Logistics living lab for sustainable sharing
The NWO Responsible Innovation approach is increasingly integrated into research programmes. A good example of is the Sustainable Living Labs programme, of which MVI is an integral part. Janet Veldstra: ‘We test the concept of sharing in logistics and mobility in the real world. And the Responsible Innovation approach is very valuable for such a topic.’
Groningen city centre aims to be emission-free by 2025. To achieve this, the municipality is promoting the use of sharing systems for logistics and mobility, such as shared cars or bundling freight transport. An example is a hydrogen-powered city bus that also delivers parcels to the neighbourhood it drives through.
The second phase of the Sustainable Living Labs programme granted the SMiLES project (Shared connectivity in Mobility and Logistics Enable Sustainability). SMiLES studies the economic, technical, legal, ethical, psychological and practical opportunities and barriers of sharing systems for logistics and mobility in the northern provinces of the Netherlands. The project is overseen by University of Groningen behavioural scientists Janet Veldstra and Berfu Ünal and by process manager Margriet Stel. Linda Steg is the project leader.
Value of hydrogen
In this project, researchers from seven different departments study several cases put forward by partners from professional practice for sharing systems that could make them more sustainable, Veldstra explains. ‘Public transport companies are already using a few hydrogen-powered buses and even a hydrogen-powered train. They are developing a hydrogen refuelling infrastructure to support this transition. But for many other companies the associated investments and risks are too big. We are exploring how collaborative initiatives can turn the hydrogen facilities of public transport companies into a catalyst for hydrogen adoption by other transport companies.’
This raises a variety of questions that cover a wide range of disciplines, states Veldstra. ‘What is the optimal way to facilitate the adoption process? How does that fit in what people think is important? When will they consider the switch to hydrogen to be acceptable? This also involves the philosophical question of what you can actually ask of people. Furthermore, which legal aspects play a role? At the moment, you can access the road with a hydrogen bus, but you cannot go on the water with a hydrogen boat. Law School researchers are considering how laws and regulations should be adjusted to make this possible.’ Sharing facilities also raises questions about supply and demand', Veldstra further sums up. ‘For example, if you are going to electrify and you will be sharing a charging infrastructure, who will go first? And what happens if people don’t follow the rules? These questions are modelled by researchers from the science and engineering faculty. Economists will consider whether and in what way interesting business cases can be developed around various sub-cases.’
Inspired by everyday practice
The inspiration for the research questions comes from both research and everyday practice, continues Veldstra. ‘It is an interaction. We link practical cases to scientific cases in order to arrive at new knowledge that can immediately be implemented in practice. The stakeholders are closely involved in the research to achieve applicability and implementation of the results.
The project addresses a myriad of questions. These vary from how you can use public transport hubs as locations for stationing lockers for e-commerce, via the influence of shared bicycle programmes on infrastructural development, to the division of tasks and legal responsibilities amongst the partners involved.
Veldstra herself takes a psychological perspective. ‘How do you ensure that sharing systems are also socially accepted and used on a larger scale? For example, why do people want to possess their own car? Does that have something to do with a desire for control, or do they identify with their possessions? You can only develop succesful solutions if you understand the barriers people experience to concepts like sharing initiatives.’ SMiLES examines the societal aspects of all practical cases that are seen as promising for the future of mobility and logistics.
To ensure that rapid changes in the sector are immediately translated into education, the living lab is also a place where science, practice and training come together in various learning communities, Veldstra explains. ‘For example, students from universities, universities of applied science and vocational colleges have collaborated on a question from the municipality about shared bicycles in the city. The Groningen city centre is overrun by bicycles. If every inhabitant of Groningen owns a bicycle, then that number of bicycles simply does fit the space available. The students have therefore investigated the opportunities and barriers for shared bicycles. Where should people collect and return bicycles? What happens if a bicycle breaks down? How do you make people want to share a bike? Working together on real problems really motivates the students.’
Despite the limitations caused by COVID-19, the project got off to a strong start, says Veldstra. ‘One of the reasons is that we are part of “Hive.mobility”, an innovation centre for green and smart mobility that puts a lot of effort into community building. Furthermore, our university’s Dean of Industry relations has helped us immensely in finding partners and bringing together the consortium. This is almost impossible to do for an individual researcher to do. That is why I argue for universities to invest in such public-private networks at the institute level. In addition, the format of the Sustainable Living Labs programme gave us the opportunity to hire a process manager, Margriet Stel. She is indispensable for a project of this size. I am confident that with this project we are at the start of a fertile ecosystem, that we will be able to build upon in the future.’
Programme Sustainable Living Labs
The Sustainable Living Labs programme is an initiative of TKI Dinalog, NWO, the Taskforce for Applied Research (SIA) and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in collaboration with the Top Sectors Energy and Water & Maritime. A total of twelve million euros is available for setting up and running living labs. The Responsible Innovation approach is an integral part of the research. As a result, the projects are explicitly aimed at developing long-term sustainable solutions. Read more about this program here.
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