Sustainability and Society

Sustainability and Society

Major challenges of the 21st century concern the sustainable production of food, chemicals, materials and energy as well as the sustainable use and management of resources. Athena’s research in this domain focuses on two themes:

  • Food security
  • Circular and bio-economy

Food security

Food security, defined as when all people, at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life, includes both physical and economic access to food that meets people’s dietary needs and food preferences. Meeting this challenge remains a significant sustainable development issue, particularly in LMICs. 

Athena’s research contributes to addressing this challenge by examining strategies at the micro, meso and macro level that could increase access to affordable, nutritious food for vulnerable, resource-poor populations in LMICs, using the nutrition-sensitive agriculture (NSA) approach. NSA recognizes that rural households both produce and consume food, stresses the benefits of food variety, the value of nutritional food for health and productivity, and the importance of agriculture for rural and urban populations without depleting the natural resource base. 

It has shown to be more effective and sustainable than approaches that address immediate rather than underlying causes of poor nutrition. Currently the body of knowledge on the effectiveness of NSA is quite limited and even less is available on its scaling-up, which entails its embedding within the food systems’ culture and structure (as opposed to mere dissemination).

Circular and bio-economy

Global challenges regarding e.g. depletion of fossil fuels, increasing emission of greenhouse gasses, increasing amounts of waste, and water and soil pollution call for new strategies for the use of renewable resources, which meet consumer and industrial needs. Such a change in strategies is being referred to as the development of a circular and bio-economy. 

Although there are clear promises, it is also important to note that there are several barriers at the micro, meso and macro level for implementation of products and services that contribute to realizing a circular and bio-economy. For example it is observed that users, such as consumers (citizens), but also companies and public institutions, often are highly reluctant to adopt technologies and products that contribute to a circular and bio-economy. 

Within this topic Athena investigates facilitators and barriers in the development and implementation of new innovations for sustainability and facilitates the engagement of a wide variety of stakeholders in discussions on realizing a circular and bio-economy. In particular, we currently look at initiatives of citizens as change agents aimed at realizing an energy transition towards renewable energy resources.

Current projects

  • Dialogue as a tool for societal valorization of environmental biotechnology
  • My2030s Sustainable Energy
  • Natuurpact