Sustainable Solutions for Planetary Health

ERN-Environmental Engagements: talks

For the first time in the history of humankind the human-induced socio-ecological crises are approaching or crossing planetary boundaries, threatening the very possibilities of survival on Earth. Only rapid and profound changes can steer us to a pathway towards planetary health. In order to make these transitions as safe and as just as possible, certain values and basic principles need to be considered and evidence-based decisions must be made. Thus, to achieve sustainable solutions for planetary health, a plurality of perspectives is required. This is what the “Environmental Engagements: talks”-series hosted by the Environmental Research Network aims at: Giving a platform to researchers from diverse backgrounds conducting cutting-edge environmental research at the University of Vienna, who are ready to engage with a broad audience beyond disciplinary boundaries through highly timely and solution-focused exchanges. Join the conversation!


Where: Zoom [Zoom links will be posted below the events] - no registration necessary



13.10.2021, 17:00-18:30 Nicole Lieger "A Circular Economy – Going Way Beyond Recycling"

27.10.2021, 17:00-18:30 Atakan Aral "A Computational Approach Towards Early Detection of Micropollutants in Rivers"

17.11.2021, 17:00-18:30 Ulrike Felt "An environmental problem in search for a political solution – The case of the single-use plastic directive"

01.12.2021, 17:00-18:30 Thilo Hofmann "Nano in Plant Agriculture: Risks and Opportunities"

12.01.2022, 17:00-18:30 Freddy Kleitz "What can we do to improve the recovery and recycling of critical materials?"

26.01.2022, 17:00-18:30 Stephanie Nitsch "Wind Power from a Civil Law Perspective"


>> Missed a talk? No worries! Under "Past events" you can find links to the recordings.

Past events

13.10.2021 Nicole Lieger "A Circular Economy – Going Way Beyond Recycling"

About the talk:
Ressources on this planet are finite. How can we use them, without using them up?
Instead on digging ores out of the ground, and throwing them away after use, we could develop a system where materials are being reused again and again. Where all materials, once mined, stay in circulation.
For that, we need to go far beyond the old approach of thinking about „recycling“ once we‘re standing in front of a garbage heap. We need to start at the beginning, and design products in a way that makes it possible for product parts and materials to be circular. It needs new business models, new infrastructure, new cultural habits.
A number of initiatives are already underway, from EU level to innovative businesses to individuals.
Is it enough? What needs to happen next?

About the speaker:
Dr. Nicole Lieger is a Lecturer in the University of Vienna‘s Master Programme in Development Studies. She has a transdiciplinary background in social sciences, including political science, economics, law, business administration and international development. She also has extensive experience working with non-governmental and community organizations in fields reaching from human rights to environmental protection to cultural transformation, and a long-standing personal practice, all of which provide the background for her reflections on transformational potential.

Language: English

When: 13.10.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to the recording [PW: 7!t0AAaK]

27.10.2021 Atakan Aral "A Computational Approach Towards Early Detection of Micropollutants in Rivers"

About the talk:
Industrial facilities located in watersheds use large amounts of water for various purposes, and they release it back to the rivers through water treatment plants. Unfortunately, such treatment plants are prone to technical and human failures. In Europe, we have seen several disasters in the last decade, most recently in Finland and Poland. These failures usually go unnoticed for days and result in huge amounts of chemical discharge into rivers. With an automated monitoring and early warning system, similar environmental disasters could be avoided in the future. Among chemical substances, micropollutants are particularly dangerous to water ecosystems as well as human health because of their high toxicity and decay tolerance. This presentation will summarize our efforts towards designing a computational early warning system for micropollutants in rivers, which will locate the source of the pollution within minutes with unprecedented accuracy. To this end, we propose the use of smart sensors (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). The sensors will capture continuous data from the river, and the AI model will combine the data with scientific expertise to make predictions in an automated way. A critical constraint is that such a system must have a small ecological footprint so that it will not affect the very same environment it is intended to protect.

About the speaker:
Atakan Aral is a computer scientist and the international coordinator of the CHIST-ERA project "Sustainable Watershed Management Through IoT-Driven AI" ( at the Faculty of Computer Science, University of Vienna. He received dual M.Sc. degrees in Computer Science and Engineering from Politecnico di Milano and Istanbul Technical University (ITU), and a Ph.D. degree in Computer Engineering from ITU. Since 2016, Atakan pursues FWF-funded postdoctoral research in Austria, initially at the TU Wien and currently at the University of Vienna. His research interests center around resource and reliability management for geo-distributed and virtualized computing systems such as intercloud and edge computing, as well as optimization of the edge computing architecture to enable next-generation AI services for environmental sustainability.

Language: English

When: 27.10.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [PW: Z?rHB3k%]

17.11.2021 Ulrike Felt "An environmental problem in search for a political solution – The case of the single-use plastic directive"

About the talk:
The 20th century has frequently been described as the “the plastic age”, plastic being omnipresent and ubiquitous. It exists in all kinds of forms and with multiple functions — the material’s plasticity has allowed it to permanently reshape our material cultures. Yet, it contains all kinds of chemical additives creating harmful effects; it degrades into fragments (microplastics) thus shifting shape and diffusing into the remotest parts of our environment and our bodies; and, plastic accumulates over time constituting what one could call the archives of 20th century “progress”. Taking these complexities as a starting point, this lecture aims at investigating the struggles in European policy arenas over the governance of plastic. Currently, Europe is engaged in intense policy debates — e.g. the EU Plastic Strategy and the Single-Use Plastics directive — trying to address plastic as a matter of public concern and develop adequate responses. We will carefully analyze the ways these policy initiatives conceptualize, narrate and address the plastic issues and propose solutions. Doing this I want to open up an in-depth reflection on the limitation of specific policy framings and invite to engage with the multiplicity of the lives of plastic-in-society and thinking about the solutions so far proposed or already put in place.

About the speaker:
Ulrike Felt is Professor of Science and Technology Studies since 1999, Head of the Department of Science and Technology Studies and of the research platform Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic Practice. She is furthermore a member of the research platforms "Governance of Digital Practices" und "PLENTY - Plastics in the Environment and Society", and vice-head of the Environmental Research Network of the University of Vienna. Main research interests include: participation and governance of science/technology in democratic societies; science communication, knowledge production and their ethical dimension; socio-technical infrastructures and their importance for science and society; Digitization and Big Data;

Language: English

When: 17.11.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [PW: 6b3@^iQv]

01.12.2021 Thilo Hofmann "Nano in Plant Agriculture: Risks and Opportunities"

About the talk:
Professor Hofmann´s talk will address natural (NPs), engineered (ENPs) and microplastic(nano) particles (NMPs). The production and use of industrial, agricultural and consumer products leads to the emission of emerging pollutants into the environment such as ENPs and NMPs. Concerns arise over the possibility that ENPs and NMPs might pose a threat to the environment, including drinking water and food supplies. Investigations of ENPs and NMPs are still hampered by the absence of suitable analytical methods that are capable of detecting and quantifying them in complex matrices and at very low concentrations. This knowledge is urgently needed for risk assessment and regulation. Even though many concepts have been developed in nanogeosciences for the fate of natural particles, they are sometimes overlooked for ENPs and NMPs. This talk will address specific aspects concerning the detection and fate of nanoparticles, including natural, engineered and microplastic(nano)particles. It will focus on analytical concepts and knowledge from nanogeoscience, which might be also important to NMPs research. It will address the state of knowledge of using nanotechnology in plant agriculture, and address risks from increasing plastic pollution at agricultural sites.

About the speaker:
Since 2005 Thilo Hofmann has been Full Professor for Environmental Geosciences at the University of Vienna. His group works in nanogeosciences, environmental impact of nanotechnology, investigates trace contaminants and sorption to carbonaceous materials and microplastic. In 2017 he was appointed Adjunct Full Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University (US). In 2018 he was honored as Guest Professor at the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Nankai University, Tianjin (China). Hofmann is director of the University of Vienna's Environmental Research Network, which he established in 2014; the network includes more than 230 scientists from the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, law, and economics, aiming to tackle today’s environmental challenges. 

Language: English

When: 01.12.2021, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording  [Password: !hf%a4!. ]

26.01.2021 Stephanie Nitsch "Wind Power from a Civil Law Perspective"

About the talk:
In view of an increasing demand for renewable energy, the aim of this talk is to address the challenges that civil law poses to the purchase, construction, and operation of renewable power plants. With a special focus on wind power, a central task is to examine challenges of the law of obligations as well as property law. This analysis is performed through the lens of the various actors involved, such as manufacturers, constructors, operators, and landowners. Which concepts and argumentations are advocated, and do they comply with today’s court practice? In response to this question, new approaches and possible solutions under Austrian civil law shall be introduced and discussed.

About the speaker:
Stephanie Nitsch is a lecturer at the University of Vienna and a member of the editorial board of the ‘University of Vienna Law Review’. Until 2021, Stephanie was a research and teaching assistant (post doc) at the Department for European, International and Comparative Law at the University of Vienna. Her research in the fields of comparative private law and private international law adopts an environmental perspective. In addition to other publications on environmental law, her dissertation examined the discrepancy between environmental liability under public and under civil law.

Language: English

When: 26.01.2022, 17:00-18:30

Link to recording [Password: ?3Kq@Fhz]