The University of Groningen has acquired funding for two projects in the area of sustainability. One of the projects is funded nationally and will concern the emergence of local initiatives. The other project is part of the European Horizon2020 programme and will be researching the rising trends and mobility needs within the EU. As both subjects are clearly related to sustainability and to show what science does for society, we thought it might be good to discuss them in detail.
For 80% funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency with an amount of €341,000, Lise Jans will be researching the local initiatives on the energy market. The official title being: “The power of the neighbourhood: the success and the dispersal of bottom-up initiatives on the energy market”. What makes an initiative successful and sustainable? What makes an initiative grow and disperse? To answer these questions the project will look at factors of the individual, and the individual in relation to the neighbourhood and large energy companies and public authorities. In addition the local initiatives themselves will be studied in detail. They hope to discover what the core factors are that predict the success and growth of these initiatives.
The project proposal was written together with Linda Steg, with Jans as the main writer. The role of Enexis is realised through their daughter company Fudura. The latter tries to stimulate local initiatives by providing participants with materials, space and an energy meter. Another partner in the project is the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Their role is to apply the knowledge gained by the research and test this in practice.
The fundamental part of the research will consist of a longitudinal study among over 50 different local initiatives. The advantage of this project is that is looks at several initiatives and creates a multilevel perspective. This gives the opportunity to control for differences between the initiatives. The main research question is; “Can a local initiative make energy usage more sustainable?”. Based on what is already known within psychology and previous research, the researchers expect an important role for personal values of people. This project however will also examine the importance of social factors in explaining energy behaviour within the context of local initiatives. They expect this context to play a vital role in people’s endured commitment to local initiatives, and through this route in sustainable energy behaviour.
Current research on local initiatives is mainly qualitative. Jans hopes to add a quantitative perspective with this research. But moreover she hopes to give a better insight into the underlying processes that predict successful local initiative. With a growing number of “bottom-up” initiatives these insights can help us understand where they come from and whether they can truly make a change. The main topic is off course energy. However the insights obtained from this research could very well be useful for understanding the functioning of local initiatives in general.
As part of the EU’s Horizon2020 programme Mobility for Growth, Berfu Unal and Linda Steg were awarded €121,000 to investigate the current trends and needs in mobility within the EU. The official title is “MIND-SETS” which was targeted at the call “User behaviour and mobility patterns in the context of major societal trends”. Since the research project is part of the “coordination and support” action, it is mainly focused at filling in the gaps of knowledge on this topic so that more research can be done in certain fields.
More specifically, the consortium consists of eight partners from seven different countries. Also many stakeholders are involved from all over the EU. The different partners each have their own section to investigate, of which Unal does the part regarding to what extent the fulfilment of key psychological needs is accomplished by current mobility services among different social clusters in EU (including the elderly), and what is needed to improve sustainable mobility among vulnerable road users. The proposal of the consortium that Unal is a part of was found to be especially good in terms of societal impact, as the outcome of the project is expected to create a shift in understanding and implementation of mobility services towards more sustainable alternatives.
The research will cover existing data and literature identifying different social groups and their mobility expectations. Future research investment decisions can then be made in the right sectors in terms of mobility needs. An important insight that Unal hopes to get from the research is to disentangle those road-user groups with a higher likelihood to engage in or accept sustainable mobility options as well as innovations. The ultimate goal though of the project is to find sustainable and innovative mobility solutions for all but especially vulnerable road-users.
The impact and benefit of the project to society can be expressed in different ways. First is the environmental gains that can be accomplished via spreading sustainable mobility alternatives throughout the EU. Second is the economic gains that is attached to mobility, and keeping citizens mobile. Importantly, the project impacts society in the sense that mobility should include all members of society and adapts to their needs.
The challenges of this research lie within its diversity. By including partners from different parts of the EU, it becomes difficult to portrait a uniform picture of say a specific user group, as these might differ strongly between different EU countries or regions. However, Unal finds this as a nice challenge, and does expect to have enough common ground to build upon and at least broaden the knowledge on sustainable mobility.
The project will take off in January 2015 by identifying different user groups in the EU. The final results should be presented in 2017. Until that time different workshops and symposia will be organised in collaboration with the stakeholders and partners presenting us the route to sustainable mobility.
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