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KTH’s environmental profile to be strengthened

Sörlin: We must break the pattern to produce greater effect

Published Nov 15, 2010

Work on the environment and sustainable development at KTH can be significantly improved. This applies to the daily work on campus as well as KTH’s sustainability profile in research, education and collaboration. This has been demonstrated in a recent evaluation report in which a series of measures are proposed, including a new unit: KTH Sustainability.

Since 2007, KTH’s development plan has included an ambitious action plan on environmental issues and sustainable development. But the plan has not been transformed into reality, has not been prioritised and has not been propagated into the organization, according to Sverker Sörlin, professor of environmental history. He has led work on the revision of KTH’s environmental and sustainability work.

“Or, there has been much talk and little action. We must now break the pattern to produce greater effect,” says Sverker Sörlin.

The Working Group will present its report to the Board of Directors at KTH. In order to move from words to action, organizational reinforcements have been proposed through a unit for “Hållbart campus” (Sustainable Campus), which will ensure that KTH’s ecological footprint and carbon footprint will reduce. The report includes a proposal for a new unit: Sustainability KTH - (KTH-S) - with the Deputy President as the chair.

“The idea is that KTH-S and the organisation for Sustainable Campus together, will attain operational responsibility for the implementation of KTH’s policy for sustainable development in all parts of operations,” says Sverker Sörlin.

Increased focus on profiled programmes will be another measure the work group will suggest. What is meant is that KTH currently has too few such programmes, and KTH - in comparison with Swedish and foreign universities - is not competitive in this area.

In its investigation, the group suggests a development initiative which will strengthen KTH’s software portfolio so that there are more environmental and sustainability-oriented programmes.

Chalmers is ahead of KTH

The starting point for the evaluation was the need for a renewed sustainability policy at KTH. The fact that the laws and regulations on sustainable development relating to authorities and universities have been strengthened was also relevant with regard to the assignment delegated to the work group by the President this spring.

The group has conducted a proper analysis and obtained a clear picture of how work with sustainable development is developing at KTH. This was carried out partly via a web questionnaire with a selection of employees from all groups, partly by interviewing key individuals.

“The picture of the ecological footprint at KTH is not good. There is a clear improvement potential in the internal workings of everything from waste collection, electricity consumption in buildings to the principles of procurement and travel. Over the next few years, KTH Sustainability should conduct a step-by-step analysis of the schools’ work in one area after another, and not leave any stones unturned,” says Sverker Sörlin.

Together with team members, he has also made comparisons with other universities, both here in Sweden as well as in Europe and the USA. In particular, studies have been made of Chalmers which is ahead of KTH as regards environmental matters.

“There are many inspiring and wise investments around the world that we can learn from,” says Sverker Sörlin.

Not a strong environmental image

Revenues from research funds related to the environment and sustainable development have also been identified. “Here, it is difficult to compare,” says Sverker Sörlin. For example, how do you decide which chemistry research is favourable in terms of sustainable development? On this point, the work group has had to rely on other evaluations that have been made, and on the interviews. An irregular green image emerges.

“There is some good research being conducted in the area at KTH, but we do not have a strong environmental image outwards. Therefore, we risk missing important student groups and researchers. Energy is one of the exceptions; KTH is very strong here. Another exception is in the social sciences,” says Sverker Sörlin.

With regard to strengthening KTH research and even collaboration in the field environmental sustainability, Sverker Sörlin and his colleagues suggest that KTH-S should act in an advisory capacity to the President and to the faculty board, for instance with respect to the work done by research platforms.

Research focused on sustainable development and those who show what they are capable of in this area should be rewarded. KTH-S can also initiate plans, review and propose training programmes and courses on sustainable development.

“We envision a group that is working vigorously on these issues for up to five years to get it on track. There must be a process, when things go well it moves along all by itself. But we have to get over the threshold to ensure that KTH does not miss the opportunity presented,” says Sverker Sörlin.

KTH’s board will discuss the measures proposed in the report at its meeting in December.

Text: Susanne Rosén