“Wolfson is a leader and has the opportunity to tackle the significant issues”: Dr Steve Hoath on sustainability and the Hoath Family Awards

Dr Steve Hoath at the Living Lab Awards

As Wolfson’s Interdisciplinary Research Hub on Sustainability and Conservation (S&C Hub) celebrates its first anniversary this week, we spoke to Emeritus Fellow, Dr Steve Hoath, whose recent gift to the College has enabled the Hub to devote more time and resources to explore and spotlight the issues of sustainability and conservation.

Dr Steve Hoath at the Living Lab Awards

The S&C Hub – one of three Interdisciplinary Research Hubs at Wolfson – has been highly active in the College in its first twelve months, giving students, fellows, staff and the wider Wolfson community the opportunity to make an impact in sustainability and conservation. 

Dr Hoath established the Hoath Family Awards last year – in memory of his parents William Daniel and Janet Hoath – to stimulate the development of the S&C Hub and support students who have an interest in sustainability but who might not have the financial means to participate in the way they’d like.

The Hoath Family Awards will really advance the work and scope of S&C Hub. Why do you think the Hub is such an important aspect of the College and its vision?    

Wolfson is a leader and has the opportunity to couple its fellows and international alumni with student projects to tackle the significant issues in research and education. The Hub is research driven, by students, and should be supported for actions by them. It requires interdisciplinary effort and insights, beyond borders & boundaries.

First among the Hoath Family Awards is the Living Lab Award - a mark of excellence that recognises projects that have a demonstrable green impact on the College community, estate or wider network – won by Santiago Sottil’s Waste to Art exhibition. What did you make of the exhibition?

I presented, on behalf of the Hub and the whole Wolfson community, this first award to Santiago Sottil for his Waste to Art project and exhibition, so I fully support the choice. I found the combination of the ‘old masters’ artistic compositions and the more recent scientific information about GHG (greenhouse gases) and water footprints of the wasted food combinations struck a chord, and it would have delighted my parents with its wide educational context.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from – and what’s really driving it now? 

I had considered solar panels at home for several years before joining the eCoton solar scheme, so practical Carbon Reduction schemes were a driver for me personally. I then took the plunge and converted my home from oil heating to an air source heat pump. During my membership of the Wolfson College Carbon Reduction Committee while a Fellow and DoS for Engineering (undergrads) I took a view on the utilities consumption, and then as Chair of the Sustainability Committee I prompted a discussion on the annual trend and absolute CO2 emissions levels from the College and a WRE poster. The current driver is again prompting for action against our Science Based Targets, which suggest very major changes will be necessary to halve GHG emissions by 2030.

Your own work has centred on inkjet printing – what’s exciting about the industry now, what are the big advancements, and what are the environmental benefits of inkjet printing? 

Industrial Inkjet Printing handles an increasing range of “inks” to achieve non-Impact materials deposition for a widening number of applications beyond graphics and label printing, although these still command the largest markets. Printed electronics and wearables for health monitoring often combine Inkjet with more conventional printing. Inkjet greatly reduces waste and can more economically handle costly/rare materials, and live cells can be printed in “bioinks” for medical applications in the R&D phase. Recently, machine learning techniques with robotic testing speed up ink developments that can reduce VOC (volatile organic compounds) content of certain conductive inks or reduce ink drying energy.

What’s the future of paper in the context of the digital age and climate change?  

The advent of business computers did not eliminate paper, however in the digital age it may well be hit by the smart phone and pdfs. Once the fine papers and envelopes used for business drop out of favour, only the recycled and de-inked papers may survive. Paper making on an industrial scale costs trees, water, energy, and chemicals. What’s to like? Beautiful books, art, graduation certificates, invitations,... Not history?

Could you tell me a little bit about your family history in the industry?  

My father joined Wiggins Teape R&D Ltd as its first electronics engineer in the 1950’s, having studied at night school for his HND. He progressed through his hard work and personality to R&D Director, then Managing Director, then main board Director after a takeover by a blue chip. I worked as a schoolboy in the WT R&D labs for several years. He and his 3 children were supported throughout and after his career by our mother.

You’ve been heavily involved in the Wolfson Research Event in recent years – has there been any student research that’s really stuck out in your mind during that time?  

When WRE was restarted, the first two WRE years were coordinated by Gates Scholars - Katie Hammond and Tara Cookson - whose own research was widely different from mine, which is of course the whole point! Closer to home, though again outside my prior experience, was research on social aspects of the built environment. I discovered recently that the student who presented this - Hui Ben- has joined Cambridge Zero and will be working with the S&C Hub on a Living Lab project.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Wolfson community?  

I really enjoy the ethos, with great interactions with students and staff in supervisions and project discussions, especially in the S&C Hub, Green Impact Challenge and WRE. Having been a University Lecturer in Physics at another university, Wolfson offered this Senior Research Associate the opportunity to rejoin an active environment for life.

The Hoath Family Awards will support a range of student awards at Wolfson. Keep an eye out for updates on our Awards and Bursaries for Undergraduates page, and on our Fees and Funding for postgraduates page.

You can see the schedule for the S&C Hub’s anniversary celebrations this week on the Interdisciplinary Research Hub on Sustainability & Conservation webpage.