ChangeMakers is a Central Baltic Interreg project, funded by the European Union, that aims to enhance the spirit of entrepreneurship with focus on sustainability, circular economy, water sectors, and reuse-reduce-recycle. Target group in ChangeMakers is students of upper-secondary schools in countries around the Baltic Sea, i.e., Sweden, Finland (including Åland), Estonia, and Latvia. The project started in 2020 and runs over two years in which 250 students will form 50 cross-border teams to establish ‘mini’ start-ups and develop business solutions to global environmental challenges with a specific focus on the Baltic Sea. Local companies and organisations – e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Sweden, Lovia, and Fifax Ab, — have partnered the project assisting the students with their start-ups.
The Zoom call with a selection of the more than 120 upper-secondary school students from Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Åland.
The ChangeMakers BootCamp was a great success, hosted and moderated by the representatives of Riga Technical University who ensured that the students learned about innovation, teamwork, and entrepreneurship in a meaningful way. Organising a Zoom call with 120+ teenagers for two days is of course a challenge, but several online tools, like Mentimeter or Miro boards, helped to engage everyone. Furthermore, the founder of Angry Birds, Peter Vesterbacka, joined us and gave an inspirational speech about entrepreneurship and initiating things that seem impossible in the beginning. The students showed great interest and creativity to work on the presented environmental challenges, and were curious to talk to their new teammates from other countries.
As a central activity, 14 environmental challenges were presented in the BootCamp which had been defined by the project partners in collaboration with local companies and organisations from whom a representative also joined the online Boot Camp. Defined challenges cover a wide range of environmental issues both within the Baltic countries and beyond, including hydrological and water management challenges such as the use of excess rainwater, plastic pollution of stormwater discharge into the Baltic Sea, as well as eutrophication and invasive species issues concerning the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, problems regarding textile waste, the efficiency of different industries, usage of disposable cups or silage packaging, as well as how to cut down fossil fuels were also introduced to the students. After learning about different environmental challenges, the students chose a challenge, formed cross-border teams and drafted their initial ideas about founding a mini company and how to tackle solutions to their environmental challenge.
Following the BootCamp in Oct 2020, the student teams continued working on their mini company ideas in collaboration with mentors and project partners. In Sweden, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) is part of the project and assisted students in addressing solutions with the two challenges of a fossil free planet and a plastic free Baltic Sea. The teams will pitch their companies in a dragon’s den format (i.e. present their business ideas to a panel of experts and potential investors) to the project representatives and collaboration partners in the beginning of May 2021. Although the final event of the first round of the project is again going to be online, ChangeMakers is indeed a great example of how we can conduct projects and events despite the current situation and that inspiration and passion for a sustainable future can also be spread online.
Ön Oaxen i Himmerfjärden har varit testbädd för snålspolande kranar under år 2020. Utan att uppleva någon försämring i vattenflöde sparade varje hushåll 25 kubikmeter vatten (20%) vilket är 270 kr/år i minskad avgift. 3 kranar kostar 480 kronor, återbetalningstiden är mindre än två år.
Testet skedde i samverkan mellan samfälligheten på Oaxen, de boende i bostadsrättsföreningen Sjövillan, Värmdö och Södertälje kommuner samt KTH.
Inspirationen kom från den irländska ön Inisheer, en av Aranöarna, där 25 hushåll som var öns största vattenförbrukare fick nya duschmunstycken, kranar och klosetter år 2017. Den typiska irländska familjen med 2,6 personer minskade sin vattenanvändning från 128 till 79 liter per person och dag. Inisheer sparade därmed 2,3 miljoner liter vatten på två år vilket är nödvändigt eftersom det är en vattenfattig ö som importerar färskvatten med tankbåt.
Studenten Liubov Shkurenko från KTH skrev sin masteruppsats om vatten och avlopp på Oaxen år 2019. Den ledde till att Oaxen blev en testbädd, en pilot för snålspolande kranar ledd av universitetslektor Anders Nordström i Pelago-projektet.
Nu fortsätter studenterna Ellinor Hambraeus och Emilie Andersson med att jämföra vattenbesparing i hushållen på Oaxen och Sandhamn. Sandhamn är en ö med mycket ojämn belastning på vattenresurserna genom det stora antalet besökare sommartid, i högsäsong 8.000 personer per dag. Studenterna vill förstå och föreslå hur man kan spara på vatten. I deras kandidatarbete ingår enkäter, översikt av vattenbesparande tekniker för hushåll, och de kommer att föreslå åtgärder.
Det hela har genomförts i projektet Pelago, som sammanlagt har fått tio studenter från KTH att skriva sina kandidat- och masteruppsatser på ämnen föreslagna av och med stor betydelse för ö-samhällena i Värmdö skärgård. En sammanlagd resurs om c:a 5.000 timmar som skärgården får av unga, nyfikna, ifrågasättande, kreativa och begåvade personer samt deras handledare, professorer och institutioner.
Våra öar är vackra och bräckliga samhällen, glesa glesbygder om vintern och täta glesbygder på sommaren. De stora variationerna sliter hårt på landskapet, på människorna och på infrastrukturen t ex vatten och avlopp. Nu sipprar kunskapen om hur man kan spara på vatten från ö till ö.
The WaterCentre@KTH has already existed for four years. Wow, time flies! To mark the ending of our first mandate period, we had decided to organise a water conference showcasing research, water innovation and collaboration at KTH. That was before the new Corona pandemic struck…
Already back in January this year we drew up plans for a Conference in December. We – the “core team” at the WaterCentre – wanted to have a full science and innovation event, with lots of interaction, parallel sessions with paper presentations, partners dialogues, workshops, complete with dinner party and late-night dancing afterwards!
We all know what happened after that. Yet, for the entire spring we still believed that the virus would have receded by December. By May we had booked venues at KTH Campus, secured our international Key Note speaker, and invited for papers. But this virus wasn’t easily dealt with and after summer we realized the fact of the matters; if we wanted to make a conference it had to be digital. As if there weren’t enough digital meetings already…
Now we can look back at a successful conference although in a format quite different from what we had envisaged. Within just three hours we learnt and interacted across disciplines and across professional fields all from the comfort of our desks (or sofas and armchairs).
After the nice words of welcome by our Vice President Annika Stensson Trigell, we all enjoyed a remarkable Key Note address by Prof. Dr. Janet Hering, the Director of one of the world’s leading water research institutes, EAWAG in Switzerland. Janet stressed that science is not enough if we are to meet the global goals on sustainable development and therefore, we need to make our research “actionable”. The following Q&A also revealed that while many researchers want their results to have an impact in society, a majority also need more support from their organisations in doing that.
The ensuing Science Fountain showered the participants with water knowledge. In three parallel sessions, 22 KTH researchers delivered speed talks in areas spanning from decentralised hypochlorite production and Artifical Intelligence, via algae-cultivation, to arts and history. Yet – all about water! All presentations here.
Science is not enough – as we heard from Janet Hering – and the final part of our conference we devoted to a discussion on “How to make collaboration meaningful”. Much thanks to a skillful moderation by our colleague Karin Larsdotter, it was a fantastic display of what is required to make collaboration between academia and societal partners work.
To start with, a partnership has to be a two-way relationship and academic actors need to listen more attentively. As Karl Bergman – head of R&D at the energy company Vattenfall – put it: “You often invite us to be part of new R&D projects. But why don’t you ask us more often what our problems are?” At the same time, industrial actors might want to push universities to produce engineers tailor-made for their needs. But it is more important that we give our students robust knowledge for the entire job market, said Muriel Beser Hugosson, head of the School of Architecture and Built Environment at KTH. Juha Salonsaari from the Environmental Department at City of Stockholm, stressed that a multitude of interaction arenas and a wide network really are keys for starting successful collaborations. In fact, argued Anna-Carin Ramsten from the government agency Vinnova, informal meeting points are often under-estimated in collaboration. Maybe we just need “go and take a fika with someone”.
The entire conversation – which was very lively despite none of the panelists sitting in the same room – can soon be found on the WaterCentre webpage, along with the recording of all the sessions, and the Key Note. Presentation slides are also downloadable from the web.
On the whole, we had an intense and very fruitful conference. Our sincere thanks goes to all the participants, and all the speakers, for joining us in the water. We can all agree that we miss the physical meetings. But digital interaction also has its qualities, and we are rapidly getting better at it!
It already goes without saying: 2020 is like no other year. Across the globe we have hid in our homes for months. Social distancing has become an art form and an ideal, something to excel in, rather than the dubious expression of the lone hermit. As we gradually come into the ‘new’ normal we will surely start counting our losses, but there will also be time to reflect back. In this blog post I want to share some insights from our work on monitoring the pandemic through wastewater. In short, how to assess public health based on massive sampling and analysis of human shit. And what we can learn from this unusual spring.
As the Corona virus started spreading globally in the beginning of the year, a number of Chinese scientists reported that the SARS-CoV-2, popularly known as “the new Corona virus”, could be found in patients’ stool (faeces). By March, preliminary results from the Netherlands showed that the virus could also be detected in wastewater. Following a webcast seminar on March 25, a group of researchers at KTH decided to quickly put together a team to try and do something similar: to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic through the wastewater in Stockholm. Within five days we had mobilised a core team of six researchers representing four different departments at KTH: Zeynep Cetecioglu Gurol from Chemical Engineering; Prosun Bhattacharya and Tahmidul Islam from SEED; Cecilia Williams from Protein Sciences and Anders Andersson from Gene Technology, plus myself from the WaterCentre. We were joined by staff from Stockholm Water and Waste Company, Värmdö municipality and Käppala Wastewater Treatment Plan.
The media caught wind of it when we started sampling wastewater in Stockholm by April 6. Via broadcasting and the press it spread in no time and a news article in Dagens Nyheter from mid-April got close to 200,000 clicks within a day. A few weeks later, when we released the first preliminary results concluding that indeed, we could detect Corona in Stockholm’s wastewater, there was more media hype, with reports in major TV news and radio shows. Even popular shows like P3 Morgonpasset took it up, with reporters giggling about poop in prime time. The shit had really hit the front page!
So what’s this research really about, and how can it generate such tremendous interest? In short, we sample wastewater from three Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTP) which cover about 1.7 million people in the Stockholm region. Using so called qPCR technique we can measure the content of RNA (the genetic code) from the virus which gives a good indication of the virus prevalence in the whole population. The first advantage is that you can assess the overall public health situation without testing millions of people. Every day, millions of people are providing “test samples” through their faeces. So by analysing samples from only three sites, we will be able to assess the spread of the virus in the whole population in Stockholm. The second advantage is that it only takes a few hours for the wastewater to be transported from the toilet to our sampling point at the WWTP. Patient-based testing, on the contrary, can take weeks from infection to a positive test at the hospital. Therefore, Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) can be used for early warning and a recent study at Yale has demonstrated that public health administrations can get at least a week’s notice using this method.
Of course there are many challenges and uncertainties still. As I am writing this, the KTH team is optimising our protocol for the analysis method which is necessary before moving to scale, and before we can actually make the kind of predictions which the Yale team did recently. The protocol has to be both specific and generic: it must be tailored for the type of sampling we are doing and for the available lab resources we have, at the same time it must be compatible with other researchers’ work, both nationally and internationally. Keeping up with the international developments in this area is virtually a full time job, as the frontline is advancing at a staggering pace. We also face a myriad of day-to-day challenges, like making scarce consumables last, juggling with over-burdened lab facilities and cold storage spaces, or just explaining to our colleagues what we are doing… So far this rapid response has been largely self-funded by the participating researchers, and PhD students, post-docs and senior staff are doing an amazing job, working over time on voluntary basis. Just because this has to be done. The pandemic is here now and we cannot wait for time consuming application processes.
So what can we learn already now from this unusual experience? First, social networks are key. The research community has the ability to rise to the challenge – we just put together a team and started working – but people have to know each other, at least a little. Having a WaterCentre actually had helped us building these contacts before the outbreak. Second, the current research financing structures are quite useless for crisis situations. With so much being locked into externally funded long-term programmes and projects there’s basically no flexibility to rapidly respond to a challenge like COVID , nor to seize opportunities as they arise. Again, the fact that we had some un-allocated funding within the WaterCentre made it possible to start working immediately. Third, this could be the dawn of a new more open innovation and research paradigm. Ever since the first releases of scientific reports – many from China – about the Corona virus the academic community has embraced openness and principles of sharing, for example of protocols. Using data-sharing hubs and initiatives at EU-level we see that we can advance knowledge at a much faster pace than if we each jealously protect our information.
After the pandemic, we are going to face other crises, induced by climate change, global economic re-structuring and geopolitical struggles. Hopefully we will retain at least some of this challenge-driven approach and our collaborative spirit. We are going to need it.
While water is often seen as the likely source of conflict, the opportunities to find cooperative solutions abound. In fact, research led by Aaron Wolf and colleagues indicate that water is more likely to lead to cooperation than conflict, including in transboundary situations. As water and climate change are intimately tied—more droughts, more floods, more nutrient runoff—finding ways to manage local, regional, national and international water issues becomes increasingly important.
As a Fulbright scholar in Sweden this year, I have been exploring these topics in conversation with colleagues within Sweden and across Europe. I am impressed by the people I’ve met, the commitment to understanding what is happening, and the interest and focus on finding potential solutions.
There is a need to produce and share knowledge together—from those most vulnerable to those who research to those who are making decisions—to address critical challenges associated with water, food, energy, climate, and more. A recent study from the Stockholm Resilience Center and Stockholm University documents ways to co-produce knowledge, noting that such processes need to be context based, pluralistic (representing a range of views), goal-oriented, and interactive. As the world shifted online during recent weeks due to the coronavirus, how does this open opportunities for constructive online engagement? And how do we ensure that the most vulnerable and least connected are also included?
Time is also a challenge. The world as we know it is changing rapidly, including management of water resources. Learning to adapt in very real time— to declining groundwater, floods and droughts, impacts to livelihoods and ecosystems, governance issues, and more— is a challenge. Again, how can we learn from each other on what is working? One way to accelerate potential change is again through marrying needs with skills. In another blog post written for the dispute resolution community, I argue that communities need help having challenging conversations about climate change and dispute resolution professionals are looking for how they are relevant in this day and age. Functional conversations can help address the imperative for rapid change.
Scale is also a challenge, and an opportunity. While solving water management challenges at a global scale is difficult, basin or sub-basin scale offers opportunities. For example, the Chehalis River Basin of Washington State is moving forward on managing both flood and drought impacts, as well as ecological concerns. How can we share these local successes?
Finally, the human element is incredibly important. As noted by Vincent Ostrom and Eleanor Ostrom in 1972, “any system of water works must be accompanied by a system of human enterprise that involves the allocation, exercise and control of decision-making capabilities in the development and use of water supplies.” I heard this theme echoed at World Water Week during a session entitled “Water, peace and development: drivers of change in transition states.” Representatives from Somalia, South Sudan, Somaliland, and Gambia spoke about the opportunity for rebuilding their water infrastructure and their water governance as combined drivers of change.
Stories of hope, of success, of what is working are sorely needed. In my experience as a neutral mediator working on complex water issues, it is this hope and idea that we can indeed find solutions that is also the key to finding a path forward.
/Lara B. Fowler, Fulbright Scholar, Uppsala University, Sweden 2019-2020. Senior Lecturer, Penn State Law. Assistant Director, Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.