Scientific parallel sessions

The Sustainability Science days host twelve (12) thematic scientific sessions, 90 minutes each. The sessions are convened by pairs of scientific leaders, with one from Aalto University, and one from the University of Helsinki with a commentator from practice. We hope to catalyze and facilitate inter- and transdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration.

The sessions display a variety of perspectives on the topics through three thematically structured tracks:

session programme


Notification of acceptance/rejection for submissions will be sent February 14th 2020. Registrations for the conference will open in spring and session programmes are published in March 2020. All sessions are open and free of charge.

There will also be a doctoral students´ mentoring event on Tuesday 5th of May 2020 in Otaniemi. A separate invitation will be delivered to the doctoral students of Aalto University and University of Helsinki.


  • University of Helsinki: Markus Kröger, Barry Gills, Ossi Ollinaho, and Sophia Hagolani-Albov
  • Aalto University: Annukka Santasalo-Aarnio

In short: The session is robust exploration of renewables, recycling, and new tech developments that could help to address the current forms of destructive and unsustainable extraction of raw materials.

The topic of extractivism is gaining more importance as a new key concept that helps to understand, at a deeper level, the causes of destructive resource extractive projects and overall political economic models built on this extractivist paradigm. There is a growing debate around how to find alternatives to destructive extractive processes, and how to identify and implement alternative ways to provide raw materials and create sustainable livelihoods and production processes. This session will focus on unsustainable extraction practices and the technological and political solutions that stand as alternatives in the face of extractivism. We invite presentations that explore renewables, recycling, new tech developments, and how these measures could be adopted to ameliorate the problems of extractivism. We want to explore the political, economic, and socio-environmental factors that could impede or support the adoption of these potential alternatives.

The session will create opportunities for dialogue and development of common vocabularies across disciplines. The conveners of this session come from diverse backgrounds including the social sciences, business, and engineering. We welcome a collaborative approach to a robust exploration of renewables, recycling, and new tech developments that could help to address the current destructive and unsustainable forms of extraction of raw materials—including, but not limited to, mining, agriculture, forestry. We strive to pave the way for future collaboration and looking at these issues from inter-, trans-, and multidisciplinary perspectives.

Conveners: Heini Vihemäki (University of Helsinki) & Ashraful Alam (Aalto University)

In short: This session discusses recent research on and shares practical cases highlighting challenges and opportunities in the adoption of wood and hybrid building solutions, and their role in sustainability transformations.

The need to reduce the carbon emissions of the construction sector is a growing concern in many European cities and beyond, fueling interest in alternative building materials and technologies. In some contexts, wood and wood-based materials, such as engineered wood products, can offer a potential means for advancing carbon neutrality and wider sustainability goals in the construction sector as well as in the cities, both in the case of new built houses and in retrofitting. 

Wood-based and hybrid solutions, in which wood is used in combination with other materials, are slowly starting to become more common in the construction of apartment buildings and other multi-storey buildings in Finland, as well as in some other European countries with rich forest resources. In the Finnish context, cities appear well positioned to act as brokers in catalyzing systemic changes needed for the wider adoption of such innovative material and technological building solutions. This is as land use planning decisions and issuing of building permits are mostly a responsibility of the cities and other municipalities. They are also among the major developers of new residential buildings.

The wider adoption of wood-based and hybrid building solutions will likely require changes in the operation and interactions of the several actors and institutions involved in construction projects and processes, ranging from construction companies, wood element suppliers to urban planners, local and regional decision-makers and even end-users. In this session, we aim to bring together researchers and practitioners in the fields of construction business, wood products, urban development, sustainability studies and beyond, to discuss and debate the possibilities for and challenges related to advancing the adoption of wood-based and hybrid solutions, with focus in urban contexts. Especially we are interested in presentations analyzing and discussing climate (or wider sustainability) aspects of wood/hybrid construction and the efforts to influence the prevailing practices in the construction industry and in the cities’ land use planning and building activities, to enable or catalyze wider adoption of wood-based solutions, including their business, policy, organizational and regulatory aspects.

Convener: Ari Jokilaakso (Aalto University)

In short: The session is an opportunity for the researchers from different fields of materials engineering and processing to present their recent studies on improving the sustainability of metals production, with a particular emphasis on metals recovery, reuse and recycling as well as optimization of existing processes.

The target of the Finnish government is to make Finland a global leader in the circular economy by 2025. One of the focus areas in the road map, drafted under the direction of the Finnish Innovation Fund, Sitra in co-operation with the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the business sector and other key stakeholders, are technical loops. The goal of the technical loops focus area is sustainable use of non-renewable natural resources, lengthening the product life cycles via maintenance measures, and determining how the waste produced during material processing and product manufacturing as well as the materials in the products at the end of their life can be returned to the loop with maximum efficiency.

One of the goals for Finland is to be a model country in solving the challenge of material scarcity. The main way to do that is to minimize the need for virgin raw materials and maximize the length of the material and product loops as well as utilizing reuse opportunities. For the metallurgical industry, a key focus point in current research is to design processes that can utilize existing waste flows, such as electronic waste or iron-containing residues, and thus minimize waste. An excellent example of this is the BatCircle project, led by Aalto University’s Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering and Outotec, a Finnish technology company. Equally important near future solution is to find ways to maximally utilize existing metallurgical processes to use the above mentioned secondary raw materials for recovering valuable metals.

After presentations, the researchers from different backgrounds will have a chance to discuss the results and share the ideas. The discussion will help to identify technical (maybe also legislative or societal) problems that still need to be solved; the goal is to plant the seeds for new research proposals and future multidisciplinary co-operation among the participants of the session. 

Conveners: Docent Rosa Maria Ballardini (University of Helsinki) and Professor Jan Holmström (Aalto University)

In short: Interactive and multi-disciplinary discussions on the disruptions needed in the business, legislative and policy frameworks to transition towards a more sustainable innovation ecosystem for (3D printable) bio-based plastic products.

One of our major global challenges in materials science relates to the transformation from fossil-based polymeric materials to sustainable, renewable and carbon-binding ones, to enable resource efficient production and foster re- and up-cycling of plastics. Raising technologies like 3D printing might bring great benefits in this process. Enabling this transformation requires looking at all the steps of the value chain, for the production of materials, to the use of materials in final products, all the way to the recycling and disposal of products. Notably, a key question in this exercise relates to depicting the characteristics that a business, legislative and policy framework should have in order to foster this transformation. In a market economy, this requires examining the complexities of the exiting business and policy structures, as they are often hindering rather than facilitating disruptive changes like the one envisioned by a (3D-printable) bio-based plastic innovation ecosystem. Business disruptions might be needed in order to develop novel decentralized sustainable business models that support a smooth transition towards distributed, local manufacturing of bio-based polymeric products. Legal and policy disruptions might be necessary to provide with the right incentives to create economic benefits, while also prioritizing ethical values like strong sustainability.

We welcome abstracts that address issues related to novel, more sustainable business models especially in the context of bio-based polymeric products, particularly those enabled by 3D-printing. Moreover, abstracts identifying gaps in the legal framework and proposing fundamental changes needed for the system to better incentivising developments and adoption of sustainable innovations and business models (both in general and in the specific context of 3D printable bio-based plastic products) are highly welcome.

Conveners: Mikko Jalas (Aalto University) & Pasi Heikkurinen (University of Helsinki)

In short: The welfare state is claimed to indicate sustainability, but also economic growth and resource-hungry patterns of everyday life. This session explores the potential and limitations of transformation towards an eco-welfare state.

The welfare state underlies many contemporary patters of everyday life. Housing, urban space, mobility, work, and food, for instance, have been largely shaped by the state (Scott, 1998). Such ramifications of the welfare state are problematic from the point of view of sustainability if they imply continuous economic growth. The welfare state is also a key structure for governance of social life, managing natural resources and redistributing them, and for forging an ethic of sustainability. Internationally, the Nordic welfare states are claimed to serve as examples of sustainability, while they paradoxically have the highest amount of per capita consumption in the world. Being located at crossroads and faced with significant dilemmas, the notion of ecowelfare state has become a far-reaching discursive object within sustainability debates (Gough 2017; Koch and Fritz 2014).

This session calls for papers investigating the change trajectories and inertia related to the welfare state. We are particularly interested in proposals that examine the practices of governance and politics, as well as their physical, spatial and temporal ramifications in everyday life. Papers may look at, e.g., how everyday life practices have been and are conditioned and constituted by the institutions or services of the welfare state. They may also take a prospective look at how sustainability concerns related to economic degrowth and postgrowth society trajectories would transform the everyday life. These may include everyday aspects of new patterns of work, ways of organizing, ideas of active societal contribution, entitlement, consumption patterns and livelihoods. Papers may also address transformations towards eco-welfare state including tools, policy processes and pathways for social change.

The session is organized in cooperation with the Towards Eco-Welfare State: Orchestrating for Systemic (ORSI) research project ( and Sustainable Change Research Network (SUCH) (

Conveners: Seona Candy (University of Helsinki), Johanna Ylipulli (University of Helsinki) & Idil Gaziulusoy (Aalto University)

In short: In this session we invite submissions that take a deeper, more creative approach to explore and enact transitions and transformations in cities, focusing on cultural shifts, knowledge integration and/or deep leverage points, as well as structural and value changes in our societal systems.

As we progress further into the Anthropocene we are facing significant sustainability challenges. Rising populations, climate change impacts, resource scarcity and widening inequalities have the potential to plunge societies into chaos and destroy life as we know it. Cities will be impacted the most because they sit at the intersection of these global megatrends. It is clear that superficial solutions focusing only on technological and behavioural change will not be sufficient. Deep transformations are needed.

But how deep is ‘deep’? Do we need to destroy the old systems first to bring in the new ones? Or are there better, more creative ways to rapidly replace the old systems with the new ones and bring about the changes that are needed?

In this session we invite submissions that take a deeper, more creative approach to explore and enact transitions and transformations in cities, focusing on cultural shifts, knowledge integration and/or deep leverage points, as well as structural and value changes in our societal systems. We are interested in those that use conventional approaches, including, but not limited to, scenarios, visioning and backcasting, and more speculative approaches, such as fiction or critical design. We welcome contributions from different perspectives and disciplines, including from practitioners outside academia.


Conveners: Senja Laakso (Centre for Consumer Society Research & University of Helsinki) Michael Lettenmeier (Aalto University) & Mari Niva (University of Helsinki)

In short: How to accelerate fundamental, systemic changes in consumption and production towards sustainability? How to disrupt present practices and reconfigure more sustainable ones?

There is a widely shared understanding that innovative ways to achieve “1.5-degree lifestyles” are needed to mitigate climate change in time. Transitions to sustainability require fundamental changes to societal processes, particularly to the ways products and services are produced and consumed, and how these systems of production and consumption are governed. There is a pressing need to disrupt, or even “creatively destruct”, prevailing systems and practices based on overexploitation of resources and producing environmentally detrimental outcomes, while creating sufficiently fast emerging, sustainable alternatives that do not endanger the wellbeing of present and future generations.

Two distinct theoretical approaches have become especially prominent in this field: socio-technical transitions, particularly multi-level perspective (e.g. Schot & Geels 2008), and social practice theory (e.g. Shove & Walker 2010). Moreover, there is a growing body of research aiming to identify crossovers and intersections between these two approaches (e.g. Hargreaves et al. 2012; McMeekin & Southerton 2012). These approaches are also utilised in a number of initiatives and empirical enquiries that aim to understand and support sustainability changes in both systems and practices. What is shared in these approaches is that they also recognise contemporary environmental and sustainability challenges as demanding fundamental systems change that cannot be achieved through incremental tinkering with patterns of consumption or production.

This session consists of short presentations and a moderated discussion, with the aim of multidisciplinary co-creation of knowledge and practical ideas relevant for reconfiguring systems of consumption and production for sustainability. The session welcomes presentations focusing on (but not restricted to) theoretical and methodological approaches for “creative destruction” and reconfiguration of systems and practices (such as zero-carbon lifestyle projects, sharing economies, degrowth), innovative ways to intervene with present patterns of consumption and production (such as experiments, citizen movements) and practical examples from various domains such as housing, energy, food, mobility, or other relevant fields.

Conveners: Elizabeth Miller (Aalto University) & Viktor Pal (University of Helsinki)

In short: This session aims to answer the overarching question “How can we destroy cultures of waste?” from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, such as arts, business, engineering, environmentally focused humanities and social sciences. The goal is to facilitate truly interdisciplinary dialogue on waste and overextraction.

The session will consist of short paper presentations (7-8 minutes each) by 6-7 presenters. The idea is to center the presentations on big, provocative questions rather than a section-by-section overview of the paper. We welcome non-traditional submissions, including philosophical essays, performance art, or any other approach to the topic. The presentations will be followed by a semi-structured discussion between the presenters and the audience.

Conveners: Marjut Jyrkinen (University of Helsinki) & Dorothee Cambou (University of Helsinki)

In short: The session invites scholars to submit abstracts discussing the topics of gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples through the lens of case studies underlining the challenges, paradoxical and controversial aspects of sustainable development, together with initiatives that may propose a counter narrative fostering just sustainabilities for all.

One of the main pleas of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda is that no one shall be left behind. In that regard, several SDGs address the importance of gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples. Yet, persistent challenges remain to ensure the inclusion of women and indigenous peoples in the process of sustainable development. Whereas indigenous peoples have contributed since immemorial time to maintain their livelihoods, manage resources sustainably and act as guardians or custodians of the lands for the next generation, their rights are poorly acknowledged in the sustainable transition. In addition, although gender is specifically focused in SDG 5, there is an urgent need to mainstream gender aspects throughout the sustainability goal, policies and practices as poverty, development and sustainability are inextricably linked to gender and human rights. A great paradox is therefore that sustainable development measures do not adequately include women or adversely impact indigenous peoples, thereby making the transition fundamentally unjust. In this regard, the session calls for attention how the traditional, prevailing and persistent attitudes and perceptions among states and business – those based on male privilege and subordination of women and indigenous people – impact on building up more inclusive and sustainable transition.

For this purpose, the session invites scholars to submit abstracts discussing the topics of gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples through the lens of case studies underling the challenges, paradoxical and controversial aspects of sustainable development, together with initiatives that may underline a counter narrative fostering just sustainabilities for all.

This session will be divided among speakers and also opened for public discussion.

Equipment required for the session includes computer, projector and several microphones.

Conveners: Eeva-Lotta Apajalahti (University of Helsinki & Center for Consumer Society Research) & Salvatore Ruggiero (Aalto University School of Business)

In short: Emphasising the social aspects and human agency of the energy transition. How to enhance just creative destruction?

Energy transitions are by their very nature socio-technical, which places human agency and societal change at the center of the transition. However, the socio-technical transitions approach is often argued to be too technology centric. The theme of the conference ’destruction & creativity’ is central to the necessary radical changes in our unsustainable lifestyles, businesses and governance. However, what does this mean from the perspective of diverse actor groups? How to enhance just creative destruction?

This session invites theoretical and empirical transition studies that take the human agency and social processes of socio-technical transitions under investigation. Topics can include (but are not restricted to) technology developers and designers, energy users and prosumers, community energy initiatives, questions of energy justice and beneficiaries of transitions, regional and local energy transitions, public policy, technology proponents and antagonists, and other social processes of transitions. Such examples of social aspects of transition are important in shaping, translating and giving meanings to novel technologies and solutions but also in challenging mature technologies and shared conventions, beliefs and norms.

The session will be arranged so that each presenter has one discussant that opens the discussion after each presentation. Presentation 15 min. + 3 min. discussant’s comment + 7 min common discussion.

Convener: Markku Kaustia, Aalto University

In short: The finance sector is ready and willing to mitigate climate change but needs research on how to do it

The finance industry has the ability to destroy. For that, one just needs to look at the global financial crisis that started from the US real estate securities market in 2008. The finance industry also has a tremendous ability to create well-being and progress through value-adding financial innovation. Some recent examples include microfinance, crowdfunding, and consumer finance apps. Climate finance is a new field focusing on how research in financial economics, and its application in the finance industry as well as regulation can contribute to reducing the risks associated with climate change and help change its course. Examples of topics include the effects of corporate environmental performance on financial performance, of investor actions on corporate behavior, pricing of climate related risks, sustainability aspects of households’ financial behavior, as well as related issues in regulation and financial reporting.


Conveners: Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä (Aalto University)  & Niclas Sandström (University of Helsinki)

In short: By presenting and discussing views on the potential of participatory extreme context, we wish to co-explore and learn a way towards a common path where more focus and dedication is given to the creation of novel sustainable solutions regarding SDG #9 and #11. "Participation is shapeshifting the way we see power and engagement. Out of extreme grows the most magnificent innovation."        

Recent times have seen shifts to more unstable institutional environments, raising new challenges for SDG #9 promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation and for SDG #11 making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Natural disasters, ever increasing pollution, war, political controversy, the very nature of fragility of our planet becomes ever more apparent, more extreme.

What is extreme? We define extreme by following Hällgren et al. (2018) “where one or more extreme events are occurring or are likely to occur that may result in an extensive physical, psychological, or material consequences to physical or psycho-social proximity to organisation members”. Extreme is often associated with misery. However, in this session we argue extreme can yield hidden unexplored potential, particularly within the domain of participatory environment where individuals do not act as consumers but also contributors, co-creators (Jenkins, 2012; Timms & Heimans, 2018). Following this, well-cited research has demonstrated that dramatic, positive changes can occur in individuals as a direct result of experiences in extreme environments and call this post-traumatic growth, a personal transformation (Peterson et al, 2008). A sense of contribution (Eccles, 2008) can be created through meaningful participation, a claim we wish to prove true also in the proposed session.

By building on this, a positive transformative human potential related to participatory extreme environments, we wish to present two cases in relation to SDG#9 and SDG11 to foster the discussion for co-creating social innovations, together with science and practice, within the domain of Sustainable Science Days topics at Aalto University and University of Helsinki. For SDG #9, the case is WTSUP!, a co-created education platform, aimed to foster women's empowerment and volunteerism culture, located in extreme environment of crisis-torn Lebanon (YLE, 2019). The aim for the cross-cultural platform is to promote industrialization and foster innovation where for 2020 WTSUP! event in Beirut, the overarching theme is sustainability. For SDG #11, for more inclusive and sustainable urban planning, we present a participatory culture laboratory of Burning Man, especially the temporary 70,000 participant Black Rock City, BRC (American Planning Association, 2016 & BRCMUP, 2016). The potential of this case lies particularly within the temporary nature, city with less bureaucracy and power play (Stanford News, 2018). The radical nature of BRC may therefore provide insights into organizational processes of adaptation and prioritization, resilience, that could support cities in their tasks to become more sustainable. Ultimately, through these two novel topics, we wish to answer the surging scientific interest on extreme contexts, open a scholarly venue to study the previously unknown. On the practical front, by presenting and discussing views on the potential of participatory extreme context, that may support individual transformation, we wish to co-explore and learn a way towards a common path where more focus and dedication is given to the creation of novel sustainable solutions regarding SDG #9 and #11 (Sandström, Nevgi & Nenonen, 2019; Sandström & Nenonen, 2018). "Participation is shapeshifting the way we see power and engagement. Out of extreme grows the most magnificent innovation. "

We welcome abstracts that address issues related to this theme on participatory cultures, extreme environments and urban planning. We also welcome novel artistic approaches. The session will be arranged so that the previous two cases will shortly open the session, which is followed by other topics presented, with a comment and discussion.