Safe-and-Sustainable-By-Design: Product Development 2.0

In this course, we will give a short yet solid introduction into the concept of Safe-and-Sustainable-by-Design. Thus, we will present processes and tools associated with both Safe-by-Design and with ones focused on sustainability, and students will put these to practical use. By combining the pro-active and anticipative integration of considerations regarding safety and sustainability in (technical) pathways of research & development, a new and reflective way of thinking and acting is stimulated.

Course level
Master, PhD candidates and professionals from all disciplines
Session 2
11 January to 18 January 2020 
Coordinating lecturer                                     Pim Klaassen
Other lecturers
Susanne Waaijers (RIVM), Dick Jung (tbc; Ministry of Infrastructure and Water management); Marlous Arentshorst (Utrecht University); tba
Form(s) of instructionLectures, seminars, and workshops
Form(s) of assessmentPresentation and dialogue assignment
ECTS2 credits
Contact hours17-20 hours
Tuition fee

€800 - non-VU students and staff

€500 - VU students and staff

This course will benefit MSc-students, PhD-candidates, and professionals who aim to develop safe and sustainable products, materials and technologies. Especially for (future) researchers in the domain of applied sciences and engineering disciplines, Safe and Sustainable Design is a highly relevant topic, as it allows thinking and acting beyond existing frameworks in order to realize products, materials and technologies in which environmental and societal benefits are maximized and potential negative side-effects are minimized.  If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please contact us: graduatewinterschool@vu.nl.
As part of your application, you are required to write a short essay. There are no good or bad essays, since these essays serve primarily as (i) a way to assess your motivation for applying for this course, and (ii) a method for us to better align the program with the background and interests of the participants.
The essay may contain a maximum of 4 coherent paragraphs, it must avoid or explain field-specific technical jargon (not everyone will have the same background), and it must discuss the following 3 topics:
1.     Describe the societal problem your product or an innovative technology helps solve
2.     Provide a (technical) description of an innovative technology within your field that inspires you
3.     Argue how this new technology helps solve the aforementioned problem
4.     Describe the potential benefit you see from following this course for your (desired) role in the development process of this or similar technologies
You can send your essay to graduatewinterschool@vu.nl by November 1st. We will get back to you on the status of your application within two weeks after your application.

Safe-by-Design is a relatively new concept in the field of research and innovation governance, aimed at promoting and facilitating pro-actively and integrally considering risks and safety issues in innovation trajectories, going beyond merely meeting regulatory requirements. Especially for researchers in applied sciences and engineering disciplines, Safe-by-Design is a highly relevant topic, with close affinity to Responsible Research and Innovation.

In this course, we will give a short yet solid introduction into the concept of Safe-and-Sustainable-by-Design. Thus, we will present processes and tools associated with both Safe-by-Design and with ones focused on sustainability, and students will put these to practical use. By combining the pro-active and anticipative integration of considerations regarding safety and sustainability in (technical) pathways of research & development, a new and reflective way of thinking and acting is stimulated.

Questions addressed in the course include how safety and sustainability can be implemented in R&D, how combining the two might contribute to the circular economy transition, and how life-cycle approaches help in answering such questions. To deal with these questions, several approaches and methodologies will be presented, and students will put these to work in a (collaborative) case study.

Safe-and-Sustainable-by-Design is transdisciplinary in nature, in the dual meaning that it takes place beyond the borders of single disciplines, and that practicing it requires the cooperation between both academic and non-academic actors. For this reason, views from research, policy and the private sector receive attention during this course, and students will familiarize themselves with all such perspectives and the interests and needs associated with them when working on or putting to use the concept of Safe-and-Sustainable-by-Design in their group work.

Excursions are foreseen to the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and course drinks (“borrel”) on location.

This course will enable students to:
•    Become aware of safety and sustainability issues and their intricate intertwinement in the context of the design of new products, materials or technologies for a circular economy;
•    Understand how safety and sustainability can be addressed in designing circular products, materials or technologies;
•    Gain awareness of the existence of tools that can be used in the context of designing for safe and sustainable circular products, materials or technologies;
•    Understand the differences between and specific complexities of scientific, policy and industrial perspectives on the transition towards a circular economy;
•    Obtain insight in the complexity and dynamics of sustainability challenges and how this changes along the life cycle and development of a concept or product.

Additional details:

This course includes a transdisciplinary and triple helix perspective on the complex challenges that society faces in the transition to a circular economy.  It combines different theories from these perspectives with cases and perspectives from practice. By offering lectures and seminars from academics, policy-makers, and entrepreneurs, and subsequently work on real-world cases from these perspectives, this course goes beyond theoretical discussions and enables application of obtained insights, understandings and tools in practice.

Amongst others:
Keijer, Tom, Vincent Bakker, and J. Chris Slootweg. "Circular chemistry to enable a circular economy." Nature chemistry 11.3 (2019): 190-195.
Robaey, Zoë. "Dealing with risks of biotechnology: understanding the potential of Safe-by-Design." (2018). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331073590_Dealing_with_risks_of_biotechnology_understanding_the_potential_of_Safe-by-Design
Saidani, Michael, et al. "Closing the loop on platinum from catalytic converters: Contributions from material flow analysis and circularity indicators." Journal of Industrial Ecology (2019).
van de Poel, Ibo, and Zoë Robaey. "Safe-by-design: from safety to responsibility." Nanoethics 11.3 (2017): 297-306.
Zijp, M. C., Waaijers-van Der Loop, S. L., Heijungs, R., Broeren, M. L. M., Peeters, R., Van Nieuwenhuijzen, A., ... & Posthuma, L. (2017). Method selection for sustainability assessments: The case of recovery of resources from waste water. Journal of environmental management, 197, 221-230.

Pim Klaassen is Assistant Professor in Policy, Ethics and Communication in the Health and Life Sciences at VU’s Athena Institute. His research concerns the societal meaning of science and technology, the governance structures that facilitate responsible research and innovation, and learning in transdisciplinary research contexts. He also holds a position as Senior Policy Advisor Safe-by-Design at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

“Safe-by-Design is a specific approach to technological design: it is an iterative, interactive, interdisciplinary process that includes safety – in addition to functionality – as one of the key requirements during the design and development process.” (Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management)