Workshop 2: Net-Zero Urban Systems

Speakers’ Abstracts and Biographies

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira, Ph.D., Getulio Vargas Foundation and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Title: “The Dynamics of Innovation in Green and Blue Infrastructure in Urban Areas.”

Abstract: Urban innovation can significantly improve the quality of public services and increase the problem-solving capacity of organizations for addressing societal challenges, particularly those new issues in the global agenda, such as climate change. Local governments have been acknowledged as key stakeholders for boosting innovations using collaborative initiatives between diverse sectors and levels. However, the mechanisms that foster the innovative capabilities through intersectoral interactions, including international collaborations, are still under researched. This presentation will discuss the dynamics of innovation process in the local governments using the results of the Belmont Forum project “IFWEN-Understanding Innovative Initiatives for Governing Food, Water and Energy Nexus in Cities” ( Innovations in the use of green and blue infrastructure in cities can improve the trade-offs between water, food and energy (FWE), the main idea behind the FWE Nexus (FWEN). The IFWEN is a transdisciplinary research project that studied cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America to develop a framework to assess innovation in FWEN using Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI) at the urban level.

Biography: Jose A. Puppim de Oliveira is a faculty member at FGV (Fundação Getulio Vargas), a think-tank in Brazil, and Visiting Chair Professor at the Institute for Global Public Policy (IGPP), Fudan University, China. He has extensive international experience in teaching, research and academic management in planning, management and global environmental change. His work is multi and interdisciplinary to understand urban dynamics involving applied social sciences and their links to the natural and health sciences and engineering. His research and policy interests concentrate in the political economy of governance, institution building and policy implementation at different levels, looking at how global environmental change and local institutions are interlinked to steer governance and action. His experience comprises work in more than 20 countries in all continents. He has been an instructor, consultant and researcher for several organizations such as different United Nations agencies, the OECD, the World Bank, sub-national and national governments, and various NGOs and small and large firms. He held positions of Senior Research Fellow and Assistant Director of the UN University Institute of Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) in Japan between 2009 and 2015. Previously, he worked as faculty member at the University College London (UK) and the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) as an EC Marie Curie Fellow. He has published twelve books and more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He serves as a member of several journal editorial boards and advisory panels, such as Sao Paulo State Research Foundation, Belmont  Forum and Wellcome Trust. He is among the most influential researchers worldwide.


Alessio Russo, Ph.D., Queensland University of Technology, Australia.

Title: “Designing Multifuctional Nature-based Solutions for Sustainable, Healthy, and Resilient Cities.”

Abstract: Rapid urbanisation has negatively impacted the health and well-being of city dwellers, necessitating innovative approaches to secure a healthier future for upcoming generations. This talk explores the promise of Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) as a transformative approach to enhancing urban resilience and sustainability. NBS provide an action-oriented framework for addressing contemporary challenges faced by urban areas. In this talk, we will look into the multifaceted benefits of NBS, including improved air and water quality, enhanced biodiversity, food security, and increased recreational opportunities. We will also critically examine potential challenges and drawbacks, such as health issues (allergies), implementation costs, and maintenance requirements. Through well-designed NBS, we can achieve key goals related to biodiversity, health, and food security, revolutionising the way we design and build cities that promote both environmental sustainability and the well-being of their citizens.

Biography: Dr Alessio Russo is a Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. Originally from Italy, Dr Russo has over 15 years of international experience researching, lecturing, and consulting on urban green infrastructure, urban forestry, and ecosystem services. Before joining QUT, he served as a Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture and Academic Course Leader for the Master’s in Landscape Architecture at the University of Gloucestershire in England (2019-2024). Prior to that, he was an Associate Professor (2018) at RUDN University in Moscow, Russia. Earlier, he served as Professor and Head of Laboratory of Urban and Landscape Design (2016-2018) at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia. He has published over 80 publications, including peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, and conference proceedings, and has co-edited four books. His current and past research projects are diverse, ranging from urban ecosystem services to health and wellbeing in urban green spaces. Outside of academia, Dr Russo has practised as a Landscape Architect in the UK, Italy, and the UAE, focusing on sustainable design and planning.


Jan Vymazal, Ph.D., Czech University of life Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic.

Title: “Ecosystem Services of Urban Wetland.”

Abstract: Urban wetlands provide many ecosystems services within all four major services categories, i.e., provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural. Probably the most important services in the urban environments are those which can be classified as cultural, i.e., recreational, educational and aesthetical. However, provisional services such as food production, regulating services such as flood protection, climate change mitigation or water purification or supporting services such as biodiversity enhancement may be important. Most of mentioned services are usually derived from constructed wetlands but the cultural services are commonly derived for existing natural wetlands.

Biography: Jan Vymazal received his degrees from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, Czech Republic. Between 1985 and 1991 he was affiliated with Water Research Institute in Prague at the department of wastewater treatment. In 1991, Jan joined Duke University Wetland Center, North Carolina, USA as a visiting scholar. During his stay at Duke University until 1993 he focused on the wetland plant communities in Florida Everglades. Between 1994 and 2006 Jan worked as free lance researcher focusing mostly on constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment. In 2007, he joined Faculty of Environmental Sciences at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague. He is currently a head of Department of Applied Ecology and vice-rector for research and science. Jan has authored more than 170 papers indexed in Web of Sciences with over 14 500 citations (H-index 56). He wrote two books and edited nine books on natural and constructed wetlands. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Ecological Engineering and Associate editor for for journals Science of the Total Environment and Wetlands.


Gil Souza, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Offset or reduce: How should firms implement carbon footprint reduction initiatives.”

Abstract: Carbon emissions reduction initiatives have received considerable attention at the corporate level. Companies such as Daimler, Apple and Amazon have publicly declared their goal of becoming carbon neutral, or “net zero” in a near future. They are responding to a growing demand for sustainable products and services. Companies have a variety of options for carbon emission reductions available to them, including internal reductions such as adopting renewable energy, as well as buying carbon offsets. This raises the question of whether consumers perceive the different types of carbon emission reductions as equivalent, or whether they favor the implementation of internal measures. We investigate this issue empirically through surveys and incentive-compatible discrete choice experiments. We find clear consumer preferences and willingness to pay for companies to reduce their carbon footprint when companies internally reduce their controllable emissions rather than buying carbon offsets for these emissions, and it is especially true for eco-conscious consumers. Consumers place roughly the same value, however, to internal reductions in controllable emissions, and buying offsets for the same amount of uncontrollable emissions.

Biography: Gil Souza is the Haslam Chair in Business and Distinguished Professor of Business Analytics at the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee. He also holds a part-time professorship appointment at the University of Graz, Austria. Prior to coming to Haslam in 2022, Gil held appointments at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University from 2009 to 2022, and at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland from 2000 to 2009. He received a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in 2000, an MBA from Clemson University in 1995, and a BS in aeronautical engineering from ITA (Brazil) in 1990. He worked at Volkswagen of Brazil in new product development and product planning. His research focuses on sustainable operations, in particular carbon footprint reduction, the circular economy, closed-loop supply chain management, and renewable energy. He has over 40 publications in premier refereed academic journals, is a Senior Editor for Production & Operations Management (POM), and a Departmental Editor for Decision Sciences. He wrote the book “Sustainable Operations and Closed-Loop Supply Chains, Second Edition” (Business Expert Press), and co-edited the book “Closed Loop Supply Chains: New Developments to Improve the Sustainability of Business Practices” (CRC Press). Gil won the Wickham Skinner Early–Career Research Accomplishments award from the POM Society in 2004. He is the former president of the Sustainable Operations Special Interest Group of the Manufacturing & Service Operations Management Society of INFORMS, and served as the president of the College of Sustainable Operations of POMS. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, walking, riding his electric bike, music, and Brazilian soccer.


Alex Guerra, Ph.D., Institute of Climate Change, Guatemala.

Title: “Low Emissions during the production of Sugar, bananas, avocados, and bioenergy.”

Abstract: Global food-energy-water challenges require immediate action as they are part of the problem, but they are also strongly affected by pressing issues such as climate change. Through this presentation, information will be presented on the challenges, progress, and opportunities for key crops in Central America, namely sugarcane, bananas, and avocados. In the case of sugarcane, it is also important for electricity generation (from biomass) in Guatemala and El Salvador. It will be argued that producers of these crops face pressing issues because they are based in developing countries, with their particular physical and institutional vulnerabilities, but they are required more and more to comply with developed country standards because they are part of value chains globally. Specific examples will be provided on some of the performance indicators such as the carbon and water footprints of these crops, which are a starting point to understand what they can do and how.

Biography: Alex has been the General Director of the Climate Change Research Institute (ICC) in Guatemala since 2010. He holds a master’s degree in Water Science, Policy and Management and a PhD in Geography and the Environment, both from the University of Oxford, UK. Alex was a lecturer at a master’s program at the Del Valle University in Guatemala from 2012 to 2017. The institute directed by Alex carries out applied research and works alongside different stakeholders including sugarcane, banana, and avocado producers in Guatemala and El Salvador. His work and publications include integrated water resources management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and environmental sustainability.


Kellie Walters, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Title: “Optimization opportunities in greenhouses and vertical farms.”

Abstract: Controlled-environment agriculture gives us the opportunity to precisely control the growing environment to elicit our desired plant responses. The problem is, what should that environment be? How can we “optimize” the production environment to enhance resource-use-efficiency, yield, nutritional quality? We will discuss current research and opportunities in greenhouse and vertical farm production.

Biography: Kellie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee (UT). Her research team focuses on food crop physiology in controlled environments including greenhouse and indoor production systems, spanning from potted culture to hydroponics. The overall goal is to determine how to leverage environmental controls (i.e. light intensity, duration, and quality, temperature, and CO2 ), plant nutrition, and plant growth regulators and hormones to improve vegetable, leafy green, and culinary herb production efficiencies, yield, and crop quality. In addition to general physiology and production research, her lab is focusing on metabolites contributing to crop flavor and nutritional value to improve taste, appearance, overall consumer appeal, and producer profitability and sustainability.


Adam Sochacki, Ph.D., Czech University of Technology, Czech Republic.

Title: “The use of wetlands for (waste)water treatment in urban areas.”

Abstract: Treatment wetlands (TWs) have been initially used to treat sewage in rural and peri-urban areas. Since 2020s, TWs have been increasingly used in the urban settings because of their great treatment efficiency and considerable environmental and societal benefits. One of the primary uses of TW in cities is to manage the stormwater runoff. The other applications are the treatment of sewage, greywater, combined sewer overflow and finally the effluents of municipal wastewater treatment plants. The environmental benefits of TWs in cities include reduction of pollution, habitat creation, and mitigation of heat islands. TWs have also important societal and aesthetic benefits like recreation and education and property value enhancement. This presentation will be supplemented with case studies from the Czech Republic (including the campus of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague) and foreign collaborators (Australia, Denmark, Germany and other countries).

Biography: Adam Sochacki has been a postdoctoral researcher at the Wetland Group (group leader: Professor Jan Vymazal) of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague (Czech Republic) since 2016. Adam has obtained his PhD degree in 2013 from the Silesian University of Technology (Poland) and Mines Saint-Étienne (France). He has been studying the ability of treatment wetlands to remove organic contaminants from various types of wastewater (e.g., sewage, greywater and agricultural drainage) and the methods to improve the TWs’ performance. Since 2024, Adam has been involved in the projects “Reactive Interfaces for Degrading Contaminants of Emerging Concern and Pathogenic Viruses in Constructed Wetlands” from NSF and Czech Science Foundation and “Management of rainwater runoff in urban areas for tackling extreme hydroclimatic events” (Water4All-2022-FP- 00121, European Water4All partnership).


Wei Lao, Ph.D., Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center (ADREC), Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Michigan State University, U.S.A.

Title: “System integration and optimization toward sustainable solutions for small-scale waste treatment.”

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to create a novel self-sustainable and scalable organic wastes and wastewater treatment system by integrating solar, biological, electrochemical, and membrane technologies. The system needs to not only reduce the mass of organic wastes and reclaim the wastewater but also generate renewable energy. Multiple-objective optimization was used to carry out the system integration of individual unit operations, and conclude suitable systems to satisfy the needs of different operational conditions. Based on the research results, a demonstration system has been designed and tested. The new integrated technology will provide suitable waste/wastewater treatment solutions for small-scale waste management practices.

Biography: Dr. Liao, a registered professional engineer (PE), is a professor and director of the Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center (ADREC) in the Department of Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering (BAE) at Michigan State University (MSU). Dr. Liao’s research and teaching focus on renewable energy and environmental sustainability. Dr. Liao is leading an active research program on developing integrated systems to utilize organic residues for energy and chemical production. Current research areas Dr. Liao’s group is working on are: integrated farm-based biorefining, solar-bio-based solutions to convert organic wastes/wastewater into energy and clean water, and one-carbon platform of food/fuel/chemical production, etc. Dr. Liao is a member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ASABE), American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE), Algal Biomass Organization (ABO), Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), and American Biogas Council (ABC). Dr. Liao currently serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Biotechnology for Biofuels and Bioproducts, and is on the editorial boards of Journal of Biomass and Bioenergy and Journal of Industrial Biotechnology. He was the chair of the Global Engagement Committee at ASABE, and organized an ASABE global engagement conference – Sustainable Energy for a Sustainable Future in Costa Rica in 2022.


Martina Vítková, Ph.D., Czech University of Technology, Czech Republic.

Title: “Ecological benefits of green roofs and green walls.”

Abstract: A green roof, also referred to as a roof garden is a roof that is covered with a vegetation layer. Similarly, a green wall represents a vertical garden. In any case, they are designed (i) to increase the resilience of cities to the impacts of rising temperatures in urban areas (cooling effect) and (ii) to provide sustainable measures for water retention and recycling. Depending on local conditions and building construction, the vegetation cover and substrate type and thickness may vary considerably. Special focus is placed on retention capacity and the possibility of using rain and grey water that could be filtered through the media of the structures used. Therefore, innovative additives with high water retention and low density (e.g. biochar) are at the forefront of efficient green roof solutions. Practical examples will be presented, including the rooftops and green walls in the campus of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Czech Republic.

Biography: Martina Vítková is currently an Associate Professor and a key member of the Environmental and Isotope Geochemistry Research Group of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. She received a multidisciplinary education at the Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, obtaining a Ph.D. in Environmental Geochemistry in 2013. Since that time, she has been focused on characterisation and testing of different sorbent materials for various environmental applications. After her postdoctoral research (20132018), she completed her habilitation in Applied and Landscape Ecology (2019) at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. During her research stays abroad, she gained valuable experience and knowledge in waste material leachability testing (DTU, Denmark), contaminated sediment characterisation (Université de Limoges, France), and assisted phytoremediation using soil amendments including biochar (BOKU Vienna, Austria; CEBAS-CSIC, Spain). She has been involved in research projects dealing with wastewater treatment plant residues or waste material reuse and their environmental risks and benefits. She has published 40 articles as author/co-author in highly ranked peer-reviewed journals with 1000 citations (h=19, WoS) and 4 book chapters.


Chairs: Frank Löffler & Kellie Walters (UT, USA), Jose Puppim (Brazil), Adam Sochacki (Czech Republic), Wei Lao (MSU)

Frank Löeffler, Ph.D., Goodrich Chair of Excellence in Civil Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tickle College of Engineering; Department of Microbiology, College of Art and Sciences, University of Tennesse, U.S.A.

Biography: Frank Löeffler is Goodrich Chair of Excellence in Civil Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tickle College of Engineering; Department of Microbiology, College of Art and Sciences; former UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair Professor of Environmental Microbiology and Director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology. He has a B.S. in Agricultural Sciences and Biology and an M.S. in Microbiology from the University of Hohenheim in Germany, a Ph.D. in Technical Biochemistry and Microbiology from the Technical University Hamburg/University of Hohenheim, and completed a postdoc in microbial ecology at Michigan State University. He is the Principal Investigator for the Biogeochemical Controls over Corrinoid Bioavailability to Organohalide-Respiring Chloroflexi NIEHS R01 grant. His lab focuses on discovering microorganisms and processes to clean the environment, counter damage done to ecosystems by human activity, and improve environmental health. For more information please refer to Dr. Loeffler’s Lab Website.