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Interview: Professor Daan Groot on the climate as part of a broader vision on sustainability

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  4. Interview: Professor Daan Groot on the climate as part of a broader vision on sustainability

Last autumn, professor Daan Groot was listed in 75th place in the 10th edition of Trouw’s Duurzame 100 (Sustainable Top 100). He was on the long-list for several years and has now made the short-list of the Netherlands’ greenest people in what they think and do, according to the Trouw newspaper. In February, a number of interesting graduation projects will start within the lectureship Innovative Entrepreneurship in Rural Areas in which Daan Groot works in partnership with Erwin van Woudenberg. High time for an interview about sustainability and research into environmentally friendly farming.

How do you feel about being in the Sustainable Top 100?

“It was a nice surprise,” says Daan, “and a sign that the debate about sustainability is changing. When Trouw started this list 10 years ago, climate was the main focus of discussions on sustainability, so most of the people on the list were specifically involved in that topic. But sustainability is more than that. In recent years, an increasing number of people focussing on other topics, such as myself, have made it on to the Sustainable Top 100. There’s been a real turnaround. I think that’s a good development. In top place this year, for example, is Louise Vet, an ecologist focussing on biodiversity. Her mission is to save the wide range of species we have in the Netherlands.”

Why is it so important to look at more than just the climate?

“The climate is important, but it is just part of a broader vision on sustainability. The climate is one part of our ecosystem but to increase sustainability, you have to look at all the elements within the ecosystem. In our view, there are 7 important aspects: biodiversity, soil, climate, water usage, water quality, air quality and current and changing land use. Together, these factors form an all-round vision on sustainability. My hope is to see all of these factors reflected in the Sustainable Top 100 in the future. With our business Nature^Squared (De Natuurverdubbelaars) Erwin and I have developed a model that helps businesses to increase sustainability in a real way, taking all these aspects into account.”

The lectureship focusses on the agrifood sector. Is this the model you follow in your research as well?

“Yes, it’s behind everything we do, in the background as a kind of touchstone. In addition to broadening the vision on sustainability, there is something else at play in the agrifood sector. There are plenty of sustainable ideas, but the big question will always be: is it possible to make a living with environmentally friendly farming? And can it be deployed on a large scale? That is what our lectureship focusses on. By connecting ecology and economics, we want to show that nature and economics make each other stronger. The idea that economic interests make it impossible to take good care of the world simply isn’t true.”

What projects would you like to work on next year, with students, professors and businesses?

“In February, no less than 8 graduation projects will begin within our lectureship. Subjects include cost-benefit analysis of wetland agriculture, the Schijndel food forest’s business model and exploring the possibilities of a mobile pig farm. Together with the lectureship Precision Livestock Farming, we are also researching the possibilities of using robots to protect bird nests and we are collaborating with other academic institutions to devise a monitor containing key performance indicators for nature-inclusive agriculture: the so-called WINK.

If you would like to know more about Daan and Erwin’s model, visit their expertise page. 

Portrait Lector Daan Groot