Transition requires more than technology
Sustainability is part of our DNA
The crisis has made it painfully clear that our financial-economic systems are in need of renewal. And there are problems in other areas as well. The climate crisis, food crisis, water crisis, overpopulation … On a daily basis, we are confronted with these issues. Our systems are in need of a fundamental redesign. This transition, however, must be inspired by sustainability. With five new – reoriented – research programmes, all embedded in transition thinking, VITO is contributing to scientifically sound solutions for a world in transition.
Presenting sustainable development as a solution is a first step in addressing the major issues with which we are faced. This, however, is not enough. Our problems in fact are strongly interwoven with our production and consumption patterns, and the way in which these are embedded in the structure of our society. Hence, a single change or a few adaptations are not enough. What is needed is a transition.
Transition requires vision
The concept of ‘transition’ is often on the lips, also at VITO. But what do we mean by it? Transitions are changes to that which is referred to in the scientific literature as ‘sociotechnical systems’. These changes, moreover, are long-term processes; they are functional and complex. We have already experienced a number of these transitions in the past. Think of the transition from horse and carriage to an automobile with internal combustion engine, the transition from sailing ship to steam ship and – more recently – the transition from traditional farming to modern bio-industry. Transitions are not insignificant changes. On the contrary, they are transformations that reform a system at its very foundations.
Not all system innovations are dictated by the pursuit of greater sustainability. And they are not always as successful. For this reason, it is important for system innovations to be guided by strong visions on the future system.
Out of the box
The transitions at which VITO aims are indeed driven by the need for sustainability. Thus sustainability and transition thinking are decisive to the research activities pursued by VITO. To contribute to transitions in society, we at VITO understand that we must transcend the prevailing conceptual framework too. We do not limit ourselves purely to scientific research in its restricted sense and to policy support; we think ‘out of the box’. And in the meantime this is now a part of our DNA.
We, for example, helped set up the FISCH initiative (Flanders strategic Initiative for Sustainable CHemistry). Also, we are playing a leading role in Smart Grids Flanders and we founded the Flanders Cleantech Association.
Technology with a plus
We are also rolling out the transition approach in our research domains. We are aware of the fact that a system change can never be only technological, and that a technological change is always accompanied by changes to non-technological aspects of the system. Therefore, we also intentionally and strategically take account of stakeholder perspectives, institutional redesign and the positive interaction between valorisation in the market and sustainability goals. This sustainability report shows how VITO is putting its new vision on scientific research into practice.