Universiteit Leiden

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Institute of Environmental Sciences

Natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce. If we want to maintain our current standard of living, we will need inventive solutions. The researchers at the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) share their thoughts on how to achieve a fully circular economy in which as little use as possible is made of raw materials. They also study how humans influence biodiversity and how important nature is to society.

CML comprises two groups: the Department of Industrial Ecology and the Department of Environmental Biology. The researchers at the Department of Industrial Ecology look into the use of our natural capital, or in other words how to make the economy circular and carbon neutral. The researchers at the Department of Environmental Biology look at the influence of humans on biodiversity and ecosystems, and at the importance of ecosystem services (services that ecosystems provide to humans, for instance water storage or food).

Industrial ecology: sustainable production and consumption

In the field of industrial ecology, the Institute has one of the largest groups in the world. The group initiated methods such as the lifecycle analysis of products, material flow analysis and environmental input-output analysis. It uses these methods to research the role of natural resources in our economic system.

What would happen if superpower China were to import 30% less coal from Australia, for instance? The researchers use models to describe, analyse and predict the effects of such decisions.

Environmental Biology

The Environmental Biology research group wants to find out more about how humans affect the biodiversity of the ecosystem, in both the present and the future. It develops new techniques based on remote sensing, DNA and large databases that will make it easier to quantify these influences.

One example is ecotoxicology, which looks at the effect of harmful substances such as pesticides on ecosystems. Some of this research takes place in the Living Lab. This outdoor location (a field with 36 ditches) is where not only research is conducted but also school pupils and students are taught.

Effects of agriculture on environment

Our agriculture has a major effect on biodiversity. The researchers from CML look at how more biodiversity will help retain more carbon and water. They also look at topics such as how a different diet – less meat for instance – may mean less land is needed for agriculture.


CML use its knowledge for the benefit of the region. It is based in the Centre of Sustainability together with Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam. This partnership is one of the strongest players in the world in the field of research on the circular economy. Another natural partner is Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Naturalis is the national research institute in the area of biodiversity. Day in, day out, its researchers channel their efforts into describing, comprehending and preserving biodiversity.


In their teaching, the researchers at CML like to tell students about CML’s vision on sustainability, the techniques it uses to research this and the implications this has on society, for instance in the minor on Sustainable Development.

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