New Environmental Manager believes that we can do more

Published Feb 22, 2017

From curricula that contribute to sustainable development, to recycling and having more travel-free meetings, KTH’s new Environmental Manager Kristina von Oelreich wants to take a holistic approach to the environment and sustainability.

A former track and field athlete who also holds the world record for environmental certification, Kristina von Oelreich’s new role also sees her lead KTH’s Sustainability Office, which includes in its ranks Göran Finnveden, Vice President for Sustainable Development.

“It feels really fun and exciting to be here,” she says. “I’ve been following KTH and have seen the great progress that’s been taking place here. I’ve also been attracted by how the new management and the new President are taking a holistic approach to these issues – taking in sustainable development, international relations and gender equality.”

Kristina von Oelreich is a lawyer by background and comes to KTH from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, where she worked for ten years in various management roles and was among other things responsible for the agency’s annual environmental ranking of Swedish public bodies – which last year saw KTH gain top ranking. She was also responsible for developing the Environmental Protection Agency's environmental management system; this work received environmental certification in 2004.

Teacher of environmental law

Prior to that, she was a lecturer and teacher of environmental law at Mälardalen University, during which time the school became the world's first environmentally-certified college, in 1999. Her career experience means that she is enthusiastic about the importance of a systematic approach to sustainability issues.

“KTH now has a very good foundation to build on, with an environmental management system and environmental certification. Our job now is to develop the work from there.”

What does your role involve?
“My main task is to develop and manage the environmental management system and integrate it into KTH’s entire business, as well as all our research and education. I also want to help us bring in the new sustainable development goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainability Agenda.”

After just over a week in her new job, Kristina von Oelreich is careful not to express too precise an idea about the goals and priorities of KTH's environmental work. However, she does mention some of the immediate, concrete issues that are being addressed, including the recycling system and the university’s continuing effort to reduce its climate impact from travel and transport.

In the longer term, she has a vision that every employee and student should feel that they “own the sustainability issue” and can spread the message.

“Sustainability work always starts from within each organisation. And our policy documents - such as our sustainability policy – should reflect that reality. It will strengthen KTH's brand and only then we will be better able to externally communicate what we do,” she says.

“It could be a teacher or researcher who can tell us how they contribute to sustainable development in their courses, or a purchaser who has integrated environmental requirements into the public procurement process,” she adds. “In short, we should really practise what we preach.”

"Nothing is impossible"

Kristina von Oelreich is also bringing a temporary assignment with her from the Environmental Protection Agency; she is project manager for the introduction of environmental management in four UN organisations, including the MONUSCO peacekeeping force in Congo, which consists of 22,000 soldiers.

There is a year and a half left of this project, which is financed by the Swedish International Development Agency and is also intended to guide all United Nations organisations in their environmental work. In November 2016 the project received the UN Secretary-General’s Award from Ban Ki-moon.

“The messages I have taken from that project are that nothing is impossible and that sustainability has more facets than just the environment.”

She explains how local women recycle cardboard from army camps in Congo. The cardboard is pressed into briquettes that are used as fuel. This gives the women jobs. It also means that the women don’t have to go out and chop wood, which exposes them to the risk of being assaulted. It also helps protect the forest.

“These are the sorts of examples that I would like to work on here at KTH, examples where the environment also contributes to other ideas of sustainability. I think that is really important. For example, if I have a course that is completely environmentally-oriented, then maybe I should also think about how it contributes to gender equality or social development.”

Text: Per-Ola Knutas 

  • Name: Kristina von Oelreich
  • Family: Husband and three children - 27, 26 and 15 years old. Two grandchildren.
  • Hobbies: Loves to be out in nature and to go to the family cottage at Vindelälven in Västerbotten. “As a former track and field athlete I love to go out for a run.”
  • Lives: Lidingö. “I cycle to work all year round, though I sometimes go by public transport.”
  • Motto: “Enjoy the here and now, and seize the moment. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
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