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How to assess the socio-environmental sustainability of a technology?

In an initiative called “EPL in transition”, the engineering school at Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium is inviting all their faculty to learn about socio-environmental issues – and to reform their education. Elina was there to give a lecture.

Published onDec 21, 2023
How to assess the socio-environmental sustainability of a technology?

On the 18th of December, 2023, Elina gave a presentation at Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Her presentation was on futures studies and scenarios. The engineering faculty (EPL – Ecole Polytechnique Louvain) at the university had started an initiative called “EPL Transition” – with the aim of reforming their training program by integrating socio-environmental issues. As a step in this process, all the faculty, professors, postdocs and PhD-students, were invited to a four half-day event, where lectures were given on the scientific basis to the predicament we are facing, as well as tools to address them.

The event is one of the results from an initiative at the university that started one year ago, where around 15 faculty members volunteered to be part of a working group aiming at integrating socio-environmental stakes into the different programs of EPL. Several subgroups were constituted and one of them was responsible for the training of teachers and assistants on these stakes. This training was the first event organized by that working group.

The title of the event was “How to assess the socio-environmental sustainability of a technology?”, and there were 13 invited speakers, attending both online and in person. The faculty could only attend in person, since one goal was to also foster dialogue in the coffee breaks and to encourage participation to the whole training. And the list of speakers was impressive, with names such as Katherine Richardson, Michael Hauschild, Julia Steinberger and Timothée Parrique. Covering everything from Planetary Boundaries, biodiversity and land use, life cycle assessment, history of the engineering role and heterodox economy. Full program can be found here. There were some 100-150 attendees depending on the day, and perhaps a one third of them were senior faculty. It was elective to attend, but the dean of the faculty had encouraged its academic community to even drop teaching activities to be able to attend. All presentations were recorded and should be available in January.

Figure 1

Timothée Parrique giving his talk “Limites à la croissance économique”.

From my point of view, it was a really interesting event, and the first of the kind that I have heard of. It will be interesting to follow what will happen after this event. The participants I spoke to during the two days I attended were happy about the event and speakers – although there might be a bias in who attended since it was voluntary. I was very honored to be invited as one of the speakers, and I hope that more universities will be inspired to do similar things.





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