Every other week, we follow a student from one of our Interdisciplinary Thesis Labs. This week: Luciano Lopez Santesteban, master student Urban Management and Development, from our Circular Building and Area Development lab, organised together with Antea Group, Bouwcampus, Provincie Zuid-Holland, and Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties.
When I applied for the Thesis Lab in January, my research proposal was still at a very early stage. I am a student of Urban Management and Development, specializing in Sustainability in Climate Change and, at the time, I wanted to study the potential of sustainable building practices as an urban management strategy for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Since the Built Environment contributes to more than 20% of global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, I saw a huge potential in researching further into this topic. However, I still had a long way to go before I understand what the focus of my research was going to be. The thesis lab helped me kickstart this process by encouraging me to think about this ahead of time.
The thesis lab helped me kickstart the process of refining my research topic by encouraging me to think about this ahead of time.
After being put in contact with the Ministry of Kingdom Relations and the Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), I went more in-depth into the current policies for a sustainable built environment, and I started reflecting on how the Dutch policies for energy efficiency and the ones for circularity integrate to tackle the GHG emissions from this sector. One of my first findings was that, despite circularity being a wide concept that includes materials and energy, agendas for Circularity are for now focused solely on materials, and energy remains the domain of the policies for energy efficiency. My partners in the thesis lab agreed on this and encouraged me to explore the concept further. They provided me with extra advice highlighting the interesting aspects of my proposal and warning me when I was diverging from my central aspirations. They also helped me understand when my ambitions were exceeding the possibilities of a master’s thesis and assisted me in sharpening the design to a more specific approach.
In addition to the above, the lectures and workshops provided by the Thesis Lab aided me in refining my research question, and my methodology. They were immensely helpful in the process of adapting my strategy to the data available and my own skills. For example, one of my initial hypotheses was that Passive Design Strategies, harnessing the sun’s energy and using natural materials like raw clay that are highly circular, could be a potential solution to integrate Energy Efficiency and Circularity. My partner at the PBL showed interest in exploring the possibilities of retrofitting buildings for passive design, something that is not considered in the current policies for energy efficiency, given their potential to reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling. Unfortunately, assessing this would require technical expertise that falls out of my own skills. Through my process in the Lab, I understood that, instead, I should focus the research on something I am strong at.
In the end, today my research wants to explain how Network Management Strategies (NMS) affect the integration of Energy Efficiency and Circularity policies in the Built Environment. NMS are a model of governance in which the Government works in a Network with the affected stakeholders to shape policies that are implementable. Network Governance integrates the liberal vision that claims market freedom, with a more regulatory vision in which a central government imposes policies on different actors. It is also suggested as the tool for driving Sustainability Transitions, addressing the complexity that comes together with having actors with diverging interests around a specific issue, to build agreements and build consensus around courses of action. I am grateful for the assistance received from the Ministry of Kingdom Relations, the Environmental Assessment Agency, the Thesis Lab lectures and my own Supervisor at EUR, which was of enormous benefit for me to make the right decisions, and I hope the findings of my research will contribute to the development of policies that serve better the transition to a sustainable built environment.
 Institute of Housing and Urban Studies, Erasmus University of Rotterdam.