Questions of sustainable development and the progress of climate change are hardly news to many people. If nothing else, it was the climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October that raised many questions about the organisational role of the University of Helsinki in advancing sustainable development.
“An increasingly large number of people are focused on promoting environmental awareness, which will now also be deployed as a management tool at the University”, says Vice-Rector Tom Böhling.
In October, the University established a committee for sustainability and responsibility to organise activities related to sustainable development at the University level. Among the committee’s duties is preparing a programme for sustainability and responsibility for the University.
“We are currently mapping out the activities under way. Our staff and units are well aware of sustainable development affairs, and are already engaged in a multitude of individual environmental actions. What we are missing is the big picture, which is our current goal,” Böhling explains.
The committee wishes to engage the entire University in the promotion of sustainable development, with the first events coming up in early 2019.
“This issue affects us all, so we are trying to make it possible for everyone to actively and easily participate,” Böhling adds.
The goal is to incorporate sustainable development, through the work organised by the committee, into the next strategic plan of the University. Planning and drafting the plan will begin in spring 2019, with the aim of making sustainability and responsibility as a whole an increasingly inherent part of the activities of current committees and other groups.
Top-level research, vegetarian food and flight emission compensation
The University promotes sustainability in both society and the University itself. A significant boon for research has been the establishment of HELSUS, the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science. In November, a tool targeted at organisations for reducing their carbon footprint, implemented by the University of Helsinki and funded by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, was introduced. The University has also recently joined the Climate Leadership Coalition, which challenges businesses and society to curb climate change.
The solar panels on the Viikki Campus are one way of increasing the use of renewable energy by the University. Today, there are panels on the roofs of the Information Centre and the Biocenters, as well as the greenhouses in Viikki. By the end of 2018, solar panels for the University’s solar power plant will have also been installed on the roofs of the A, B, D, E, EE and F buildings as well as the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. On sunny days, these panels are able to produce as much as 11% of the electricity consumed on the Viikki Campus. The increase in the number of panels is estimated to double this percentage. Next year, the overall power generation of the panels will exceed the annual electricity consumption of the Viikki Teacher Training School.
In a large organisation, choices concerning food also constitute important environmental acts. The food served at the conference receptions held in the University’s Main Building have from autumn 2018 been vegetarian, which will possibly be extended to other meeting comestibles as well. Furthermore, UniCafe is selling cheap surplus food, reducing its food waste.
The University is also looking into compensating for its flight carbon footprint. According to a preliminary plan, the University will use shared funds to annually compensate for the carbon emissions of work-related travel.
“First and foremost, ways to reduce air travel should be considered. Each of us should think whether our work can be conducted without flying,” Böhling notes.
Education facilitates informed decisions
The sustainability and responsibility committee wishes to increase awareness also through education.
“A proposal came up from the University community to offer a MOOC or another type of course on sustainable development to all members of the University community. This matter is now being taken further, and implementing such a course is now being looked into,” Böhling says.
The University’s management and supervisors will also be provided training particularly in support of leadership, management and decision-making.
“Training will help us both as an organisation and as individuals to make increasingly informed environmental decisions. We are good at teaching and studying topics of sustainable development. Now we are making use of our own theories on an institutional level. We are making several decisions that require environmental knowledge: what are the grounds for procurements, how do we heat up our properties, how do we travel to work and study, how is our waste collected, and so on,” Böhling lists.
Sustainability and responsibility are also a matter of partnership.
“Questions related to climate change and environmental awareness are, after all, global, and there are already many solutions to these problems. We don’t have to come up with everything by ourselves, but we can look for suitable practices through our networks. We are currently seeking collaboration methods, for example, with the City of Helsinki,” says Böhling.