Strengthening sustainability in Finnish Universities

Text: Saana Raatikainen, University of Tampere

The higher education institutions in Tampere have started a process that aims merging the universities into one university in the beginning of 2018. Promoting sustainability is an important value in these universities and cooperation in sustainability has already started. Nevertheless, sustainability work needs more weight and coverage. Therefore, Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and the University of Tampere (UTA) decided to organize a meeting for the Finnish Sustainable Development Forum in Higher Education. On 6th April about 30 participants from Finnish higher education institutions participated in the Forum that was organized in Kampusareena (TUT), the new university building built according to the BREEAM certificate.

Implementation of sustainable development in national level

The Forum started with the presentation by Annika Lindblom who is Secretary General in the Finnish National Commission of Sustainable Development. The Commission is responsible for coordinating the implementation of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Finland. Annika Lindblom presented the Agenda 2030 implementation process in Finland, which includes Finnish innovation called Society´s Commitment to Sustainable Development. It is a tool for the whole society – organizations, companies and individuals – to commit to promote sustainable development. Today from the universities of Tampere only TAMK has made commitment to efficiently use energy and resources and educate professionals who commit to promote sustainability.

Senior Officer Riina Vuorento from the Ministry of Education opened up the higher education steering mechanisms and the sustainability aspects they could include. The funding mechanism of the higher education in Finland will be renewed in 2017 and the new mechanism will include some indicators evaluating the societal impacts of universities. The indicators for sustainability and social responsibility were discussed in more detail in the workshop. Participants agreed that finding indicators that demonstrate societal impacts is not easy. Besides, knowing university´s energy consumption or waste amounts is not enough, but there is a need for goals and targets as well as comparing results with other universities. TAMK is testing an indicator that compares energy consumption per year against finished credits per year.

SD_Forum_2016Annika Lindblom, the Secretary General in the Finnish National Commission of Sustainable Development presentting the Agenda 2030 implementation process in Finland.

Case examples from Tampere and the Nordic countries

In the afternoon session, three cases from the universities of Tampere were presented. University Researcher Tapio Katko from the Tampere University of Technology told about capacity development in water and environment services. The research has long history in the university and in the cooperation with developing countries in Africa. Clean water and sanitation are necessities that have links to many of the seventeen sustainable development goals.

Lecturer Pirkko Pihlajamaa from TAMK presented a project that combined energy management of university buildings and education. In the special course, students looked for the most cost-effective solutions to save energy and use more renewables at the campus. During the course students learned energy management and the university got information to fulfill its obligations of the National Energy Saving Program.

Professor Anneli Milén from UTA raised up the challenges in global health and development as the world now moves from Millenium Goals to Sustainable Development Goals. Important questions concern for example health marketing and antimicrobial resistance. According to research, the good news is that countries with low economic status can still get improved social development and health.

NSCN coordinator Meeri Karvinen presented the key results from the Rio +20 project: In the Nordic HEIs, 1) sustainable development is integrated better in campus development than in teaching, 2) cooperation and student projects support promoting sustainability, 3) economic drivers from the ministry or from outside stakeholders would support universities to allocate resources to sustainability work. In Sweden legislation and management systems have resulted in systematic sustainability work in the universities.

SD_Forum_WorkshopSustainability in the Finnish higher education institutions was discussed in more detail in small groups.

All the presentations were discussed more deeply in the workshops in the afternoon. The workshops resulted in the following conclusions:

  1. Role of the Finnish Sustainable Development Forum in Higher Education needs to be strengthened which could be supported by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).
  2. Universities need relevant sustainable development and social responsibility indicators and the University Properties of Finland can support universities in the work concerning the campus development and buildings.
  3. More effort is needed to raise up the research that promotes sustainability and especially SD Goals. A joint list of key words could help universities in the follow-up.
  4. A question was raised about the universities role in integrating the asylum seekers and immigrants into the society as well as in development cooperation.



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