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Johan Sundqvist
Exciting to be environmental manager at KTH, says Johan Sundqvist. (Photo: Christer Gummeson)

"Enticing to become the first environmental manager"

Published Sep 26, 2011

KTH now has an environmental manager. Johan Sundqvist was attracted by the fact that he would be involved from the start in a major commitment for the environment. The ambition is that the environmental work will be excellent – just as excellent as the other activities at the University.

"It is important to highlight environmental and sustainability issues, by bringing it up to a different level. It is much more than making copies on both sides of a piece of paper and how you dispose of your apple core," says Johan Sundqvist.

The new curtains have not yet arrived and generally speaking, his office looks rather bare. Johan Sundqvist took up the newly created post of Environmental Manager on 1 August and has not really had time to "settle down and get comfy" in the room yet.

On the other hand, he has had time to deal with a few other things. The job posting stated that one of the environmental manager's most important tasks was to develop an environmental management system (EMS). This is also what Johan Sundqvist himself sees as the most important aspect of the environmental work.

"It's like building a house; you must first lay the foundations. And a prerequisite for that is that there is a model, an approach."

During his first month as Environmental Manager at KTH, he has therefore devoted his time mainly to the development of a project plan for the introduction of an EMS. Point number one in the project is to conduct an environmental review. You have to get an overview, so that the right environmental issues are prioritised, he says.

"This does not mean we should stop doing things such as throwing your apples core in the right basket for example. But you have to look at the whole chain, both before and after the apple core. What type of apples have we bought, have we made any environmental requirements on the supplier of the apples? How were the apples transported here? And what will happen to the apple core after we have thrown it in the bin?"

Like a French swimming school

The first few weeks as Environmental Manager at KTH he describes as a bit of French swimming school, "you throw in the kids and see if they float ..." But he seems to have passed the float test quite well. The fact that the appointment as Environmental Manager at KTH was new was also part of the "package" that attracted him to apply for the position.

"It was appealing that KTH so clearly declared their ambition to invest in environmental issues, the appointment of a vice president, the establishment of the KTH Sustainability Council and the establishment of economic priorities. Yes, it is exciting that it's uncharted territory, there has been no environmental manager at KTH before me," says Johan Sundqvist.

Another reason was geography. Johan Sundqvist lives on Ekerö with wife, his 2.5 year old son and every two weeks, his 13-year-old daughter. Over the past three years, he has commuted to Nyköping and it was of course no disadvantage to move a little closer to work. Even if it more or less takes the same amount of time.

"But I try to avoid the rush hour traffic, and I often get here very early in the morning, then it doesn't take as long. Yes and I drive a green car, travelling to work on public transport would take considerably longer."

Johan Sundqvist is a community planner with degrees from both KTH and Stockholm University. He has worked with environmental issues for almost 20 years, for instance as environmental manager at Wasa Bread, Posten (the Swedish Post Office) and most recently at Södermanland's County Council. But he says he initially drifted into the area by chance, through his degree project at KTH, which he combined with one of his interests.

"It was about the planning of golf courses in Haninge based on the Act concerning the management of natural resources. In this way, I came into contact with a number of different construction companies."

Pure and fragile economy

The contacts led to a job at BPA as a purchasing coordinator, his task in cooperation with the suppliers, was to reduce the amount of waste. For example, by ordering plasterboard of the correct size instead of there being a 20-centimetre margin, or by replacing inserts of solid plasterboard with inserts of wood that could be reused. A series of rather banal measures that were really very much based on traditional production optimisation, says Johan Sundqvist.

"It was first of all a question of pure economics. But it also led to a reduced environmental impact. This shaped my views on environmental issues – that it comes down to doing things smarter and more efficiently and thereby producing a positive environmental impact."

"To achieve the greatest possible impact of environmental interventions, you have to make priorities," says Johan Sundqvist and takes up procurement as an example.

"KTH makes purchases for several millions and it is obvious that it must make environmental demands on the products and services it purchases. But we must also make demands on that which has the greatest environmental impact. We shall deal with environmental issues in the same structured way as we do in our other operations."

"The building" will be ready in three years

It is perhaps this pragmatic attitude that his former colleagues alluded to with the newspaper clippings that are posted on the otherwise empty suggestion board. "Talk is great, work is greater" is the headline.

"I got it from my colleagues when I left. They thought that it characterized me rather well, which was great to hear."

As an Environmental Manager, Johan Sundqvist is responsible for coordinating KTH's environmental work. He will, among other things be coordinating the schools' environmental representatives; a network that he believes will play an important role. He is also constantly co-opted to KTH Sustainability, the Council for Sustainable Development in Education and Research, and will work closely with Göran Finnveden, Vice President for Sustainable Development.

The project plan for the introduction of an environmental management system that Johan Sundqvist has worked out was established through a presidential decision taken on 12 September. According to the plan, KTH will have a certifiable environmental management system in just over three years, by the end of 2014.

"Yes, ‘the building’ will then have been erected. And given the excellence that is available here at KTH, we all have the potential to do it."

Text: Ursula Stigzelius