SustainaLab grew out of the desire to accelerate sustainability initiatives by stimulating knowledge-sharing between researchers and industry. The goal is to connect the right people with the right opportunities to combat climate change and ensure the well-being of future generations.
The University of Amsterdam (UvA), the Matrix Innovation Center and Amsterdam Science Park committed to the realisation of the SustainaLab in 2019. The aim was to create a scientific co-creation hub for research, entrepreneurship and education in the field of sustainability. SustainaLab has been up and running since the beginning of this year. On the day of the official festive opening, we spoke to project leader Bart Krull about his ambitions for the project and how it can drive close cooperation between science and business.
“We’re all looking for the transition to a sustainable and future-proof society,” says Krull, “and the University of Amsterdam has a lot of expertise. If we make that knowledge available to external parties, companies, entrepreneurs, policymakers, then we can help accelerate the transition to sustainability.” Krull believes the UvA’s contribution is particularly important because “a lot of sustainability challenges require an interdisciplinary approach. There’s no quick fix with simply a technological invention or a new law being implemented.” The SustainaLab guarantees this interdisciplinarity: not only is UvA’s Faculty of Science onboard, but it also draws on the university’s humanities, social sciences and behavioural sciences faculties.
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Krull is working to position the SustainaLab as a centre of sustainability expertise that is open and accessible to new ideas and partnerships. He is cooperating closely with ecosystems within UvA such as its sustainability platform and also the Amsterdam Chemistry Network and Amsterdam Green Campus, as well as players based at Amsterdam Science Park. “There are a lot of interesting dynamics going on in in the Science Park itself,” he says, “and especially in Matrix ONE, where most of the tenants are working on sustainability challenges.” One of his own challenges, says Krull, is ensuring that the message about what the SustainaLab and other centres of expertise at the park can offer gets spread more widely: “Of course policymakers from Amsterdam know all about Amsterdam Science Park, and it’s on their mental map. But there’s plenty of parties working on sustainability issues that do not necessarily know about the interesting stuff happening here.” Krull will be actively reaching out to branch organisations and other key players to identify potential future partners.
Bart Krull, Project leader SustainaLab
“Together with companies, entrepreneurs and policymakers, we can help accelerate the transition to sustainability
The goal is to develop the SustainaLab as an open, accessible resource for businesses big and small. “I see us as a sort of one-stop shop,” says Krull. “Different institutes and faculties have their own way of working but SustainaLab can be overarching. A first point of access for companies who have a feeling the university’s expertise can be interesting for them, but do not know exactly what benefits they can gain from it.” While many large companies may have their own R&D in place, Krull believes they can still benefit from the state-of-the-art academic knowledge SustainaLab can tap into. But he’s also keen to encourage partnerships with smaller players: “There are big opportunities for SMEs who don’t have huge amounts of money to spend on R&D but still want to be at the forefront of innovation in the field of sustainability.”
On the simplest level, small companies can benefit from offering internships to students for a short-term research project, while companies with greater financial resources may want to invest in longer-term relationships with PhD researchers. Public-private partnerships are key to innovation, Krull believes, and the expertise SustainaLab brings ensures credibility. “I’ve been around a lot in the realm of sustainability, and what stands out is that if you as an external party work with UvA, then there’s always a scientific base to what we will do together. It’s scientifically validated, it’s innovative. We take a different approach than politicians or activists. They also have an important role to play but we as scientists have our own angle and make sure innovation has a solid base.”
Bart Krull, Project leader SustainaLab
“There are big opportunities for SMEs who want to be on the forefront of innovation in sustainability
In the short term, Krull is taking an approach he describes as bottom-up – “let a thousand flowers bloom, try out as many ways as possible and see what works.” This approach also means that he will be reaching out to multiple potential partners. He has been organising events and is keen to see external partners access the space for their own events as a good way to get to know the SustainaLab ecosystems.
In the longer term, Krull wants to identify two or three topics that combine what SustainaLab has to offer with what companies within Matrix ONE are working on and use these as a focus for approaching potential partners. He cites zero-waste goals as an example: “It has a circular-economy angle, a legal angle, a consumer behaviour angle, a logistics angle. It could be great to explore that topic from multiple scientific approaches and include external parties.” He recognises the need for the SustainaLab to find a balance between being proactive and reactive. “I always say that when matchmaking, if you try to match everything with everything, it doesn’t work”, he explains. “You need to make some decisions. So if I have two or three topics on which businesses can be invited to cooperate, that would be ideal. But if external parties want to cooperate outside of those topics, then that’s perfect too. As a university, we don’t want to exclude research areas. We may initiate specific topics, but we do not exclude anything.”
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