Cabot Institute blog

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Friday, 24 April 2015

Bristol 2015 Student Day: Young peoples ideas for the future

The Bristol Student Day for the Bristol Festival of Ideas was all about the future. Cabot Institute director Rich Pancost opened the day with the remark: ‘This is your planet, it is no longer my generation’s’. What he says is true; young people are soon to inherit positions as policy makers, CEOs and decision makers. Student’s visions for the future may soon become a reality, so what are their visions?
Bristol 2015: Student Day at At-Bristol. Organised by Bristol Festival of Ideas
The student day was orchestrated to produce a dialogue for the University of Bristol and UWE student’s opinions on some of the planet’s greatest problems. The thoughts generated will become part of Bristol’s message to the world in at the COP21, a global sustainable innovation forum in Paris later this year.

The discussions ranged from local cycling routes to global overpopulation. The breadth of topics covered meant discussions oscillated between worldwide concerns and university-based issues.  Regardless of scale, the prevailing desire was for increased suitability for the future generations.

Bikes parked at the University of
Bristol.  Image credit: Emily Gillingham
On a university level the participants expressed discontent with the institution’s reliance on fossil fuels with many agreeing they would like to see increased investment in sustainable energy for their organisations. Financial returns from green energy may be long term but if any institution can expect longevity it’s a university- why should their energy solutions not reflect that?

Waste reduction was an additional point for local improvement with participants venturing ideas such as a ban on single use coffee cups and increased recycling opportunities on campus. There was no shortage of creative ideas, the main issue was implementation and education; how can young people convince their less green-minded peers that such schemes are essential? Food waste was of additional concern, with unanimous support for schemes such as the Bristol Skipchen. The desire to see projects such as this affiliated with the university was a common vision.

Food was a big issue at the Student Day
Naturally, food was an issue close to the heart of many students and discussion quickly progressed to agriculture. Organic food was considered a luxury for personal health purposes, but its environmental benefit was surprisingly contentious. Many students believed that large scale, non-organic, industrialised farming is more energy efficient and produces fewer emissions, while others believe smaller organic farms are the future of agriculture.

The boundaries of the discussion were pushed both mentally and geographically as the day progressed.  The younger generation’s global responsibilities were also high priority for discussion. Overpopulation in the developing world is putting strain on resources- how can Bristol students help? Food waste reduction was high on the list of solutions, as well as the universal need for more environmentally attractive power solutions, from the first to third world.

The enthusiasm of the participants to build a better, greener and more sustainable future made the discussion both interesting and beneficial. If there is one thing the day has shown, it’s that young people have the desire for long term solutions. After all, it is the millions of small ideas such as the ones discussed in At-Bristol that will shape the future for us all.
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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Keri McNamara, a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.
Keri McNamara

Further reading

Ethics and sustainability in University of Bristol catering

Sustainable waste management at the University of Bristol

Read more about all the sustainability initiatives taking place at the University of Bristol

Friday, 17 April 2015

Manufacturing in Bristol – Bridging the gap to a more sustainable and more resilient future

University of Bristol
The University of Bristol and partners announce the launch on 22 of April of a new collaborative research project to determine how highly adaptable manufacturing processes, capable of operating at small scales (re-distributed manufacturing), can contribute to a sustainable and resilient future for the city of Bristol and its hinterland. 

The next few years have the potential to be transformative in the history of our society and our planet.  We are faced with numerous choices in how we live our lives, and our decisions could either embed the practices of the last two centuries or empower new paradigms for the production of our food and energy, our buildings and transport systems, our medicine, furniture and appliance, all of those things on which we have grown to depend. It could be a transformation in what we own or borrow, how we use it…. And how we make it.

Bristol is one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Global Resilient Cities.  Unlike many of the other cities (and somewhat unconventionally), Bristol, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute have adopted a holistic definition of resiliency that includes not just adaptation to future change but also the contemporary behaviour that minimises the chances of future shocks.  Recognising that, the launch of the Bristol 2015 European Green Capital year focussed on the need to bridge the gap  between our resource intensive and environmentally harmful current behaviour and a more sustainable – and resilient – future.

This combination is key.  Increasingly we recognise that our non-sustainable behaviour could bring about dangerous climate change and resource stress. But we are also obtaining a sharper understanding of the limits of our knowledge. Unfortunately, our behaviour is not just threatening the security of our food, water and energy but is inducing a profound uncertainty in our ability to forecast and adapt to future change.  Not only does such radical uncertainty demand mitigative rather than adaptive action  but, where we fall short or the damage has already been done, it will require an equally radical emphasis on resiliency.

Bristol Energy Coop - community
owned energy
Part of Bristol’s path to achieving these goals of sustainability and resiliency is localism, including local production of food and energy, exemplified by the recent launch of a municipally-owned energy company  but also community-owned energy and food cooperatives.   Localism can only go so far in our highly interconnected and interdependent world, but it is undeniably one of Bristol’s strongest tools in empowering local communities and driving its own sustainability agenda while making us more resilient to external factors.  But why stop at food and energy?

Manufacturing has undergone a suite of radical transformations over the past decade, the potential of which are only now being harnessed across a range of manufacturing scales from high-value (such as Bristol’s aerospace industry) to SMEs and community groups.  Crudely put, the options for the manufacturer have traditionally been limited to moulding things, bashing things into shape, cutting things and sticking things together.  New technologies now allow those methods to be downscaled and locally owned. Other technologies, enabled by the exponential growth of computer power, are changing the manufacturing framework for example by allowing complex shapes to be made layer-by-layer through additive manufacturing.

Bristol Hackspace - example
of  the maker movement. Image
credit: Matthew Venn,
Bristol Hackspace
.
Crucially, these new technologies represent highly adaptable manufacturing processes capable of operating at small scales.  This offers new possibilities with respect to where and how design, manufacture and services can and should be carried out to achieve the most appropriate mix of capability and employment but also to minimise environmental costs and to ensure resilience of provision.  In short, manufacturing may now be able to be re-distributed away from massive factories and global supply chains back into local networks, small workshops or even homes. This has brought about local empowerment across the globe as exemplified by the Maker movement and locally in initiatives such as Bristol Hackspace.  These technologies and social movements are synergistic as localised manufacturing not only brings about local empowerment but fosters sustainable behaviour by enabling the remanufacturing and upcycling that are characteristic of the circular economy.

There are limits, however, to the reach of these new approaches if they remain dependent on traditional manufacturing organisations and systems into which we are locked by the technological choices made in two centuries of fossil-fuel abundance.  As well as the technologies and processes that we use, a better understanding of how to organise and manage manufacturing systems and of their relationship with our infrastructure and business processes is central to the concept of re-distributed manufacturing and its proliferation.  It requires not only local production but a fundamental rethinking of the entire manufacturing system.

A Bristol plastics manufacturer reshores
its manufacturing to the city. Image
credit: Bristol Post. Find out more.
This is the focus of our exciting new RCUK-funded project: it will create a network to study a whole range of issues from diverse disciplinary perspectives, bringing together experts in manufacturing, design, logistics, operations management, infrastructure, engineering systems, economics, geographical sciences, mathematical modelling and beyond.  In particular, it will examine the potential impact of such re-distributed manufacturing at the scale of the city and its hinterland, using Bristol as an example in its European Green Capital year, and concentrating on the issues of resilience and sustainability.

It seems entirely appropriate that Bristol and the SW of England assume a prominent leadership role in this endeavour.  In many ways, it is the intellectual and spiritual home of the industrial use of fossil fuels, responsible for unprecedented growth and prosperity but also setting us on a path of unsustainable resource exploitation.  Thomas Newcomen from South Devon produced arguably the first practical steam engine, leading to the use of fossil fuels in mining and eventually industry; in the late 1700s, coal-powered steam energy was probably more extensively used in SW England than anywhere in the world.  Continuing this legacy, Richard Trevithick from Cornwall developed high pressure steam engines which allowed the use of steam (and thus fossil fuels) for transportation, and of course Brunel's SS Great Western, built in Bristol, was the first vehicle explicitly designed to use fossil fuel for intercontinental travel.

University of Bristol students taking part
in an upcycling project.
Image credit Compass Project
But that legacy is not limited to energy production.  Abraham Darby, who pioneered the use of coke for smelting iron in Coalbrookdale, i.e. the use of fossil fuels for material production, had worked at a foundry in Bristol and was funded by the Goldney Family, among others.  He married fossil fuels to the production of materials and manufactured goods.

These are reasons for optimism not guilt.  This part of the world played a crucial role in establishing the energy economy that has powered our world.  On the back of that innovation and economic growth have come medical advances, the exploration of our solar system and an interconnected society.  That same creative and innovative spirit can be harnessed again.  And these approaches need not be limited to energy and materials; our colleagues at UWE been awarded funds under the same scheme to explore redistributed healthcare provision. The movement is already in place, exemplified by the more than 800 organisations in the Bristol Green Capital Partnership.  It is receiving unprecedented support from both Universities of this city.  This new project is only one small part of that trend but it illustrates a new enthusiasm for partnership and transformative change and to study the next generation of solutions rather than be mired in incremental gains to existing technology.
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This blog is written by Cabot Institute Director Prof Rich Pancost and Prof Chris McMahon from the Engineering Department at the University of Bristol.

Prof Chris McMahon
Prof Rich Pancost












More information

For more information about the issues covered in this blog please contact Chris McMahon who is keen to hear from local industries and other organisations that may be interested in the possibilities of re-distributed manufacturing.

The grant has been awarded to the University of Bristol, supported by the Universities of Bath, Exeter and the West of England and Cardiff University, by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The network, one of six being funded by the EPSRC for the next two years to study RDM, will also explore mechanisms by which interdisciplinary teams may come together to address societal grand challenges and develop research agendas for their solution. These will be based on working together using a combination of a Collaboratory - a centre without walls - and a Living Lab - a gathering of public-private partnerships in which businesses, researchers, authorities, and citizens work together for the creation of new services, business ideas, markets, and technologies.

EPSRC Reference: EP/M01777X/1, Re-Distributed Manufacturing and the Resilient, Sustainable City (ReDReSC)

The Cabot Institute

The Cabot Institute carries out fundamental and responsive research on risks and uncertainties in a changing environment. We drive new research in the interconnected areas of climate change, natural hazards, water and food security, low carbon energy, and future cities. Our research fuses rigorous statistical and numerical modelling with a deep understanding of social, environmental and engineered systems – past, present and future. We seek to engage wider society by listening to, exploring with, and challenging our stakeholders to develop a shared response to 21st Century challenges.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Bringing science and art together - part 2

The Somerset Levels and Moors are a low lying region prone to frequent flooding due to a range of environmental and human factors. The history of drainage and flooding in the Levels is rich and unique, yet its present condition is unstable and its future uncertain. Winter 2013-14 for example saw extensive floods in the Levels that attracted significant media attention and triggered debate on how such events can be mitigated in the future. The Land of the Summer People Science & Art project brings together engineering PhD students with local artists to increase public awareness and understanding of the Somerset floods. Scientific understanding and traditional engineering tools are combined with the artists’ creativity to prompt discussions about the area’s relationship with floods in a medium designed to be accessible and enjoyable.
Having worked on the early stages of this project researching the history and hydrology of flooding and drainage in the Somerset Levels I thought I was well prepared for the art stages to follow. I was decidedly wrong! The first workshop involved making a standard engineering-style poster containing information in the area our group had chosen to focus on; in my case the future of flooding in the region. This was a pretty standard summary of climate change impacts, land use change and a critique on the present policy which will shape the region over the next 5-20 years.

The next workshop saw us transform this information into a more ‘arty’ format. We chose a newspaper style article from 5 years in the future. In civil engineering (my undergraduate background) there’s a strong perception that the public don’t know anything about engineering and that they demand only bottom-up management towards their own interests; and this was definitely present in my article. Regardless of the truth or fallacy in this assumption, taking this attitude will not gain you public support for your project and, importantly, you will very likely miss out on important information that stakeholders could provide you with.

Each group began work with a Somerset artist to create art out of their topics and ideas. Our group is currently putting together a ‘flood survival kit’ containing items which aim to bring together ideas about the impacts and mechanisms behind flooding. Putting this together has been constant interplay between engineers looking to add purpose to items and our artist looking to reduce purpose with a much heavier use of metaphors/symbolism. Items include purpose-heavy hand-made water filters (from drinking bottles and sand!) and metaphor-heavy sponges and boats (made from Somerset clay).

Additionally our group will be inscribing rocks around Somerset with a text-number which will provide flood relevant proverbs or information when a message is sent to them. This was inspired by tsunami warning rocks in Japan!
An original tsunami warning rock in Japan
courtesy of the Huffington Post, 4th June 2011.
On 25th March, all the groups presented their projects in an exhibition in the Exeter Community Centre.

Our most valuable return on these projects are the skills in working with the public we will gain. After all, even capital projects designed with a stakeholder’s desires and demands in mind won’t work if the stakeholder rejects them. The pre-industrial history of the Somerset Levels illustrates this perfectly as drainage works in the region have typically been vandalised and prevented from working due to public opposition (an interesting contrast to the present dredging-heavy mentality!).

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This blog has been reproduced with kind permission from the Bristol Doctoral College blog. It is written by Barney Dobson and Wouter Knoben who are currently studying engineering PhDs at the University of Bristol.

Read part one of this blog.

More about Land of the Summer People

This event was organised by Cabot Institute members Seila Fernández Arconada and Thorsten Wagener.  Read more.

Bringing science and art together - part 1

The Somerset Levels and Moors are a low lying region prone to frequent flooding due to a range of environmental and human factors. The history of drainage and flooding in the Levels is rich and unique, its present condition is unstable and its future uncertain. Winter 2013-14 for example saw extensive floods in the Levels that attracted a great deal of media attention and conflicting opinions on what to do how to prevent this from happening again. The Science & Art project brings engineering PhD students together with local artists, to increase public awareness and understanding of the Somerset floods. Scientific understanding and traditional engineering tools are combined with the artists’ creativity, in an effort to make discussions about the area’s history, present and future more accessible and enjoyable.

Coming from an engineering background, the prospect outlined above slightly scared me at first. As an engineer, you rarely use art as a tool in your work and, funnily enough, doesn’t appear during your university courses either. The few interactions with artists (as colleagues in a bar) and art (sporadic museum visits) left me very sceptic as to the success of this cooperation. Sure, art can be nice to look at, but what is the point of it when you’re trying to convey the results of your studies on flood risk?

This project is divided into a couple of workshops, and the differences between engineers and artists was apparent right from the start. We (the engineers) tried to convey as much knowledge about the Somerset Levels as we could cram onto our posters. Dates, history, water safety plans, references, whatever information was available. The artists then showed us some of their work. We saw sketches of landscapes reflecting in water, paintings of local soldiers in shoe polish and visual representations of sound waves to name a few things.

For the next workshop we were asked to change our original posters in any way we saw fit, based on the things we picked up from our first art workshop. This turned out to be not as easy as we’d hoped. After years of being trained to present information in a thorough and accurate way, making the necessary switch to create something that could be called artistic is difficult. We mostly managed to present the, admittedly dry, material on the posters into a somewhat more appealing way. The idea to do something else than conveying information was still difficult to bring into practise.

As the artists kept reminding us, it is not always necessary to convey knowledge to the viewer of our work. Sometimes it is enough to make someone think about a certain topic you think is important, or to simply present some specific theme in an intriguing, appealing or interesting way. In the third workshop we began to form ideas based on this line of thinking. Transferring information and creating knowledge for the viewer are still important parts of the work, but they have become secondary rather than primary objectives. Now we’re hard at the work to make our ideas become reality!

These workshops have been good to show some perspective. As a specialist, you would normally want to present as much of your gathered information and knowledge as you possibly can, but this quickly becomes overwhelming for someone unfamiliar to the topic. Collaborating with artists can be a good way to introduce a specialised topic to a wider audience in an entertaining and accessible way, while at the same time teaching us how laypeople might think about our subjects.
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This blog has been reproduced with kind permission from the Bristol Doctoral College blog. It is written by Barney Dobson and Wouter Knoben who are currently studying engineering PhDs at the University of Bristol.

Read part two of this blog.

More about Land of the Summer People

This event was organised by Cabot Institute members Seila Fernández Arconada and Thorsten Wagener.  Read more.