A sustainable and responsible future requires concrete action

At the University of Helsinki, sustainability and responsibility are actively promoted. The newly published Responsibility Highlights report 2021 provides a good overview of the broad-based and ambitious nature of these efforts.

The strategic plan of the University of Helsinki states that sustainability and responsibility will guide all University operations, and that research and teaching will enhance sustainable wellbeing through interaction with the surrounding society. The current strategy period has now been running for a little over a year and a half. What measures have been taken to achieve the goals, Vice-Rector for sustainability and responsibility Tom Böhling?

“I’m happy to say that we’ve got off to a good start. The sustainability and responsibility efforts of 11 faculties, units, staff and students are so diverse that it is impossible to list them all. However, we have compiled a cross-section of the measures taken in 2021 in the Sustainability Highlights report.”

“In addition to documenting the University’s sustainability and responsibility efforts, it increases the transparency of our work. It would be great to see the issues and topics highlighted in the report stimulating discussion also more broadly in society. If you are interested in the topic, you should also take a look at the University’s first sustainability and responsibility plan, published last spring.”

Highlights from the measures taken in 2021

Efforts for sustainability and responsibility are realised through the University’s core duties of research, teaching and public engagement. In addition, the University is making a difference through its everyday activities.

The Sustainability Highlights report introduces a wide range of relevant measures, of which a handful are presented below:

Status of grant-funded researchers improved at the University of Helsinki

In 2021, the University of Helsinki adopted the grant-funded researcher agreement, which brought several tangible improvements to the life of grant-funded researchers. The agreement affects hundreds of scholars at the University of Helsinki. For example, researchers who have entered into the agreement are no longer charged a fee for using an office at the University, in addition to which they have access rights to electronic workgroup areas. Read more.

“Grant-funded researchers are an integral part of the University community. The new grant-funded researcher agreement is a concrete step towards inclusivity and equality,” says Rector Sari Lindblom.

Sustainability education for all University students – and soon also for staff

The University of Helsinki has pledged to observe the theses on sustainable development and responsibility by Universities Finland UNIFI. According to one of the theses, “Studies in sustainable development are part of all degrees and the continuous learning offered”. Among other things, this goal is pursued with the help of the Sustainability Course, launched in March 2021 and open to all students. The course explores, for example, the complex and multidisciplinary nature of sustainability issues, as well as their ethical and philosophical dimensions. Read more

In addition to the Sustainability Course, under development is sustainability-related material for independent learning aimed at both students and University staff. The goal is to advance the sustainability skills both of students and of the entire staff.

In addition to our own courses, students of the University can complete the Una Europa Micro-credential in Sustainability from the autumn of 2022.

State-of-the-art measurements of the climate effects of agriculture

Top-level research helps solve global challenges in sustainability and responsibility. Significant research is conducted in both individual disciplines and through interdisciplinary collaboration.

One example is the SMEAR-Agri measuring station, unique even internationally, which was deployed in September 2021. The station, located in the Viikki fields, produces data on the climate effects of grassland farming. The station continuously measures emissions and sinks of all three major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Read more (in Finnish only).

Food security among the focuses for the strategic partnership with the University of Nairobi

The University’s Africa programme emphasises global action, sustainability and responsibility. At the beginning of 2021, the University of Helsinki launched a strategic partnership with the University of Nairobi. The partnership focuses particularly on the promotion of the One Health concept and food security, as well as the development of teacher training. The programme will introduce new initiatives to increase research and education cooperation, promote inclusion, enhance mobility and support sustainable development in a number of ways.

Energy-saving measures are significant for both the environment and the economy

In 2021, heat consumption in University buildings increased by approximately 19% because of a colder than normal winter season, but the weather-adjusted heat consumption of University buildings decreased by a little less than 9% compared to 2020. Measures taken to improve energy efficiency in University properties implemented in 2021 amounted to a savings of 2,002 MWh.

A total of 3,109 MWh of renewable heat and electric energy was produced in connection with University buildings, equivalent to approximately 1.6% of the energy consumed in all University buildings.

“The goal is to be producing by 2025 at least 5% of the energy consumed in University buildings with renewable means on location,” says Director of Properties and Facilities Teppo Salmikivi.

Give feedback and suggestions for development

The University’s next Sustainability Highlights report will be published in autumn 2023. This upcoming report focuses on the measures outlined in the sustainability and responsibility plan of the University. In conjunction with this, reporting will be developed. We are happy to receive feedback and development suggestions through an electronic form.

Explore our publications

Sustainability Highlights in 2021

Sustainability and responsibility plan 2022–2024

Sustainability and responsibility at the University's website

Examples of responsibility measures in 2021

25 higher education institutions involved in the Climate University network headed by the University of Helsinki

270 students from 89 different degree programmes who participated in the second pilot of the Sustainability Course

€0 fees for courses offered by the Open University to those unemployed or furloughed and students of general upper secondary schools in Helsinki

240,000 visitors to the public attractions of the Natural History Museum

3,400 viewers for the ‘Solving biodiversity loss’ Think Corner programme series

1,000 attendees at the Sustainability Science Days conference

Our carbon footprint in 2021 was 31,937 t CO2e,
including the climate emissions generated by the energy consumption of University buildings as well as air and train travel.

Total savings from energy efficiency measures carried out were 2,002 MWh.

More than 520 pieces or sets of furniture have been sold through Kiertonet.