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Great interest in LDE Bachelor Honours Programme Sustainability

Today marks the launch of the LDE Bachelor Honours Programme Sustainability. Students from Leiden University, TU Delft and Erasmus University will work together on concrete sustainability issues of organisations. Interest in the new programme turned out to be overwhelming. Two lecturers involved share what their education looks like. "We teach students a systemic view."

Sonja van Dam is assistant professor of Circular Product Design at TU Delft.

Wicked problems

Plastics soup, floods and long periods of drought. Just a few examples that show that we are facing major sustainability challenges, such as the energy transition. Often these are 'wicked problems', observes Sonja van Dam, assistant professor of Circular Product Design at TU Delft. "These are complex issues that have often existed for a long time. We want to challenge students to look at these problems differently and give them the right tools to come up with concrete solutions."

The programme involves lecturers from a wide variety of disciplines; from behavioural science to product design to industrial ecology. "There are so many aspects to it that you can never grasp these kinds of issues from one discipline," explains Wouter Spekkink, associate professor of Public Administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam. "In the subject Fundamentals of Sustainability, we therefore introduce theories that bring the technical and social aspects together." 

Sustainability challenges

Not only the teaching is interdisciplinary; students from all backgrounds may apply. Together, they will work on sustainability challenges. These are concrete cases put forward by, for instance, companies or government parties. The groups are split up in such a way that students from different studies and universities come together. According to Spekkink, this is very valuable, but certainly not always easy: "You never fully understand each other, because you don't know each other's perspective. Yet you understand that everyone has something to add. This creates mutual respect and that is exactly what we want to realise." 

Wouter Spekkink is associate professor of Public Administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Each group bites into a different issue and gets to present their solution to the stakeholders. As a possible case example, Van Dam thinks of the challenges posed by the ban on disposable cups and plates. "In many places, you no longer have dishwashing facilities at all. Do you go back to porcelain plates or to some kind of 'bring your own' concept? We have a throwaway society for a reason, because we like convenience. The question is then how to arrive at a new infrastructure that is workable for all actors." 

Systemic view

Although Van Dam herself has a background in design, she recognises that it is also important to look at the behaviourial and business sides of implementing solutions. Her research often focuses on arriving at solutions together with relevant stakeholders. "We teach students this systemic view. This allows them to look at problems from a distance and zoom in on the details that matter. If you only look at it from a technical perspective and forget that it also has to work in society, a solution will often fail," she explains.

Spekkink thinks it is important that students also learn to critically assess an organisation's request. He says that the problem does not always have to be what a client thinks. "The first step is to explore the problem comprehensively. You never quite get to put your finger on it - and if you think you do, you are probably overlooking something important. This is confusing, but also very cool, because you learn that this is an inherent part of tackling complex sustainability issues."

Text: Karst Oosterhuis

This is an adaptation of an article from LDE Magazine, written by Karst Oosterhuis. You can find the original article and more news from LDE Magazine here

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