Interview Heleen de Coninck

Heleen de Coninck, Associate Professor of Innovation & Sustainability, wants researchers in the field of sustainability to join forces more often. “Just imagine: Radboud University as ‘the place to be for all your questions regarding sustainability’.”

HeleendeConinck“What I hope to achieve is for students to acquire a good overview of the field of sustainability. What we have now is a study guide listing all courses related to sustainability, but it’s nothing but a hotchpotch list. This is a great pity because a Business Administration student might be very interested in following an elective course at the science faculty, for example on biodiversity or energy. And conversely, it might be useful for a science student to learn about sustainable business practices or how to change people’s behaviour.

We have dozens of researchers on campus working on sustainability. But unfortunately they don’t complement one another. I don’t think people are unwilling to collaborate; it’s just that there are no real incentives to do so. Publications are valued most highly when they appear in academic journals in your own field, and a multidisciplinary theme such as sustainability is harder to fit into this kind of journal. And that while society is increasingly demanding answers in the domain of sustainability that require multidisciplinary answers.

Take for example the general desire to create a bio-economy, in which products are manufactured using biofuels instead of fossil fuels. For this you need knowledge of chemistry, biology, and energy processes, but you also need to know how companies can earn money with these activities and how society responds to them.

It is therefore important to know what our colleagues are working on. But also to seek contact with stakeholders in society. What questions are governments and business asking? And how can we provide common answers?

I don’t have a car and I have been a vegetarian for years. I try not to waste by buying few and only second-hand things. But I do have one great sin: flying. My husband and in-laws are American, so we often travel to the US. For my work I also often have to travel abroad. I do take the train whenever possible and compensate for aircraft emissions with CO2 rights.

In ten years’ time our campus will be car-free, we will only serve vegetarian food, and we will have zero residual waste. I hope that our University will also play a role in the sustainability of society as a whole. Just imagine: Radboud University as ‘the place to be for all your questions regarding sustainability’.”