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Lost in compensation

Net zero carbon, climate positive, net zero climate footprint, negative emissions. And yet. What do all these concepts actually mean? Who can you trust? How can I know what is pure greenwashing, in other words, that a company merely gives the impression of being environment friendly, and what is a genuinely reasonable effort? It is a jungle for consumers.

Companies marketing their products with the use of these new concepts has become a growing trend in many sectors. You can see this when you browse any newspaper or see a TV advert. What is especially difficult is how to process such information when you are comparing the blurb on the packaging of two different products in a food store. Just recently for example, Arla Organic Milk, proclaimed as having a zero climate footprint, was named Food Bluff of the Year. A bit unfair you may think, Arla is surely a serious-minded company.

But this is not what it is all about in this case, it is more about the impossible situation customers face. Arla has also welcomed the fact that the Swedish Consumer Agency, KO, has reported Arla for its campaign. Clear guidelines are needed here, not only for food products, but also for travel, energy, and other services.

“Net zero climate footprint” or similar, generally concerns some kind of climate compensation, for example, where you buy emission rights to offset against your emissions, or plant trees that sequester carbon. One common fear raised with climate compensation is that this shifts the focus away from the actual enterprise. If you carbon offset a flight, this self-evidently does not reduce flight-related emissions, but will hopefully lead to compensation in the form of financing other climate improvement measures somewhere else. Here, there are both genuinely serious-minded companies and scam merchants on the market.

Another problematical aspect is that such compensation is expected to occur over a long period while climate change emissions are happening right now.

On a trip to the US a few years ago, I hired a car from a famous American car hire company for a couple of weeks and was invited to climate compensate my use of the car. At the time, this cost five dollars as a one-off charge. Naturally, I asked what kind of genial measures they intended to implement for these five dollars that would have such an amazingly beneficial impact. The friendly clerk behind the desk informed me that unfortunately, they had not as yet been given this information and as a matter of fact, we were the very first people to choose this option.

There is nothing wrong in principle with climate compensation if this is a serious endeavour and genuinely results in a corresponding climate benefit, but it should not become an obstacle to any improvements that can be implemented in a business and, when five dollars can offset a two-week road trip by car – put your cards on the table.

KTH equips students for the future

Over the past year, the Board of Education has intensified work on future learning environments and educational models on behalf of the President. A possible way forward has been crafted, based on a situation analysis.

The analysis has embraced internal and external workshops, external analyses, literature reviews, field trips, and participation in national and international education conferences.

 KTH needs to continue to strengthen and further develop its study programmes such that its students will be even better equipped to address and find solutions to societal challenges. As this requires both interdisciplinary knowledge and solid basic knowledge, it will correspondingly require even better utilisation of digitalisation and our campuses for learning.

 Future education will need to meet different challenges such as greater international competition, rapid developments in technology and the risk of ever increasing political control of university activities. Better to initiate such development ourselves. A framework for future education is accordingly being developed and is currently based on 13 principles that point towards the direction in which we should travel:

 On student learning and the educational environment:
Active learning
Examinations for learning
A developing educational culture
Skills development of the teaching role

On the learning environment – physical, digital, and psychosocial:
Accessible experimental environments
Living campuses

On skills and abilities developed:
Ability to deal with intractable problems
Broader recruitment and participation

On the design of study programmes and lifelong learning:
Basic knowledge in relevant areas of technology
Flexible and structured study paths
Developed lifelong learning

On support, administration, and quality development:
User oriented activity support
Quality systems for educational development

 This spring work will broadly focus on and consolidate these principles. This will involve School Quality Councils and Management including School Faculty Assemblies, students, faculty programme directors at different levels, local and University Administration and the Central Collaboration Group. Finding good examples of activities that are already being performed at KTH within all the above principles such that we can learn from each other is one of the keys for success.

The thinking is that the Future Education Project should be synchronised with our six-year quality cycle and that broader working groups address different specific areas, sometimes from a longer and sometimes from a shorter perspective, and that the very high targets we have set, will have been reached by KTH’s Bicentenary in 2027.

The work we are doing on future education is attracting tremendous national and international interest. The next few years will both exciting and important.

Boost your IT support people instead

There I was sitting on one of the few trains that were running between Uppsala and Stockholm. Normally there are around eight to ten trains an hour, but now there seems to only be one train every hour and a half. We’ve heard about frozen points, trespassers on the line or points and signal failures before, but now another type of fault seem to have become common.

Last autumn, the senior press officer for Swedish Rail (SJ) referred to replacing a system that would result in 300 cancelled departures over the next two (2) weeks. Two months later, there are still extensive interruptions to services but you no longer hear that much about inadequacies in the new personnel planning system at SJ. However, to go by the heated discussion between two conductors I overheard on a platform in Stockholm, the personnel planning problems clearly remain. They are clearly trying to resolve the problems outside the system.

When I reflect on this, it would appear that people are not keen to speak openly about shortcomings in an IT system, because passengers do not have that great an understanding of how important the IT infrastructure is for a service to be able to operate at all. You can accept that an accident has happened, if the pandemic leads to a personnel shortage or purely technical problems, but IT should work without a blemish.

Talking of which. A few years ago, I was on a domestic flight to the north of Sweden. After we had fastened our safety belts, the passengers were informed that we would remain on the runway due to a “computer fault”. The passengers became pretty frustrated, but soon enough the aircraft started to move and take off approached.

A happy pilot explained over the speakers that they had fixed the problem. He said that they had resolved the problem, they had by quite simply pressing ctrl-alt-delete and restarting the whole system and so off we go. Several passengers squirmed in their seats and felt that they would prefer to take another mode of transport, but by then it was too late. I mentioned this incident to a good friend who is a pilot and he simply replied, “how stupid can you be, all you usually have to do is bash the side of the computer a bit and that usually fixes it”.

In principle, IT systems are of crucial importance for all enterprises to be able to work. We expect and take for granted that all systems should work impeccably, but it is only when they don’t work that we become agitated. We don’t take any pleasure in all the IT that works every day to enable our enterprises to function.

I once turned to one of the developers that at the time was trying to ensure everything was working to say what a fantastic job they were doing and how pleased I was with the IT systems that help me with my work and in my free time on a daily basis. He replied that that was the first time throughout his professional career that someone had given him positive feedback.

I would therefore like to make the following request: Tell your IT support people how satisfied you are with the help you get, and with the systems that enable you to do your work every day.

Sustainable development goals important for international students

Many students from other countries seem to choose KTH precisely because sustainable development is included in education here. What’s more, KTH appears to receive a Pass with Distinction when it comes to how this is pursued in study programmes. That became clear in association with a seminar last week.

I recently took part in a webinar in the library, where the theme was to clearly explain how significant the inclusion of the global sustainable development goals is in study programmes at KTH. The seminar was aimed at potential international students around the world and sought to increase interest in choosing to study at KTH.

Several hundred students had expressed an interest in advance and a large number of them participated online. The background to this was that a follow-up survey showed that many students from other countries had chosen KTH precisely because sustainable development was included in education here. Added to which, the results also revealed that international students thought that KTH had lived up to their expectations in the sustainability area.

As Vice President for Gender Equality, I was curious as to how much awareness there was among international students that gender equality is a prioritised area at KTH. This proved not to have been in focus in the survey that was performed. With our initiative to integrate knowledge about gender equality and diversity into all our programmes, interest was generated in developing the way in which sustainable development goals were given prominence in study programme descriptions.

We have had several meetings this autumn to discuss the way in which gender equality and social equality are accommodated in education and how this can be outwardly communicated more clearly. And this has accordingly now resulted in a fascinating and engaging webinar where, in addition to myself representing our Equality Office, representatives from our Sustainability Office and Malvina, the network for female and non-binary students at KTH, also contributed with presentations of what we are already doing to promote goals 5 and 10,  in the work we are doing for sustainable development in education.

We also answered many inquisitive and relevant questions from participants concerning how we work with both education and the study environment, and heard many cheerful cries that it is positive that gender equality and reducing social inequality are gaining a prominent place in the dissemination of knowledge about the sustainable development goals.

Smart energy usage must be rewarded

Surely nobody has missed the news of the high prices for electricity over the past week. How can it have come to this? Couldn’t we have seen this coming?? At 4pm on Monday, the price of electricity before taxes and charges in the south of Sweden was SEK 6.49 per kWh. Yet another new record!

We are in a special situation right now that someone has called a “perfect storm”. A number of different factors have coincided such as a relative lack of wind, production restrictions in hydropower due to icing over, limited transmission capacity between the north and south, plus extremely cold weather across the whole of Sweden. The high price of natural gas and emission rights has also contributed to this.

This situation puts the focus on both power needs [kW] and energy efficiency [savings per kWh]. Do we really use electrical energy in the best ways? Are we sufficiently energy efficient? If we compare Sweden with the rest of the EU, we are no better than 16th when it comes to energy efficiency. In other words, there is a great deal to do in this area.

Why has it come to this? On many occasions, various potential projects aimed at possible energy efficiency improvements fall by the wayside because it is difficult to demonstrate that they are financially worthwhile. When doing the calculations before a decision is made, we base these on historically low energy prices. It is probably time for a rethink. We need to include the savings from reduced energy requirements in the calculations as well. Smart energy usage must be rewarded.

How then energy needs and energy efficiency improvements go hand in hand? One common result of improved energy efficiency is that the maximum power requirement will be reduced. One important development factor for future energy systems would also be to incorporate energy storage and flexibility of usage to enable us to better manage a similar situation in the future.

Modern electric vehicles have a substantial storage capacity of 80 – 100 kWh for example, our homes also have a significant inbuilt flexibility via their thermal inertia. (It can take several hours for the temperature to drop by one degree indoors if the heating is turned off.) However, it can also be a case of us having to adapt to the new circumstances to a greater extent. Wear a thicker top during a cold snap!

Hopefully, this week’s electricity price shock will lead to some new strategies when it comes to improving energy efficiency and smarter electricity usage with a better understanding of how important all this is for the energy balance. KTH has done quite a lot of research into energy storage, energy efficiency improvements, but more needs to be done.

Hopefully, the Swedish Energy Agency and other grant providers will invest in more research into smart and efficient use of energy as a key strategy for managing the power balance in the future.

Building the education of the future together

Our latest storträff meeting was held this week. This time on the theme of future education. After the 150 or so participants had been given a summarising lecture on the results to date within the framework of future education, work continued in groups.

A very successful meet-up. The very strength of these storträff meetings lies in the opportunities for teachers, students and support personnel to exchange experiences. Opportunities to exchange experiences across School boundaries and between Schools and University Administration. Opportunities to choose your area of interest and initiate new areas yourself. Opportunities to delve deeper into Prioritised Educational Issues (PRiU Groups) for KTH education. Quite simply, opportunities to participate in KTH’s development together.

This genuinely collegial enterprise that includes all employees and students, has been highlighted as a good role model in the Swedish Higher Education Authority review of KTH’s quality assurance work. Equally important is that the enterprise is at the same time close to KTH management, as both the Vice President for Education chairs these meet-ups, and the PriU Groups regularly participate in Board of Education meetings.

One current example of note is the work being done by one of the PriU Groups on assessment and examination methods. They have done an excellent job showing how dividing semesters into periods can be adapted for a diversity of examination forms rather than being structured for more extensive final examinations in halls. A successful example of work that will not only lead to change but also chimes well with the future of education.

Other examples in the area within future education, and that were raised in group discussions during the big meet-up, concern the development of education that benefits active learning by students and the ability to manage and solve intractable problems, broadening recruitment and participation, teacher educational skills development plus examinations that support and deepen learning. Very rewarding discussions and important for KTH’s steps into the future.