Sustainability in education will increase the impact our students can make

Daan Schraven, Assistant Professor for the master Construction Management & Engineering (CME) at the CEG faculty, teaches the course Financial Engineering amongst other things. In addition, he conducts research on the transition to a circular construction economy. The interest in sustainability within his field started in 2017 with a few graduate students and a small group of PhD students and has now become the main line of his teaching and research.

"I had just become a lecturer in Financial Engineering which, at the time, had little to do with the big changes that are about to happen in the field of sustainability. The subject only linked to the sustainability criteria used by banks and investment companies for investments. Sustainability and circular economy came up mainly in graduation projects. As I began to see an increasingly clear mission in making our sector more sustainable and the driving role that investment and finance have in it, I decided it would be time to make it more concrete within Financial Engineering."

Added value for students

"I think it's an important added value that my students get to see how decisive the financial discipline is in many choices that are made on major capital assets, such as our infrastructure. And that they also learn that adjusting the financial language in this, where the environmental and spatial effects of an investment are expressed in monetary terms, will have an enormous effect. I want to discuss the challenges, what solutions currently exist and how to do it better."

To give Financial Engineering that interpretation, course material on sustainability within finance had to be collected and organised. "In this way, I can show how finance and investment in capital are changing due to sustainability transitions such as the circular economy and the energy transition."

Support in implementing sustainability in education

"At some point, it came up in a meeting between the graduate coordinators of our program that the CEG Greenteam was looking for lecturers who want to bring sustainability into their teaching for a pilot. My request for course material appeared to fit perfectly within the pilot. A very inspiring conversation with the Greenteam followed and soon we had a concrete assignment that I was happy to work on with them."

Good match

"From the Greenteam I received support from a great Teaching Assistant, Britt Zandbergen. She is passionate about the subject of sustainable finance and did an internship at the Sustainable Finance Desk of the ABN Amro during her master's. This made it abundantly clear to me that she would be a suitable candidate for the assignment. Because of her background, she is very self-reliant and asked the right stimulating questions right from the start, which got us off to a good start. It takes me about half an hour a week to spar with Britt about the search she is conducting for sustainable funding.

In early July, she will deliver a compilation of curated course materials on the topic that I will use to create the two lectures in the course on the 'frontiers of sustainability in finance’."

Building bridges between research and education

"The nice thing about this project is that it provides a clear bridge between my own research and the content of the course that includes traditional financial theories from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Britt's work provides a more concrete platform for bringing the insights I gain in my own research to the forefront of the profession more quickly from the coming academic year. Students will thus learn to think beyond traditional theories. With a continuously changing society, it is important to give students new insights and to show them that old theories are not infallible.

I am very excited about the foundation Britt is laying. We have discovered that in some areas of the finance field there is not yet a great deal of theory and scientific consensus. This provides an interesting angle to really show the 'frontiers' as well, and also convey to the students that this field lies open with opportunities for graduation and in their later careers."

Feedback from students

"When I look at the enthusiasm of my students who are majoring in sustainability, I am very much looking forward to the reaction of the first cohort of students who will experience this addition to the profession in the 2021-22 academic year. I have received feedback in the virtual corridors from many graduating students that they are jealous of the new batch. They think it’s unfortunate that they were not able to get the subject with this addition during their studies."

Education flywheel for sustainability goal 2050

" As far as I'm concerned the project has been such a success that I'm in talks to see if I can also shape the philosophy of sustainability in the overall specialisation 'Design & Integration' of the master's in CME of which I'm the graduate coordinator.

Sustainability is a topic that touches all corners of science. It cannot be said explicitly enough that the big challenges are crying out for an answer. From my research on the business side, I know how vital investing in sustainable technology is. If finance and innovation start speaking the same sustainability language, we will show our students even more clearly the impact they can make with their knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit. That way, we use education as a flywheel for sustainability to get buildings and infrastructure more circular and energy neutral by 2050."

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