Themes - Mission and research objectives

The mission of the Environmental Science (ES) cluster of RIBES is to provide high-quality scientific knowledge that can help the world move towards greater sustainability. To achieve this, we aim to understand, project and address the impact of anthropogenic pressures on ecosystems and humans from the landscape to the global scale. We therefore investigate the entire environmental cause-effect chain from drivers to responses and from responses to drivers, also known as the DPSIR framework (Figure 1). We develop predictive models, where possible based on a mechanistic understanding of the processes underlying the impacts of pressures on the environment and where needed we use descriptive statistical approaches. This enables us to explore and develop wide-ranging sustainable solutions for the environmental challenges the world faces today.

Against this background, we have carved out four interlinked main research lines and our mission is Human and Ecological Risk Assessment (HERA), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Biodiversity Assessment (BA) and Sustainability Transition Assessment (STA) (Figure BX-1). These research lines address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on water (6, HERA), energy (7, LCA, STA), sustainable cities and communities (11, LCA, STA), consumption and production (12, LCA, HERA), climate (13, LCA, STA) and life below water and on land (14, 15, BA, HERA).

Research objectives ES 2021 - 2

Figure 1. The four research lines in the Environmental Science group, each with a specific focus within the environmental cause-effect chain (Driver – Pressure – State – Impact – Response [DPSIR]) and within the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Human and Ecological Risk Assessment (HERA) we aim to understand and describe the emission, fate, and effects of chemicals in the environment. The studies focus on the development and validation of computer models that describe the environmental impacts of micro-pollutants such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Our models are widely applied for regulatory and scientific purposes, including models such as SimpleBox/Treat, OMEGA, and ePiE.

In Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) we develop methods to estimate the impacts of products and technologies on human health and biodiversity through various changes in the environment, including climate change, eutrophication, acidification, chemical pollution, and changes in land use. Our methods are used by 10,000+ practitioners all over the world. Alongside development, we apply methods to determine the environmental benefits and impacts of new global technologies such as renewable energy technologies, carbon dioxide removal technologies, electrification, and bio-based materials.

In Biodiversity Assessment (BA) we focus on quantifying the responses of species and ecosystems to anthropogenic environmental change at macro scales (from landscape to global). We cover the terrestrial and freshwater and marine realms and a variety of taxonomic groups (plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates) and anthropogenic pressures (climate change, land use, eutrophication, and chemical pollution). This broad scope enables us to rank pressures, determine the state of biodiversity change and identify general, overarching response mechanisms.

In Sustainability Transition Assessment (STA) we aim to better understand societal responses to environmental challenges, evaluate their effectiveness, and estimate their impacts on the environment. STA relates to sustainability transitions in the industrial and energy sectors, where climate neutrality and circularity require the transformation of large industrial clusters and the implementation of new technologies that are not yet competitive, fully developed, or have generated societal awareness and support. We develop, test, and improve methods for evaluating the environmental impacts of new technologies, assess societal readiness and improve societal engagement.

Motto quotes

“As simple as possible, as complex as needed”
Application of general chemical, toxicological and ecological laws (such as size relationships) to quantify anthropogenic impacts on the environment.

“Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous”
Analysis of uncertainty and variability in environmental systems.

“The past is the key to the future”
Analysis of historical trends and references to better understand human influences on natural systems.

“Restoration-conservation is more complex than destruction”
Identification of linear and non-linear responses of ecosystems and subsequent development of management approaches.

Last update: 24th of September 2021