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Everything is relative

Erwin M. Schau, researcher at InnoRenew CoE; main area of research: life cycle assessment (LCA) and industrial ecology


  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

I grew up in Norway, not so far from the capital Oslo, but in a rather small place called Skedsmokorset. Now, I have a house in Izola on the Slovenian coast. However, as the rest of the family lives in Ispra, Italy, I am often there too.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

I started out with a very broad and generic field of economics, engineering and management to have a broad, solid fundament. And then I decided to focus on life cycle assessment and industrial ecology as a way to direct industry, consumers and policy towards a more sustainable way of acting.

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

Life cycle assessment and industrial ecology map and use data to have a science-based fundament for making decisions in a more sustainable direction. At InnoRenew CoE, the topics and industry I focus on are wood and other bio-based materials and products.

  • What does your typical working day look like?

Every day is different, but on a good day, I start with concentrated writing. I might have a meeting with students, colleagues at InnoRenew CoE or researchers outside Slovenia. Then I read a lot and do some modelling and data analysis. The lunch break is important for me, and I always make sure that I get a good break with enough food in the middle of the day.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

Hopefully my work contributes to make some decisions more environmentally friendly.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

To make people understand that, even if I work with data, the results are seldom black and white. This means that supply chains are usually so complex and there are so many different methodologic decisions that have to be taken, that I could, if I wanted, made a result that looks quite different.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

Einstein was an important scientist. I think I use daily his insight that “everything is relative”, and I am impressed by his mathematical skills of showing this with mathematics. More present day, I am also impressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, not only by the huge amount of science they process and make conclusions thereof but also as IPCC works so closely with policy makers. Actually, the main reports we get from IPCC are agreed upon with the policy makers who in most cases are not scientists.

  • Tell us about the work of art (books, music, movies, theatre, dance, visual arts) that has a special place in your life.

The books of Michael Ende, like “Momo” for its philosophical, interesting view on time made into a beautiful and exciting story.

  • What have you read, listened to, or watched lately?

I recently watched again the film “Forrest Gump”. In a very sensitive and humorous way, a special angle of US history is told. I also liked the film’s music.

  • Describe your very first impression of Slovenia.

It is a very green country with lots of forests. Its railway network would benefit from a general upgrade to year 2000 (or beyond) standard. The Slovenian people are friendly if you have business with them but a bit difficult to get in contact if you have not.

  • What do you like about Slovenia and what do you miss most from your homeland?

I like the autumn weather on the coast and the possibility to swim even late in October. I like the bike/railway track that I use between Izola and Koper. I miss understanding what people say around you and on the radio and television. And I also miss snow to go skiing just outside your door in the winter, as I could in Norway.

  • Which place on the Slovene coast do you like the most?

Parenzana – the former railway line between Trieste (Italy) and Poreč (Croatia), which is now a bike track. Have you been in the Parenzana tunnel between Strunjan and Portorož? My way to work from Izola to Koper is on the Parenzana, and here it goes directly on the shoreline with just a few meters to the sea and a great view. When the weather is fine the Italian Alps on the other side of the bay are also visible.

  • What makes you enthusiastic?

Environmental and social justice.

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

Think and be positive; and remember Einstein’s “everything is relative”. I think I must have been born under some sort of lucky star.

  • What does the charm of wood mean to you?

Back to nature in a positive way.