‘Climate change is actually something you can do’

Dr Irene Fernandez Villegas aims to inspire a sustainable attitude in her new role as Faculty of Aerospace Engineering Sustainability Officer. “I want to create a change.”

Irene Fernandez Villegas: “We are consumers and we have the power to drive how the market works and that can have a big influence.” (Photo: Henri Werij)

“I’m an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and my research is related to how to make and join structures for aircraft. It fits within the bigger picture of the idea that we want aircraft to fit within a circular economy. We want the structures to be reused or recycled at the end of life. Of course, if you don’t design or build them in such a way that makes a business case, then it’s never going to happen. They will just end up parked somewhere in the desert. Over the last years, I’ve been focusing specifically on joining methods that will allow this to happen.

In my new role, I believe there are two layers with regards to what I can do with sustainability and, really, I think we all can be more sustainable. One layer is the science, the technological developments that will hopefully be out there 20 years from now. But that is not enough for me. The other layer is what we can do today and that’s the thing that keeps me awake at night. I want to do something about it now.

‘This is the thing that keeps me awake at night’

Students formed a Green Team in my Faculty in 2019 and they needed a staff member to help them facilitate their tasks. I was the first one volunteering for this, saying I wanted to do it. I was also in contact with Andy van der Dobbelsteen, a professor working on climate action, asking how I can help to make the campus cleaner. There was an idea of having a person within the Faculty doing things on sustainability and climate action and that’s how this role was created.

I was appointed because I was basically already doing it anyway. I guess I am pioneering this in my Faculty. There is a sustainability coordinator at the Industrial Design Faculty, but it didn’t exist at Aerospace. I am the first one here and I am very proud of this. I thought it was a way to give some sort of coherence and visibility to what I’m doing. And now that I have the role, I really feel that I can do more. I’m already thinking of putting together a team and starting to give it more mass.

I would like everyone in our Faculty, from staff to students, to realise that making a difference with climate change is actually something you can do. It’s not just a task for government, big companies or policymakers. They play a big role, but we can also play a very big role. We are consumers and we have the power to drive how the market works and that can have a big influence. If I manage to get everybody to be aware of that, I will be very happy.

I believe that sustainability is an attitude more than anything else. I want to create a change so that our students and staff have a sustainable attitude. I really hope that all of the faculties also realise that they need a position like this and I hope that my role can serve as an example.”

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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