Image: Tim Marshall on Unsplash
Earlier this year, the Global Research & Innovation in Plastics Sustainability digital conference brought together leading researchers and practitioners from academic, industry, and government in the UK and beyond to explore the most promising possible solutions to the problem of plastics reaching landfill, incinerators, or becoming fugitive in the environment. Speakers including The Tyre Collective's Hanson Cheng and I discussed the particular problems presented by polymer microparticles in the environment and what the state-of-the-science suggests to be the most viable means of mitigating the issue. Our session is now online for those interested in hearing what we had to say. Click here to listen.
Image by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash
Though, at the macro-scale, the problem of plastics flowing into the world's oceans has been well-documented, until recently, at the nano and micro scale it remained all but unknown. Several seminal papers on the issue having been published this past 24 months has helped raise visibility of the issue. However, much is the work still to be done to raise awareness of the scale and nature of this complex problem across industry, academia, and the public at large. Published on April 6th, 'Insights Report: 2030 | Invisible Ocean Pollutants from our Roads', authored by Dr. David Greenfield and myself, with assistance from researcher Natalie Ibbott and graphic designer Jacob Arney, summarises the scale of the nano and micro plastics pollution caused by tyres, together with some of the ways in which the problem may be addressed in the coming decade and beyond.
The product of several months of research, including an extensive literature review, a roundtable attended by twenty leaders from several STEM fields including toxicology and ecotoxicology, information communications technologies, and science and wider policy, among others, together with a survey and expert interviews, the 40-page report, which was commissioned by SUEZ group, is available open access via a download on their site. In particular, I'd like to thank friends and peers for their invaluable contribution to the research insights, including Dr. Richard Miller, Assoc. Director of Connected Places Catapult and founder of Miller-Klein Associates; Olivier de Matos, General Secretary at the European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicolgy of Chemicals [ECETOC]; Dr. Peter van Manen, Vice President at Living PlanIT; Nuno Silva, Chief Scientific Officer at UnifAI Technology; and Emily Penn, co-founder and leader at eXXpedition.
Extracts from the report
"Tyre Wear Particles (TWP) are the abraded surface of vehicle tyres, between 1nm to 0.5mm, and deposited on the road surface or blown into surrounding environments. TWP comprise a cocktail of natural rubber, synthetic compounds, fillers, antioxidants, antiozonants and curing systems. Due to the mix of materials, they are classed as a microplastic.
The term “Invisible Ocean Pollutant” has been coined because of the physical invisibility of TWP and that few people know TWP are a major source of pollution in the oceans. The conclusion from the research undertaken is that TWP are a major environmental pollutant and this is only starting to become recognised as an issue. Annually between 28% (17,640 tonnes) and 34% (23,120 tonnes) of TWP are entering the UK marine environment. Globally, this is a major environmental concern, where it is currently estimated that up to 1.03 million tonnes of microplastic will be in the oceans by 2030 (if using the UK assumption of 28-34%, 288,400 – 350,200 tonnes of TWP), and more than doubling to over 2.5 million tonnes (700,000 – 850,000 tonnes of TWP) by 2050.
This Insight Report summarises the detailed research and discussion contained within the adjoining Annexes and give recommendations to the resource management sector on some of the potential actions available to address and to mitigate the “Invisible Ocean Pollutants” that are Tyre Wear Particles.
Many factors involved in the design, fabrication, production and maintenance of tyres, vehicles, roads and other transport networks, in combination with shifts in citizen behaviour, will influence the extent to which we are able to mitigate our invisible pollution problems of the present. The five factors are:
1. Design of tyres
2. Design of cars
3. Design of roads and their water management
4. Driving skills and training
5. Improved interception at source
At present, it appears that plastic pollution is not the primary driver of material sourcing and wider innovations in the tyre industry, with the need to address issues including climate change, vehicle efficiency and performance, driver safety and market competitiveness taking clear precedence. However, innovations with an initial intent to address one problem often address others, and several of the latest tyre sourcing, design, production and maintenance concepts recently presented by leaders in the tyre sector have the capacity to help mitigate the problem of invisible plastic pollution.
There needs to be far more awareness among local authorities, real estate developers, industry and governments more generally, of the potential role of drainage and other urban and peri-urban infrastructure in mitigating the invisible pollution problem.
Solutions will need to be approached both from a financial or regulatory incentive perspective and design and life-cycle perspective, as well as involving leaders from governments, the waste, chemical, civil engineering and automotive industries, water treatment, urban infrastructure planning, technology, marine and freshwater biology, and wider environmental science sectors."
Read the report in full here.
Image: Oliver Roos on Unsplash
Authored by fellow futurists David Houle, Gerd Leonard and Glen Hiemstra the Fork in the Road manifesto invites they working in the foresight professions to utilise their influence to address critical social and environmental issues. Having been invited to join the manifesto signatories, I joined peers including David Brin, Richard Watson, Joyce Gioia, together with a growing number of others from around the world in supporting the endeavour.
Extracts from the manifesto
"Humanity has entered a critical moment in its history. The coming decade is a time of great historical significance, and the decisions humanity collectively makes in the next 10 years may well determine whether our future is bright and prosperous, or whether it leads to misery and perhaps even our eventual demise as a species.
The great thinker, designer and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller (‘Bucky’) wrote several seminal books describing this pivotal moment in history, which he called the Fork in the Road.
Humanity has entered the decisive decade and stands at perhaps the greatest, most monumental junction in the history of our species. While many forces challenge the future, we recognize these 4 overarching issues:
The initiators and initial signatories of this manifesto agree and hereby declare the urgent need to raise global awareness, to engage in wide education and debate, and to take decisive actions on these key issues in order to bring about fundamental shifts in all areas of human endeavour.
We must start acting based on solid science, deep foresight, collective ethics and practical wisdom, and ask not what the future may bring but what future we want, and how we will create it. Rather than tacitly agreeing to our seemingly inevitable future, we must actively create our preferred future.
The Fork In The Road Project commits to dramatically raising awareness at this critical moment in history, and to influencing decision makers around the globe to make the necessary changes needed so that humanity will flourish going forward.
We commit to elevating the discourse and decision making of all to this vision of urgency, and the opportunity we have in this decade to ensure humanity’s future. We commit to telling stories about the urgency of this decade in assuring a long-term future for humanity and all life. We urge all who agree to step up, to sign and share this manifesto to redirect humanity toward a positive future."
Read the manifesto in full here.
On March 25th March I had the pleasure to join the University of Innsbruck's Synthetic Landscape Lab Final Thesis jury together with the lab's director, Prof. Claudia Pasquero and members including Maria Kuptsova who supervised the research projects, and fellow jurors cofounder and director of ecoLogic Studio Dr. Marco Poletto and ETH Zurich's Melanie Fessel.
Working within the investigative conceptual framework of the lab, each of the projects presented explored the potentialities of an ecological intelligence through the convergence of all processes and systems - humans, animal, microbiological, technological and digital, that are currently accelerating the transformation of our Urbansphere.
'Agbogbloshie - The Landfill as Landscape' by Sebastian Partoll [seen above and below] examined the possibility of harvesting toxic chemicals that are leached when electronic goods, such as laptops, televisions, and smart phones, are disassembled, through the use of synthetic lichen-like growths in the landscape. Proposed as a means of mitigating a problem [pollution] while offering new economic and social opportunities [i.e. revenue from the sale of the chemicals harvested], the project was beautiful illustrated and animated, both in the live-stream presentation itself, and in Partoll's final dissertation.
'Atlas - Future Alpine Metropolitan Landscape' - Daniel Stiletto [seen second below] explored how augmentation of an Alpine landscape might simultaneously mitigate the issue of flooding, debris falls, and other geological failures, while harvesting water for both residential and industrial use. Through Stiletto's synthetic hydrological lens a critical problem has morphed into an ambitious, but through-provoking solution. Another elegantly executed project, Stiletto particularly impressed jurors with his sublime illustrations and unique visual style.
'The Physarum Game' by Thierry Lopes [seen bottom], spliced biological computing logic with electronic computing practice to create a game that educates citizens on how changes in the landscape human and non-human impact upon regional hydrology and thus water supply. Having chosen Cape Town as the locale for his concept, Lopes' exhibited a robust grasp of research practice, original thinking in his approach, as, as did Stiletto and Partoll, the ability to take on board the advisories of both course jurors and supervisors to deliver noteworthy works that met the highest standards in research and practice in their respective discipline.
Well done to Sebastian, Daniel, and Thierry, together with Claudia, Maria, and the Synthetic Landscape Lab team, and fellow course jurors on, yet again, raising the bar in this critical research and practice domain.
Image: Alluvial fan, Xinjiang, China courtesy of USGS.
Getting a career going post-graduation is rarely easy at the best of times. But, a pandemic underway, Britain adjusting to life outside the EU, and the UK and wider global economy in a less than robust state, the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021 have it particularly tough.
On April 23rd I'll be giving an online lecture and surgery in which I'll share insights and advice on ways to navigate a path through the unfolding storm. Part of University of Greenwich's 'Alumni Showcase' series, and titled, 'STEAM-ED Surgery | Starting Out and Up Across Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, Enterprise and Design', the surgery will focus on addressing the particular challenges typically experienced by they working at the edge of innovation and enterprise, issues covered will include:
- how to make your personal career mark
- how to find and develop collaborative relationships
- the opportunities and risks when starting a start-up
- navigating the unknown – pathfinding where there are no pre-existing paths
- crafting your career over time
- getting the price and pitch for new client work right
- who’s who and you – building a productive network
- when to let go and walk away – knowing when enough is enough
- why no-one knows it all – finding a mentor and more
Featuring a 30-minute lecture and 30-minute Q&A, attendees are invited to share their career questions and concerns at the end of the session.
The Alumni Showcase is an ongoing series of virtual alumni-led events where ideas, advise, and experiences are shared to spark conversations and new friendships and connections.
Find out more and register here.
The Global Research & Innovation in Plastics Sustainability [GRIPS] digital conference will bring together leading researchers and practitioners from academic, industry, and government in the UK and beyond to explore the most promising possible solutions to the problem of plastics reaching landfill, incinerators, or becoming fugitive in the environment. Taking place March 16th - 18th, and partnered with UK Research and Innovation, KTN, and UK Circular Plastics Network, the conference will be comprised virtual talks, workshops, showcases, and an exhibition.
Its aim to encourage cross-sector innovations, commercialising of knowledge and expertise, and support real world impacts, GRIPS is sponsored by organisations including the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining, and Sky Ocean Ventures, and features a formidable line-up of speakers from organisations including the universities of Manchester, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Cambridge, Lancaster, Sheffield, Exeter, Hull, Leeds, Bath, Northampton, Brunel, and Minnesota, together with Queens University Belfast, University College London, Imperial College London, and ETH Zurich, and from BSI, NERC, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Recycling and Recovery UK, Worn Again Technologies, WRAP, Innovate UK, National Oceanography Centre, US Department of Energy, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, USA, among others.
Ahead of the launch of a commissioned report on nano and micro plastics pollution from tyres co-authored by Dr. David Greenfield and myself, we will be presenting some of our findings in a session titled 'A Focus on: Tyre Elastomers', which will take place on March 17th 13:00 - 14:00 GMT. We'll be joined by Hanson Cheng of The Tyre Collective and Graham Wilson, Chief Executive of the British Tyre Manufacturers Association. Our session will discuss the particular problems presented by polymer microparticles in the environment and what the state-of-the-science suggests to be the most viable means of mitigating the issue - spanning disciplines including biomaterials, biomimetic filtration, among other emerging fields.
Find out more and register here.
On January 28th I had the pleasure of joining champion of sustainability and social justice Amisha Ghadiali in conversation for The Future is Beautiful podcast series. Having met Amisha in the late 00s, and contributed to project's interview series in 2011, book in 2016, and leadership course in 2020, our conversation was part of an ongoing discussion exploring how we, humanity, may build a brighter future.
Listen to our conversation at the link below, and find out more about The Future is Beautiful here.
Image: Mycofiltration Kamchatka: Architectural implementation of intelligent mycelium myco filtration system in Kamchatka by Kilian Rothmaya, Institute of Urban Design Synthetic Landscape Lab.
On 27th January I had the pleasure of joining the students, staff, and fellow guest critics of the Synthetic Landscape Lab at University of Innsbruck for the end of winter term juries. Assembled remotely, via Zoom, faculty members inc. Prof. Claudia Pasquero, Dr. Marco Poletto, Annarita Papeschi, and Maria Kuptsova and guest critics inc. Prof. Liss C. Werner, Dr. Mathilde Marengo, Ivan Valdez, and I critiqued works-in-progress across four courses: theory course, BA design studio, MA design studio, and pre-diploma.
Streamed live on the lab's YouTube channel, works presented included theoretical statements to explorations of virtual reality spaces to designing radical bio-digital design visions, all exploring the idea of synthetic landscapes, which the lab defines as "a design philosophy that encompasses all the processes and systems, humans, animal, microbiological and digital, that are currently accelerating the transformation of our urbansphere".
Featuring projects from the first Masters design studio to be conducted entirely in virtual reality, such as Thole Althoff's project [below], the immersive session invited assembled faculty and guests to view the projects using an array of devices and platforms, including Oculus VR sets. Integrating data and processes including satellite imaging and DeepGreen AI design protocol, the Masters projects illustrated how current and emerging technologies may enable complex landscape and related systems to be modelled in ways which help efforts to mitigate environmental issues.
Below: Mycofiltration Kamchatka: Architectural implementation of intelligent mycelium myco filtration system in Kamchatka by Kilian Rothmaya. Bottom: EcoLogical Motion by Max Lorenz and Michel Schweiger.
Supported by institutions including the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, among others, Biosphere Futures is a global database of place-based socio-ecological scenarios, case studies, references, key literature, and practical resources spread across geographic locations, ecosystems, and spatial scales worldwide. Users can search for content based on several criteria, including the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030.
With ample place-based socio-ecological scenarios, case studies, literature and other resources that have been made open-access, I have so-far contributed 3 scenarios and a first-in-kind case study [header above] and will be loading more works to the site as it grows. A beautifully conceived, designed, and curated collection, I have no doubt this new resource will prove helpful to many working in the futures space.
Read more about the project, its aims, and resources below and at this link.
Extract from Biosphere Futures:
"The Earth is a living planet. As far as we know, the only living planet in the Universe. The “Biosphere” is the place on Earth's surface where life dwells, as defined in 1875 by geologist Eduard Suess. In 1968, the first intergovernmental Biosphere Conference was held in Paris. It was recognized that humans, including their social interactions, are an integrated part of the biosphere, and a key factor in modifying the biosphere. The Biosphere Conference declared firmly that the conservation and use of resources of the biosphere should go hand-in-hand rather than in opposition -- thus promoting what we now call sustainable development -- and that interdisciplinary scientific approaches should be promoted to achieve this aim. To that end, we created Biosphere Futures to promote the development and application of scenarios that explicitly incorporate interdependencies between humans and their supporting ecosystems.
Our aim is to facilitate the use of social-ecological scenario planning for sustainable development of the Biosphere and help build a community of practice around social-ecological scenarios. We provide access to a rich collection of case studies from around that can be used to explore the various ways in which the future might unfold. Together, the case studies give insight into the diversity and plurality of people's expectations and aspirations for the future, and help understand interactions between the Sustainable Development Goals in different social-ecological contexts. Biosphere Futures is the product of a community effort. Case owners are encouraged to promote their work by contributing information about their study and share references to their products."
Last year, at the invitation of Professor Haifa Takruri-Rizk, fellow University of Salford alumnae and I gathered via Zoom to discuss our experiences of working in STEM through the pandemic. Speakers from both industry and academia, and from regions including UK/Europe, Middle East, and the Americas, among others, including Karima Es Sabar, CEO and Partner at Quark Venture; Dr. Sara Biscaya, Lecturer in Architecture at University of Salford; Helen Sheldon, Associate at RBA Acoustics; and myself, shared insights into how the unfolding events have impacted our research and practice. Our discussions expanded to issues facing women in STEM more generally, and to our suggestions as to possible means of remedy at the organisational, industry, and policy level. We hope to reconvene at a future date to explore how we can utilise our collective agency in addressing the issues raised. Those interested to read extracts from our discussions will find them in the QI 2021 edition of From Salford here.
Melissa Sterry, PhD, chartered design scientist, systems theorist, biofuturist, and serial founder inc. Bionic City®
Asking the question "how would nature design a city" since 2010.
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