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#023 Alex' green lens

THE STORY OF HEIDI'S ROBOTICS marketing IS A STORY of ALEX' GREEN LENS

Green Hub coordinator Alex Baker-Friesen cannot understand the lack of concern about global warming among politicians and businesses. In his DNA, D stands for Do in terms of sustainability. His mission? Promote a green philosophy and actions. Throughout the UT. Robotics programme manager Heidi Muijzer-Witteveen is keen to know: how do we link sustainability and robotics?

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Monday 22 March 2021

SUSTAINABILITY TRAINING FOR MAN AND MACHINE

Heidi: 'Alex, you're quite new to the university and the region. So, I checked you out on Google. You were born and grew up in England, studied in Sweden for a while and have worked in Maastricht. What brought you to Twente?'

Alex: 'An amazing job as coordinator of The Green Hub, the UT's new sustainability platform. As soon as I saw the vacancy, I was sold. I got the job last May and The Green Hub officially launched in September.'

Heidi: 'What particularly appealed to you?'

Alex: ‘Promoting sustainability at this university. We want everyone and everything to automatically include sustainability in thought and in deed: so staff, students, faculties and student associations. We want to boost awareness of all the green initiatives already present and of the actions we can and should undertake. We do that by studying, questioning, exploring, facilitating and stimulating the subject from every angle.'

'I'm delighted to be taking on this role with a team of fourteen students. For a whole year, they devote around eight hours a week to The Green Hub, focusing more extensively and deeply on sustainability alongside their studies. For me, I am honoured  by the incredible challenge to train these young people to become transformative sustainability professionals. And you know what else: a few days after getting the job, my wife and I got married. So, that was a rather special week.'

Heidi: 'What you might call a new beginning! Congratulations! Did you already know Enschede and the region?'

Alex: 'Indeed. Thanks. No, I didn't know the region at all. And meeting people in real life is obviously difficult at the moment. Most of my introductions to people are on a screen. What I like most is the Twente attitude of ‘what you see is what you get’. I had a similar job in Maastricht, but I found they are more interested in form, in appearances. As a person, I'm quite direct and that fits well here.'

“My interest in sustainability goes further than 'wanting to know’; it affects me personally”
Alex Baker-Friesen

Heidi: 'On your LinkedIn account, I saw that you already began being involved with sustainability as a student.'

Alex: 'I studied Environmental Science in Manchester, which involved subjects like meteorology, geology and climate change. When it came to climate change, I noticed that my interest in sustainability goes further than 'wanting to know’. It affects me personally.'

Heidi: 'What particularly?'

Alex: 'I have always been fascinated by the planet and nature. And the more I discovered, the more I wondered: if climate change is happening, why aren't we doing more to tackle it? Why are so many people ignoring it? Why aren't politicians and businesses doing more about it? That's something that I really don't understand and it makes me angry.'

'Sustainability is a subject I identify with; it's part of who I am. Which is why I used to take it personally if my work was criticised. That hurt. Luckily, I’ve learnt to deal with it differently now. The challenge is to connect different perspectives. That's also what my team and I will be doing at the UT.'

Heidi: 'How exactly?'

Alex: 'With Shaping2030, the UT has placed a dot on the horizon, also with respect to sustainability. The question is: how do we get there? We will help answer that question. We encourage discussion at all levels about what we understand by sustainability and what kind of university we want to be in 2030. Not everyone has the same ideas, but those different perspectives make it interesting.'

SHARING AND PASSING ON KNOWLEDGE

Heidi: 'Let's dream for a bit. Where will you and your team be in, say, five years?'

Alex: 'It would be nice if by then The Green Hub is the central institute for sustainability on campus. An interdisciplinary centre where students and scientists from all the faculties know where to find each other, share and pool knowledge, and pass it on through education.'

Heidi: 'I'm currently setting up a robotics master's programme in which we also aim at interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange.'

Alex: 'It's great that you're looking beyond faculty boundaries. That's really valuable.'

Heidi: 'How do you think we can incorporate sustainability into our master's programme?'

Alex: 'Ha, great – that's just the question to ask us! I would start with the ethics of technology and artificial intelligence. If we strive towards a more sustainable world, we will need to teach the machines we are programming to think in terms of sustainability. And of course, you need to choose the materials you use carefully.'

“On the way to a more sustainable world, you must also teach the machines you are designing to think sustainably”
Alex Baker-Friesen

Heidi: 'So, we always need to ask: how does what I do impact on the natural environment and on society?

Alex: ‘Exactly! We must help UT students develop a critical thought process, so that they intrinsically ask themselves that question. If we manage to do that together, then sustainability is not just a pursuit, but the lens through which you look. To me, that's what Shaping2030 is all about. This deep change.'

Heidi: 'I'd love to discuss that more with you. I feel you could really help us with the sustainability component in our master's programme.'

Alex: 'I'd love to – let's get something in the diary!'

DR. HEIDI MUIJZER-WITTEVEEN (1983)

studied Biomedical Technology at the UT and obtained her PhD, also in Twente, on research into non-invasive ways to restore feeling to people with a robotic hand. After a postdoc, she was asked to help develop the MSc Robotics programme. She is also programme manager of the Human Centred Robotics Programme at the UT.

Dr Alex Baker-Friesen (1987)

born and raised in England, studied Environmental Science (BSc) at the University of Manchester and Sustainable development (MSc) in Uppsala, Sweden. In 2014, he came to the Netherlands to do a PhD at the University of Maastricht. Besides his PhD research into organisational change for sustainability, in 2018 he set up his own consultancy for issues at the interface of sustainable development and organisational change. In May 2020, he was appointed the coordinator of The Green Hub.