirements were different from what could be provided. It was too big for 4 months. So, then we had a talk with the club and said we are going to find our own source, our own contacts. This is how we came in contact with this camp on Lesvos called Pikpa and that’s how we began.
Nilli: What is your specific role and your work?
Anurag: I was selected to be the leader of the club so my basic role was coordinating everything between the teams. Within the team there was a communication team, a technical team and a fundraising team. So, I had to keep track of all these departments and help each team with whatever task they are in and basically assigning work, more like a manager.
Nilli: Who is working together with you? Did you all go to Lesvos together?
Anurag: We were a total of 7, an international team of which most studied sustainable technology. It was interdisciplinary but I was the only one from IE to that time. We all went together leaving around 8th or 9th of July. But while we were on the island our tasks were divided as we worked in shifts and we also had part of the team going around and go finding more sources, more contacts for the next years project. We worked together but not on the same task at the same time.
Nilli: When you were there what was the most emotional moment for you? How was the reaction of the people in the camp?
Anurag: The whole trip was intense emotionally because a lot of things went wrong while we were preparing the 6 months and also while we were there. But of course, as expected the most emotional moment was when we finished. We semi-finished and then we had to leave because our time was over.
The people of the camp were very happy but it is a tricky thing as they did not know that we were going to work there. The reason was that in the last minute we had to change our camp, which was one week after going there. The people who then worked with us from the camp were really interested in this technology and wanted to know more about it, asked questions and supported us with drinks. That was so nice.
Nilli: What kind of problems did you have in the past and how did you manage to overcome these?
Anurag: Communicating with the people in the camp was difficult because none of them had a technical background. We were in contact with an electrician in the old camp, old Pikpa and he didn’t really understand simple things like, ‘what is a flat roof?’. So, when he said flat roof he meant that it is flat but in a triangle form. But he said flat roof so we designed the system based on that idea. But finally, that communication was clarified when we researched through Google Maps.
And then secondly, we were earlier supposed to design a grid connected system, so it could be connected to the grid and whenever the grid power is down it gets power from the panels. But a few months before we figured out that they cannot get a permit. They don’t have any permits. It is tolerated but they cannot get any permits from the municipality or make any connections so we had to shift to an off-grid battery system that increased the costs by 100%.
Thirdly, 10 days before we were supposed to fly we got the news that the camp is being sued and that it had to be closed down. So, we talked to them and they said they could not tell us what was going to happen but the team should just come and they would decide there what should happen. We had 40 panels and 10 batteries so we went anyway had to talk to people and find other camps.
Nilli: What barriers do you see then for future of the project?
Anurag: Barriers will be now less because we have structure, have a name and have experience with problems. Actually, we only have experience with problems. But biggest problem could be communication because when we come from a university we have a fixed mindset of how things should be like specific size or angle etc. but that would often not work out. Even when they say it would, it sometimes does not.
Nilli: Do you mean that your knowledge is now more applied?
Anurag: That is not only the thing with IE but just every university gives you a framework how to act in real life situations but IE allows you a lot of freedom in what you want to study so I took a lot of electives like all electives that were possible for PV technology and solar energy and IE gives you a place to see perspectives for each renewable technology.
Nilli: What else can you think of that gave you a lot of value for the project?
Anurag: Systems thinking is very important in this project but also in any other large-scale environmental protection project where you deal with so many other factors like social factors such as refugee problems or economic factors because you have to raise money. To see these contacts and connect the problems is something you can learn in our program.