Professor Reint Jan Renes wins the Deltapremie 2023 prize

‘We want to reach a social tipping point in the way we talk and think about sustainability.’

7 Nov 2023 09:30 | Centre for Applied Research on Social Sciences and Law

Reint Jan Renes, professor of Psychology for Sustainable Cities at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS), and Janine Stubbe, professor of Performing Arts Medicine at the Codarts University of the Arts, Rotterdam, are the two winners of the Deltapremie 2023 prize. This prize and 500,000 euros is awarded once every two years to professors whose research group make a special contribution to society. The Deltapremie prize is an initiative of the Taskforce for Applied Research SIA and the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH).

The jury sees Reint Jan as a leading light of applied research: “Reint Jan is an authority in the field of behaviour change. He specifically chose this professorship, and therefore for a university of applied sciences.” Reint Jan himself is a bit baffled by the compliments and recognition for him and his research group.

How has winning the prize affected you personally?

“It makes me very happy and proud, and also a bit nervous. I’m delighted because of the recognition for what we do and all we have achieved with the group in recent years. Everyone in the research group, and our new master’s programme, is very committed to the climate issue and works incredibly hard to make a difference for future generations. It feels good that this is seen and appreciated. It also makes me a bit nervous because the research group has already set the bar high in terms of what we want to achieve, and winning this prize means that now others also have similar expectations of us.”

Why did you win the award?

“We as a research group are very good at linking professional practice and education. In cooperation with the Applied Psychology bachelor’s degree programme, we have built something great, such as our own optional module Climate and Behaviour in that programme, and of course the recently launched master's in Climate Psychology and Behaviour. These are a good example of interplay between the research group and our teaching. To be very honest, I think the subject of the research group also plays a part. Climate has gained a high place on society’s agenda in the past two years, thanks in part to Extinction Rebellion.”

“One of the initiatives I have worked hard on in the past year is establishing the Dutch Climate Research Initiative (KIN), in which researchers from universities and universities of applied sciences in all kinds of disciplines work together on all the major climate issues facing the Netherlands. This is perhaps the ultimate form of how I want to work. If you want to accelerate the climate transition, you need to involve all the researchers who have knowledge about it. Not just technical, financial or social psychological, but really everyone. The KIN was established to accelerate the system transition using all the knowledge we have.”

Isn't that also a part of what you’re already doing in the research group on a smaller scale?

“Yes, exactly. We work together in almost all projects with other scientists, and we are always a part of the picture. If we work with biologists who have knowledge about enriching biodiversity in a neighbourhood, we enhance that research by adding our knowledge on behaviour change to it. And at the KIN, we do it on a large scale, because we involve the whole of the Netherlands.”

“It’s good that you mention this, because that’s precisely why I’m so happy that we’re receiving the Deltapremie prize. This gives me the financial opportunity to cooperate even more within the AUAS, and also outside it. Cooperation takes time and you don't always have the funding to set it up properly. I think there are still many issues, for example the food transition, climate adaptation and welfare for all, in which we can cooperate more intensively with scientists and professionals. From a broad collective, we can have a much greater impact on accelerating the system transition. With the money from the Deltapremie, we also want to focus more on the issue of consumption. There is still too little research into this at the moment, and in particular, what would motivate the group with a high social economic position to consume less. Income is the most decisive factor of an individual's carbon footprint. The higher the income, the bigger the footprint. We are keen to find out how we can turn that around.”

What should this cooperation - at universities of applied sciences, in cities, in the Netherlands - bring society? Have you set a goal for that?

“We want to reach a social tipping point, that we as a society change how we talk and think about sustainability. Compare it to what happened with smoking. If you now start smoking in any house or at a university of applied sciences, everyone thinks it's really weird. That change is what you want to achieve in our behaviour on sustainability and climate.”

Did you specifically choose applied research in the past?

“After my studies at Utrecht University, I didn't necessarily want to continue in science, but went on to do a PhD at the Free University (VU) anyway. After that I specifically chose Wageningen University, because there they were already doing a lot of research together with industry partners. Then, in 2011, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences (HU) asked if I was interested in a professorship.

At the time, I didn't even know what a professor at a university of applied sciences (lector) did, but I soon realised that it was exactly what I had always liked doing, using scientific knowledge to find out, together with the professional field, what’s needed to have an impact on stubborn real-world issues. After eight years at the HU, I got the chance at AUAS to focus on the subject that really matters to me, the climate issue. I can achieve even more together with my research group within the climate issue thanks to the Deltapremie prize.”

About the Deltapremie prize

The Deltapremie prize is a leading research prize for professors. The prize of 500,000 euros has been awarded every two years since 2018 to two professors in recognition for the valuable contribution they make to society with their research group and extensive network. ‘Delta’ stands for change, for the change that professors and their research group bring about. The prize aims to increase the visibility and impact of applied research, and the award also encourages professors to become ambassadors for applied research. The Deltapremie prize is a joint initiative of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and the Taskforce for Applied Research SIA. This is the first time an AUAS professor has won this prize. (information in Dutch)