Science, data and politics for sustainability

From the growing popularity of circular economy on social media and newspapers, it is clear that this economic paradigm has finally reached policy-makers and civil society at large. It is exciting to witness the growth of a new field and the emboldening of a common sentiment towards the greatest challenge of our generation – to create a sustainable society in the face of climate change and environmental degradation.

It is believed that the circular economy will help us combat our society’s economic and environmental struggles. As a PhD student at Leiden University, my main research interest is to figure out whether such a promise can be delivered along the supply-chain of raw materials. In fact, much of what I do concerns providing relevant tools and data to empower decision makers along the path towards circular economy. Besides my scientific work, I also try to facilitate this transition by advocating for sustainability and environmental policies with the public and in politics.

These efforts can be separated in 4 main themes:

  1. Building a web-tool for raw material supply chain scenario analysis
  2. Data mining to streamline product environmental impact assessment
  3. Public engagement
  4. Policy efforts toward a just, united and sustainable Europe

I am currently managing a European project under EIT Raw Materials which focuses on the development of courses and a web-tool for modelling and analysing raw material supply-chains. The web-tool, scheduled to be launched by the end of 2018, will allow users to investigate the current state of the economy and scenarios from three aspects concerning the supply of raw materials: resource security, environmental impacts and economic performances. Users will be able to model the impact of different circular economy policies such as increasing material efficiency and product use intensification, and see their effects on raw material use, emissions, employment and GDP. Corresponding courses are under development to teach students about the current raw material supply chains and how to do scenario modelling with this tool.

After the completion of the web-tool, I intend to direct my line of research toward data mining to streamline the assessment of raw material requirements and environmental impacts of products. Millions of virtual representations of products have been made available throughout the years by product designers and engineers. Imagine if we can automatise products’ sustainability assessment through publicly available data provided by companies and engineers. We could empower scientists, decision makers and designers with unprecedented speed in evaluating the products we manufacture and consume.

Alongside research, I try to further engage the public by supporting the organisation of a lecture series on the theme of “Ecology, Energy and Environment”, The Triple E lectures with a team at Leiden University CML. In these lectures, international experts are invited to share their knowledge on crucial environmental challenges with a diverse audience of students, researchers and citizens. The lectures have started in February 2018 and will continue to take place on the last Thursday of the month at the Institute of Environmental Sciences of Leiden University (CML).

At last, I am currently involved in political activism as a policy group coordinator for the pan-European movement DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025). DiEM25 is a movement of concerned progressive citizens from all corners of Europe and beyond which, on the wake of the Greek crisis of 2015, have joined forces behind people of the likes of Yanis Varoufakis and Noam Chomsky to advocate a united Europe beyond crippling austerity and the degradation of our society and environment. We want to provide Europeans with a progressive alternative and a shared sense of direction which is nowhere to be seen in current European politics. A Europe of the people, economically dignified and environmentally sustainable. Specific to the last point, my role is to coordinate a policy group on Green Transition, which is set to elaborate the environmental sustainability policies for the movement. We are currently working on the green paper, which will be submitted for internal members’ vote to become DiEM25 policy position on sustainability for the EU parliamentary election run of 2019.

In conclusion, I am pushing for sustainability from various angles. Though I am excited about everything I am doing, I do find activism and policy to be the most important of all. I strongly believe that we should all be seeking to be more involved in the political process in whatever capacity. We should be working to materialise the world we envision. With our skills, knowledge and creativity, we can shape the future of our economy and society.

To learn more about my work and various projects, please email me at and follow me on Twitter @FDonati