HELSUS Co-Creation Lab

The HELSUS Co-Creation Lab is a cooperative, scheduled and facilitated process for master’s students doing their master’s thesis. The next Co-Creation Lab starts in 2024.

During the Co-Creation Lab, the students take on sustainability challenges presented by partners and produce their master’s thesis on a subject developed during the process. Making connections and gaining experience are built into the lab: we seek to bring together real-world sustainability challenges and future experts. The partners include both businesses and public-sector actors.

HELSUS Co-Creation Lab 2022

 The 2022-23 Co-Creation Lab ran from October 2022 to March 2023. The year's partners and challenges included:

  • HELEN: What is a sustainable and just energy transition like?
  • VALMET: What kinds of machines are needed in a sustainable future? The significance of the transition to sustainability for the paper, cardboard and pulp machinery industry.
  • University of Helsinki: The higher education sector as part of the sustainability transformation – how can higher education organizations anticipate and respond to the interconnectedness and complexity of sustainability issues?  
  • METSÄGROUP: How to build and communicate acceptable, progressive and impactful sustainability measures in the future forest industry?  
  • HSY: Nitrogen cycling in sustainable cities – challenges and opportunities for social behaviour, waste water treatment and biowaste nutrient recycling. 

The schedule for the lab:

  1. Matching, Team building 5.10.2022   Kielikeskus Juhlasali

  2. Positioning 26.10.2022                          online event 

  3. Defining 2.11.2022                         online event 

  4. Shaping 23.11.2022                            online event 

  5. Interpreting 22.2.2023                        online event 

  6. Sharing Gala 15.3.2023               Kielikeskus Juhlasali       

All sessions will take place at 2.15 - 4.45 pm


HELEN: Perspectives into sustainable and just energy transition


The energy network of the future will be composed of energy networks, in which stakeholders are not only different energy communities (citizens, corporations), but also different species and organisms, that energy production impacts. The goal of the challenge is to help HELEN understand how future’s energy networks are constructed ja and how an energy company can act as an enabler of sustainable transformation/transition. The wish is to get research topics from transdisciplinary points of views and themes, which are thought to have the most impact. Come join us in making a more sustainabile energy transition!


VALMET: What kinds of machines are needed in a sustainable future? The significance of the transition to sustainability for the paper, cardboard and pulp machinery industry.


The significance of the paper, cardboard and pulp machinery industry as enablers of current global forestry practices is generally recognized. Yet this industry is seldom explicitly thematized as an object for sustainability research. Major changes in these practices as a result of, for instance, implementing new global forestry regulations in the face of the climate crisis would inevitably also imply changes for this part of global industrial infrastructure. This challenge encourages students to consider what sustainable adaptation could imply for this industrial segment in the light of existing climate scenarios. What could, should and would have to be done in the light of the climate crisis? Where, when, how and by whom?


UH: The higher education sector as part of sustainability transformation- how can higher education organizations anticipate and respond to the interconnectedness and complexity of sustainability issues?

How can the carbon neutrality objectives of higher education institutions be linked with the objective of safeguarding biodiversity? What other key sustainability and responsibility impacts should higher education institutions anticipate? Universities are large organizations at national level. The University of Helsinki alone is a community the size of a Finnish municipality, with around 40 000 people. In addition to its research and teaching activities, the university is a major societal actor, as well as a major property owner, investor and acquirer. The University's influence extends wide in society both at a national and global level. Carbon footprint calculation and reducing the climate impact of their own activities have been a topical challenge for universities in recent years. In addition to climate work, universities are committed to safeguarding biodiversity. It has been argued that, in terms of nature damage, universities should aim for no net loss for their own activities by 2030 - i.e. avoiding and reducing nature damage and compensating for the remaining damage.   How can the goal of zero net loss be measured and considered in the university context, and what does it mean in particular in the context of the carbon neutrality objective? How can the different objectives be achieved simultaneously, taking into account the need for a fair transition, the rights of other species and the safeguarding of ecosystem services?

The University of Helsinki aims to be a pioneer and trendsetter in sustainable development. What does this mean in an ever-changing environment, characterized by uncertain economic conditions and an acute energy crisis? What role will technology and artificial intelligence play in the sustainability transformation of higher education? What other sustainability and responsibility issues should the higher education sector address?

Metsägroup: How to build and communicate acceptable, progressive and impactful sustainability measures for the future forest industry?  

In forestry and forest industry, sustainability measures and indicators are always inseparable from and intertwined with the scenarios through which they get their context, meaning and practical implementation. Recently, scenarios pertaining to sustainability of forestry and forest industry have undergone multiple and rapid changes due to increased significance of climate and biodiversity issues. How can forestry and forest industry take these changes into consideration and include in industrial processes?  What are roles of sustainability indicators given possible rapid shifting of sustainability scenarios? In which ways could sustainability indicators forestry and forest industry be developed to take such shifts into account? 



HSY: Challenge: Nitrogen cycling in sustainable cities – challenges and opportunities for social behaviour, waste water treatment and biowaste nutrient recycling.


Wastewater treatment and biowaste recycling systems are well developed in big cities like the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Biowaste digestion and the subsequent use of digestate as a fertilizer is an efficient way of recycling nitrogen. Nitrogen in wastewater is cycled and removed using same microbial processes that take place in nature. Nitrous oxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas that forms the largest part of the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment, is produced in both nature and wastewater treatment plants. We are interested in what valuable can be learned from the nature to improve wastewater treatment and to decrease the carbon footprint of nitrogen removal. Both wastewater treatment and biowaste recycling are also affected by consumer behavior. Most of the municipal biowaste is still unsorted and thus incinerated with mixed waste, leading to a loss of valuable nutrients. On the other hand, the current substantial increase in consumption of protein rich food causes high nitrogen levels in municipal wastewater, which increases the consumption of chemicals and energy. The overarching goal of our challenge is to learn how to enhance nitrogen treatment and cycling in cities. We welcome all students


What is the HELSUS Co-Cre­ation Lab?

In the HELSUS Co-Creation Lab, master’s level students tackle sustainability challenges presented by partners and produce their master’s thesis during the process. The lab is based on a cooperative, scheduled and facilitated process. During the first four lab meetings, the research topic, research questions, and the methodology and methods are developed. This is followed by a research period, during which the master’s students conduct individual research work. The last two lab meetings focus on interpretation of the data and presenting the research results.

The HELSUS Co-creation Lab does not replace traditional thesis seminars but adds to them by introducing a co-creative approach to the research process.


Who can apply to join the HELSUS Co-Creation Lab?


You can apply if you


  • are looking for a master’s thesis subject
  • are a master student at the University of Helsinki
  • are beginning your thesis seminar during the autumn or have already begun your master’s thesis seminar


The students are chosen to participate in the HELSUS Co-Creation Lab based on the following criteria: 

1. Relevant field of studies and methodological competence 

2. Plan how to commit to the Lab schedule 

3. Motivation regarding theme 

4. Motivation regarding co-creation 

5. Contents and style of application  

For master’s students at the University of Helsinki

The HELSUS Co-creation Lab is a co-creative approach to doing master’s thesis research. The lab offers the participating Master's students

  • the opportunity to find topics for their thesis
  • help with their research work
  • a clear timetable to work on
  • a chance to develop transdisciplinary skills
  • a chance to get in touch with actual sustainability challenges
  • wide support from the lab personnel, their student peers, the partner, and the thesis supervisor
  • meeting new people
  • Each student who finishes their thesis in time will also be awarded a scholarship of at least 1500 euros. 

For partners

  • the opportunity to receive new insights, ideas, and possible solutions to their sustainability challenges.

The Lab also gives opportunities for social networking with students, researchers, and other societal actors and businesses. We aim for a community where a wide range of knowledge and experience are used to explore novel ideas and possible solutions for common interests.

Ex­per­i­ences from pre­vi­ous par­ti­cipants

Eleven students from various faculties of the University of Helsinki participated in the 2019-2020 HELSUS Co-Creation Lab, which was organised as a pilot. The latest lab was organised in 2022-2023. Below are some experiences from the Lab process, as well as on writing a master's thesis during the Lab.

  • Feedback from different participants during the lab meetings helped with shaping my work and especially helped with writing for different audiences. Also, seeing other students’ presentations was invaluable as I could learn how they were conducting their research.
  • I got a different perspective on the challenge by working with practitioners from partner businesses.
  • A unique part of the lab was the opportunity to develop one’s subject together with the partners, teachers and peer students – this is something that is rarely included in a traditional master’s thesis process!
  • The Lab helped me with finding my professional focus within the discipline.
  • The clear schedule assisted with the writing process, and the Lab presentations served as a basis for the writing.
  • It was beneficial to report on the research results during the Lab meetings, as one had to present and explain the research results to other persons.


Co-Creation Lab is led by research coordinator from HELSUS and senior lecturer Janna Pietikäinen.


In case you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us: