Exploring innovative technological and constructional solutions to support SDG12

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Mon Feb 21 2022

Author: Guest contributor

Engineering. Chemistry. Materials science. Applied physics. Applied mathematics. Every applied discipline that touches the supply chain will need to work together—to join up as a community—to solve the problems of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Here we’re sharing thoughts from João Paulo C. Rodrigues at Coimbra University and Paulo J. S. Cruz at University of Minho, Guimarães, Portugal: Editors-in-Chief of Architecture, Structures and Construction.

What is the focus of your research work?

Paulo: Being a Civil / Structural Engineer and Full Professor of Construction and Technology at the School of Architecture, Art and Design of Minho University, my research work aims to bridge the gap between architecture and structural engineering. Within that framework, I am particularly committed to promoting the efficient use of materials and exploring innovative technological, constructional and structural solutions, namely those related with additive manufacturing and the use of low-cost cellulosic and bio-based materials.

In the context of the recent National Plan with which Portugal answered to the Recovery and Resilience Facility key instrument to help the EU emerge stronger and more resilient from the current crisis, we have great expectations in participating in some Mobilizing Agendas for Business Innovation, in the field of “production materials and technologies” and “construction and habitat”, with a special emphasis on “additive manufacturing” and “sustainable construction”. These agendas are tailored to address issues of great importance, such as: the design of housing at controlled costs, the digitization of production and the re-industrialization of the construction sector or the renovation and improvement of the thermal performance of buildings, among others.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

João: I am, at this moment, visiting professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Brazil. I am teaching to the courses of structural engineering and architecture. However, my home university is the University of Coimbra, in Portugal. My stay in Brazil, although for a few years, aims to promote research and education between Brazil and Europe in the area of Engineering and Architecture. I am promoting, at the moment, research projects and courses between Brazilian and European universities with the view to putting into practice the already existing agreements between Brazil and Europe.

How would you define societal impact when it comes to research?

Paulo: Research should impact and contribute to improve different areas of our society. Having concerns about the future of people's well-being , construction industry should focus on paramount dimensions, such as quality of life, inclusion, and sustainability. Our research work should address the present social, environmental and economic challenges in order to promote a durable, sustainable, safe, low-cost and high-performance built environment and improving comfort and security of people in their physical environments.

As an example of an ongoing project having people in the centre of its priorities, it is worth mentioning the Lab4U&Spaces – Living Lab of Interactive Urban Space Solutions – a cutting-edge endeavour in the wide and emerging field of contemporary, sustainable, liveable, inclusive and interactive urban spaces. It combines urban intelligence and physical, virtual and digital elements, sharing the commitment with developing replicable added value products to drive new uses of urban spaces.

How important is societal impact to your research? Why?

João: My research has always a very strong practical and applied component. In my research projects there are always a product, a solution or something directly applicable to the society. Some of my research projects have been planned and thus approved by the  financing agencies to solve practical problems. I cannot carry out research purely theoretical and for me research has to have a great social impact in the short term. I have taken part of my MSc and PhD in Germany and I acquired this culture in the German universities, where the doctoral theses are usually requested by the industry for solving a specific problem.

Which UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) does your work most closely relate to? 

Paulo: Our work is mainly related to the following UN SDG: (9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; (11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and (12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against the SDG(s) in your field?

João: Research today has all to be linked with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the moment, funding agencies, such as the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, already make this requirement and only finance research projects that cover one or more of the UN SDGs. The sustainability in construction is an important issue present in all my research projects. This is measured at a practical level with the application of the research results in the regulations, building codes and building construction.

Who do you prioritize reaching? ie: policymakers, educators, health professionals, the general public, etc.

Paulo: Our research and the conferences we organize are intended for a wide audience interested in the recent advances in the art, practice and theory of designing and building infrastructures. It includes architects, structural and construction engineers, builders and building consultants, construction industry persons, educators, researchers, students, product manufacturers, material suppliers, project managers and contract administrators, asset managers and government authorities of infrastructure development and others.

To prioritize one target, I would choose the establishment of effective and long-term collaborations with the construction industry, facilitating knowledge transfer and valorisation on the basis of reciprocal enhancement. 

What do you think is the most productive way to engage with your target audience? What is it that you want your audience(s) to do with the information?

João: The conquest of my audience is done at different levels. On one hand is done through courses I teach a little bit around the world. Participation in congresses, preferably giving lectures by invitation, is very important to hail my name. On the other hand there are the research projects, preferably with foreign partners, universities and companies, which greatly amplify my network of contacts. Linked with research comes the supervision of masters and doctoral students. I like a lot supervising students from different countries, preferably with foreign colleagues from other universities. I like working in partnership with colleagues from other countries, from the least to the more developed, because I learn alays a lot from them. 

What advice do you have for researchers who are looking for ways to make societal impact, in other words, impact beyond their scholarly circle/academia?

Paulo: At the core of SDG is the conviction that simple citizens acts and small communities’ actions can reverberate and have a worldwide influence, leading to effective changes, which are quite often depicted by the sentence “think globally, act locally”. Thus my piece of advice would be to truly believe that their apparently negligible everyday decisions and actions can have a significant transformative effect and impact, namely if they are aggregated with similar efforts within their networks.

What advice do you have for researchers working to tailor their research grant applications with societal impact in mind?

João: They should always direct their research to the resolution of problems of society and have a contribution to its short-term development. This contribution can be at different levels: human, material, environmental, financial and others. Their work must be registered, because science is done step by step and is always based on previous works. The publication of articles in scientific journals, congresses and theses writing, are of the utmost importance to achieve this goal.

Visit Springer Nature's Sustainable Materials dedicated page under SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production to find out more.

About João Paulo Correia Rodrigues and Paulo J. S. Cruz
João Paulo

João Paulo C. Rodrigues has spent all of his professional career at the Civil Engineering Department (DEC) of UC having joined it in 1992. He is currently Associate Professor with Habilitation at UC. From July 2021, he has also joined the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Brazil, as visiting professor. His research interests lie in the areas of structures and construction in general. 

Paulo Cruz

Paulo J. S. Cruz is Civil Engineer and Full Professor of Construction and Technology at the School of Architecture of the University of Minho, Guimarães, Portugal. He is currently, President of the International Association of Structures and Architecture (2016 – 2022) and President of the Design Institute of Guimarães. Prof. Cruz bridges the gap between architecture and structural engineering, promoting the efficient use of the traditional materials and exploring innovative technological, constructional and structural solutions, namely those related with additive manufacturing.


Author: Guest contributor

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