In this period of global pandemic and environmental crisis, a sustainability department can contribute with three interdependent strategies: education and training, research (with an international leaning) and third mission initiatives with local and regional foci.
Analysis of the complexity of discipline interrelations is in reality often little more than a declared starting point, despite being a goal widely shared by the scientific community. In fact, while there are some fields where scientific and conceptual analysis of the topic is satisfactory, along with relevant technological development, other fields seem to be relatively structured and developed with academic reflection but not understood and integrated within the economic and social sphere, while others are still in a suspended state.
One example of a field that has reached satisfactory results in a number of contexts is the circular economy, where technical-scientific progress is accompanied by exploration of resulting economic and business opportunities, despite the fact that the overhaul of waste recycling systems from the 3R Perspective (Reduce, Re-use, Recycle) has presented, and continues to present many problems, which need to be tackled with economic, legal, social skills and technological know-how.
Among those areas which have not yet reached a sufficient understanding of the know-how involved in a systematic approach to sustainability, we can mention:
- the relationship between health and sustainability. For example, the complex relationships between health and diet suggest the need for dietary choices that directly involve the world of production, with an important effect on climate change factors, as well as landscape
- the relationship between health and mobility, with complex interaction between transport industries and public policies
- the transversal context, yet unexplored of communication: the journey towards a more sustainable world that directly involves individual choices and behaviour, is difficult to achieve without developing original communication forms that can reconcile the complexity of reality with a simple and necessary message
- the large and varied world of waste, agrozootechnical and urban, in an attempt to contribute to their transformation of an environmental problem into an economic opportunity
- the topic of renewable energies and new materials with a low carbon footprint, with reduced energy and environmental impact or suited for beneficial development of eco-processes for use in industry or the health world.
- AI applications in all models of eco-transition
- Sustainability in the agri-food industry and benefits for animal/plant biodiversity.
This short list, in no way exhaustive, defines the areas of interest for this department, with the goal of effective interaction between environments, sectors and disciplines.
After comprehensive mapping of the specialist skills available in the new department, we intend to enhance the essentially multidisciplinary matrix already marked by numerous and effective exchanges and interactions between colleagues in different research fields, in accordance with the University Strategic Plan:
- Promoting relationships between teachers dealing with similar topics in sustainability in other UPO departments and in other universities, both in Italy and abroad
- Identifying a role for all teachers forming part of the new department as part of a shared project founded on the study of interrelation of their own subject with others, allowing each researcher to choose whether to directly enter the “transversal” dimension and contributing to reasoning on the structure of the model, or to focus on one of the more specific and traditional areas of study recognised by various assessment boards (VQR, ASN, etc)
- Becoming a base for development of a sustainability model. By ‘model’ we mean an approach based on quali-quantitative parameters and algorithms that compare the various factors involved in sustainability and predict the impact of variation of one or more factors on the outcome, using simulation technique and models. This allows easier interaction with the various policymakers and stakeholders for analysis of scenarios to be used in decision-making and choice of tools for evaluation of impact, efficiency and effectiveness of actions.
- build a research team able to win funding aligned with the department’s mission
Such a project needs to be achieved gradually; from a starting point that studies the interaction of a few variables in a specific context already outlined (for example, ecosystem of rice and other cereals, more direct effects of food choices or integrated development of the circular economy founded on refuse as secondary raw materials), additional levels of interaction with other factors can be gradually introduced, to develop the model over time in its ability to adapt to dynamic scenarios and more generally.
The department intends to promote the establishment (in accordance with the Strategic Plan) of a third University facility for fund-raising: this will be located in Vercelli and will deal with (among other topics) sustainability. In the near future, there should be significant funding for research on this topic, and it is necessary to be ready. Working together with the University Research Office and Departmental research offices and researchers, its activity must be useful to all subjects involved either directly or indirectly with the general issue of sustainability.
The University Strategic Plan 2019-2024 outlines the mission, vision, strategic approaches and goals of the university. The current version of the Plan was approved by the Board of Directors on 21 December 2018, following approval by the Academic Board. The documentation of the Strategic Plan 2019-2024 and the Planning documents table can be viewed on the next page.
Departmental Three-Year Plans
The Departmental Three-Year Plans stem directly from the Strategic Plan and outline the mission, vision, strategic approaches and goals of the Departments. In the meeting of 23/09/2022, the Board of Directors approved the Departmental Three-Year Plan.