Leo Jansen: “A great man… a remarkable career”

Leo Jansen, sustainability pioneer and visionary, passed away aged 78


Dear Friends,

I was recently informed that Leo Jansen passed away on the evening of August 16th. Leo was cycling with one of his grandsons when he was struck by a heart attack. Unfortunately, numerous resuscitation attempts failed.

Throughout the past 20 years Leo was one of the great men who pushed engineering education towards a commitment to sustainable development. Although he formally retired in 1999, he kept on working enthusiastically towards this goal. In June of this year, he lectured at the International Industrial Ecology seminar of UPC in Villanova, and a month before that we jointly went to Kiev where Leo guest-lectured on sustainable development at Kiev Polytechnic Institute.

Leo had a remarkable career: he trained as a chemical engineer and joined AKZO-NOBEL in the ‘60s. In the 1970s he became an elected member of the Netherlands parliament for a forerunner party of the Greens, a post he would occupy for almost ten years.

In the beginning of the 1980s he was on the managing board of a unique national experiment in the Netherlands: public participation in energy policy. Later he became a civil servant at the Department of the Environment.

In the 1990s he was the initiator and leader of another unique project: the Netherlands Interdepartmental Research Project for Sustainable Technology Development. This project aimed to prove that technological innovation could contribute to sustainable development. It proved its point, but under the condition that one had to aim for socio-technical change as a pure “technology push”, it could not work.

As one of the results of this project, he co-wrote the book Sustainable Technology Development (Paul Weaver, Leo Jansen, Geert van Grootveld, Egbert van Spiegel and Philip Vergragt). It was one of the first books to analyse options for sustainable technology as a process of socio-technical change.

For 20 years Leo was also engaged in implementing SD into engineering education, first in Delft, but later also in other institutes. I had the honour of working with him for 20 years, and we had numerous joint discussions with engineering lecturers. Leo was inspirational and always positive, no matter how much scepticism we sometimes met.

Leo was also keenly involved in the Engineering Education in Sustainable Development conference since its inception in 2002. He had such a developed international reputation that the best paper award was named after him, and we will undoubtedly continue to offer this prize in his name. But the best way to honour the memory of Leo Jansen is undoubtedly to continue our efforts in educating engineers who can handle the sustainability challenge. There is no future other than a sustainable future, so there is no alternative for a good engineering school other than to train the students for that future.

by Karel Mulder

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