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Ten years with focus on sustainable development

You could say that the work KTH is currently doing within the area of environment and sustainability started in 2010. That was when an investigation revealed there was great need to do more in the area. A research evaluation in 2012 also came to the conclusion that KTH needed to further integrate sustainable development into its research base.

In the study programme evaluation performed in 2013, several of the external panels also stated that efforts to integrate sustainable education into our degree programme needed to be strengthened as well. Against this background, our President at the time made several important decisions in 2011:

  • That KTH should have a certified environment management system (now a legal requirement, but not at that time).
  • To appoint a Environment Manager (who would then become Sustainability Manager) with a focus on internal environment issues.
  • To appoint a Vice President for Sustainable Development with a focus on education, research and collaboration.

It was also important that both these appointments were assured a budget to support various steps to be implemented. Another important step was that the University Board decided to a new sustainable development policy and that the President decided new sustainable development goals. This was a key move to demonstrate that sustainable development was an important issue at KTH and to point the way forward within a number of different areas.

This work has been successful in many ways. I would like to list a few high points where we have received external acknowledgement.

  • The KTH environment management system achieved ISO 14001 certification in 2015. KTH has since scored highly in the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency rankings of public body environment management work.
  • In 2015, KTH won the International Sustainable Campus Excellence Award (ISCN) for its campus plans.
  • In 2017, the Swedish Higher Education Authority performed a thematic evaluation of university sustainable development work. It found that “KTH has well developed processes for sustainable development work in education”.
  • In 2019, Times Higher Education introduced its Impact Ranking based on the global sustainable development goals. KTH did fantastically well ranking seventh in the world, the highest ranking of any participating university of technology. This was especially pleasing as all aspects of our enterprise are included in the ranking: research, education, collaboration with society and the impact of our own activities. However, we slipped to 77th in the ranking in 2020, which illustrates the need not to rest on our laurels.
  • In 2020, we once again won an ISCN award. This time together with Chalmers for our work in developing a Climate Framework for universities and colleges that virtually every university in Sweden has signed up to. Based on this Climate Framework, the President decided on climate targets for KTH that address virtually every aspect of our enterprise and that extend all the way to 2045.

When you look at the above list, it is clear that one strength of KTH’s sustainable development work has been its scope. Rather than simply focusing on one area, we have looked at our entire enterprise. One success factor has been all the initiatives that have been taken by committed teachers, researchers, administrators, students and many others. This, together with the fact that KTH management has clearly indicated the importance of this issue, has meant we have been able to make progress in a number of areas.

But we have not finished. Sustainable development issues will continue to be on the agenda. The climate change crisis will be a big concern for the rest of our lives, whether we are young or old. The students we are educating today will see enormous changes. Global warming will continue. But we will also see changes in technology in all areas along with changes in consumption patterns.

It is important that KTH continues to take a leading role and does not back away from decisions previously taken and continues these developments. Here, I will name a few examples of prioritised areas:

  • The study programme evaluation we recently completed shows that we have made clear progress but that we still also have some way to go in other development areas.
  • KTH has an opportunity to increase external research grants linked to sustainable development.
  • KTH needs to recruit more researchers and teachers proficient in both their own areas of science and sustainable development issues.
  • KTH emissions related to travel and procurement need to be reduced in line with the demands and expectations of the rest of society.
  • KTH should be a role model in collaboration with others. Issues related to financial investments, travel, the food that is served and who we collaborate with are all visible and have an impact.
  • Engagement, initiatives and drive from researchers, students, teachers and administrators remain key.

After almost ten years I am finishing my time as Vice President for Sustainable Development, but will continue as a Professor at the Department of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering (SEED).

On a final note, I would like to thank all the researchers, teachers, students and administrators who have contributed to our sustainable development work at KTH. Thanks also to current and previous managers at KTH, whose support and cooperation have been crucial. And finally, thanks to all current and former employees at and for the KTH Sustainability Office for their magnificent work.