Turning lawns into meadows, new courses on sustainability – Promoting sustainability at the University of Helsinki in 2022

The University of Helsinki is striving to enhance its social, ecological and economic sustainability. The Sustainability Highlights report describes the progress towards goals in 2022.

The University of Helsinki makes efforts for sustainability and responsibility through its core duties of research, teaching and public engagement. In addition, the University is endeavouring to promote sustainability through everyday action and by examining its governance and structures.

The University published its first sustainability and responsibility plan in spring 2022. The plan brings together the most important goals for the period 2022–2024. The Sustainability Highlights report monitors the promotion of these goals. This news item presents a handful of measures the University took to promote sustainability in 2022. You can read the entire report here.

“Reporting enables us to make sure that we are actually moving towards the goals we have set together. It’s easy to say that you are promoting sustainability, but it’s more important to examine whether you are actually doing so,” says Riina Koivuranta, Senior Specialist in Sustainable Development and Responsibility at the University.

Progress towards the goals of the sustainability and responsibility plan

The measures under the sustainability and responsibility plan were successfully promoted already in 2022, its inaugural year.

“I’m proud of our community’s efforts for the world. Reading the report, it’s important to bear in mind that the impossibility of compiling the contributions of a community of 40,000 people into a single report. The challenge is to describe the diversity of the University’s sustainability and responsibility efforts,” Koivuranta says.

Turning lawns into meadows

The University is taking concrete measures to promote sustainability. Among other things, six lawn patches on Viikki Campus were turned into meadows by excluding them from mowing in the summer. The patches hosted important meadow plants including viper’s bugloss, harebell and greater knapweed.

Late in the year, a working group composed of representatives from different campuses and units was established to promote and expand the meadow experiment in the future. The meadows boost campus biodiversity, and the aim is to utilise them in research and teaching.

In addition, a sustainability and responsibility network open to the entire University community was established in late 2022 to promote sustainability themes. The network supports the transition towards a more sustainable University and society. It also provides a place for learning, networking and influencing related to sustainability and responsibility.

Promotion of disability inclusion and energy savings

In 2022 the theme of the University’s equality and diversity efforts was the promotion of disability inclusion. The University organised training and events on the topic, including a seminar on the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities together with the Finnish Society for Disability Research and the Finnish Disability Forum. Through the thematic year, the University strove to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities and their full membership in the community, as well as to increase awareness of the topic.

As a simple way to promote sustainability, the University community was encouraged to save energy, and it did: the University’s overall energy consumption decreased by almost five percent from 2021. Savings were achieved, for example, by lowering indoor temperatures.

Ukrainian students study for free

The University condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and expressed its support for Ukraine. Practical support to the country included donations and the provision of studies free of charge to students who had had to suspend their higher education in Ukraine because of the war.

A total of 37 such students received the right to study at the University. In addition, some individuals were given the opportunity to continue their studies as exchange students with grant funding, and 170 students were granted the right to complete open university courses for free.

New sustainability courses and more research on sustainable development

In October 2022, the University announced a new micro-credential in sustainability, designed in cooperation with the Una Europa university network. The courses in the multidisciplinary module can be completed by students from 11 European universities. The micro-credential includes courses on, among other topics, biodiversity, climate change and the sustainability of the financial system.

Moreover, the University increased the number of doctoral researcher positions focused on themes of sustainable development, hiring 10 doctoral researchers specialising in research on these themes.

Faculties appoint vice-deans for sustainability and responsibility

As a first for a Finnish university, all faculties appointed vice-deans for sustainability and responsibility. Their task is to promote the University’s sustainability and responsibility efforts in their faculties and highlight faculty-specific perspectives on these themes at the University level.

In December, the University joined, as a founding member, the international Nature Positive Universities network. The aim of the network is to encourage universities and members of the academic community to take action to preserve biodiversity and slow climate change.

Sustainability work requires continuous development

Even though the measures taken under the University’s sustainability and responsibility plan progressed in 2022 primarily according to plan, the University fell behind schedule in carrying out certain measures. The aim is to promote these measures in particular in 2023 and 2024. Last year, the University recognised that it could do much more in areas such as the promotion of biodiversity.

The University’s next Sustainability Highlights report will be published in autumn 2024, continuing the monitoring of the University’s sustainability and responsibility plan. The goal is to improve reporting further. We are happy to receive feedback and development suggestions through this electronic form.

Read more about the University’s sustainability and responsibility efforts

Sustainability Highlights in 2022

Sustainability and responsibility plan 2022–2024

Sustainability and responsibility on the University of Helsinki website