KTH-Sustainability Research Day 2014 on October 16, was attracting a lot of people from different interest groups, and the seminar room at Kårhuset was filled to the last chair. The Mid4S team was represented by Daniel, Elina, Malin, Teo, Mattias and myself (Ulrica).
The day was divided into three parts; Sustainable development – long-term investments, The political dimension, and Science and art for sustainable development.
At the theme Sustainable development – long-term investments, there were several interesting project presentations. One of them was The Seafarm, a research project which grows and uses algae. It is part of the Blue Economy, where the algae is seen as a major resource towards a more bio-based society. They are using already existing species, and in a closed loop system that produces zero waste, they can grow 1.5 meters in a few months. The biomass can be used for many different purposes such as forage, polymers, natural cosmetics and food.
Many tasteful meals can be created from the algae, and to exemplify this a cookbook with recipes only focusing on this special ingredient have been produced. Seafarm plan to become commercialized in about 15 years. More info can be found at www.seafarm.se.
Åsa Svenfelt presented the research about What happens if the current GDP – growth does not continue? The project has just started and is going to continue for five years. 16 scientists from six different universities and institutes are working together with 10 different different community partners.
The research will look at scenarios for sustainable built environment that goes beyond GDP growth. What would happen if growth slows and decreases? Is downgroth (nedväxt) a possibility, what implications would it create?
The project will through scenario building with a backcasting approach explore what can happen. By linking economic models to the scenarios they will show how society might look like when sustainability goals are met. The scenarios will be different for different levels of growth and might show that it need not be growth in all parts of the society.
Some comments from the panel discussion on the question What challenges are when working interdisciplinary?
Åsa Svenfeldt: We come from different disciplines, have different perspectives and use different languages. So therefore it takes a lot of talks and discussions to move forward.
Sigbritt Karlsson: We need these narrow scientists, but also the Umbrella scientists, more generalist researchers who can hold the whole together.
Mattias Höjer: We are very interdisciplinary now a days, there has been a prerequisite for the research projects. It’s important to provide time for meetings and conversations. It requires time to communicate over the disciplines.
Åsa Svenfeldt: The journals in which we publish must change. There is sometimes no place for the interdisciplinary research there.
One of the persons presenting at The political dimension was Sara Karlsson. She is a Social Democrat, member of the Riksdag since 2011, and has worked extensively with environmental policy during her political career. She reasoned about the connections between sustainability, research and politics.
How you balance the long-term sustainability decisions against the topical issues is something the politicians need to deal with. They need to decide on a more accurate basis, but it is ultimately a matter of adjustments. All environmental issues are political, because it always involves adjustments and values. There are other values than purely economic ones, such as the decision Social Democrats made that Sweden should have a wolf population. It is important to save the wolf even though it is not profitable.
It is the values that will drive environmental and sustainability policy. We need to talk about it as values, and it is important that it should not only be a question about technology, which sometimes is the case in environmental politics. Sustainability issues go hand in hand with equality issues, it’s about distribution of power and resources. We need to abandon the idea that there is a simple solution. There will be many decisions to be taken, many difficult decisions.
Sara also admitted in the panel discussion that politicians sometimes involves too little in research. We would like the researchers to come to us politicians, she ended.
Science and art for sustainable development was represented by the project Stormvarning, an initiative by Rebekah Segerström, PhD student at KTH and Tobias Engström, working with communication. The project were presented with a video from this summer’s kick off at Vitabergsparken. Stormvarning is funded by the Postkodslotteriet’s cultural foundation.
The promoters were interviewed by the moderator Hanna Zetterberg; What is your motivation behind Stormvarning?
Rebekah and Tobias: We both agreed that sustainable development was one of our generation’s greatest question. We wanted to find new forms of how we could engage and work with the sustainability challenge. Our aim is that people start talking about this. We also wanted to see a system level support for sustainable development and not just put the responsibility on individuals. It is a way to create engagement by linking science and music, since music touches us on a different level than a research report does.
The last program point was live music. Rebekah Törnquist sang together with the musicians Daniel Bingert and Christpher Sander. A great and poetic ending of the day.
Very few people showed up at today’s team meeting – only Daniel, Hanna, Cristi and Björn showed up. We talked about our tema and bachelor’s/master’s thesis. We discussed many different aspects and took a few decisions:
- Many master’s students want to write a master’s thesis that puts them in contact with companies. Our job is thus to develop or ask for proposals from companies that we in turn can offer to our students. The time to do that is now. There will be a general meeting with information about this spring’s master’s thesis course two weeks from now.
- We have a list of companies that supports our proposal for a master’s level track on sustainability and ICT. Those companies are a great place to start. Hanna also mentioned Greenly as a company that might be interested in a master’s student.
- This spring both students writing their bachelor’s and their master’s thesis will work in thesis groups with around 5 students working in parallell (or 10 working in pairs in the case of the bachelor’s thesis).
- As a team, it is highly desirable that we have one member working with a group of bachelor’s thesis students and another member working with a group of master’s thesis students each year – starting this year (this coming spring!). We don’t yet.
- Leading a group of bachelor’s students or a group of master’s students during the spring term is equivalent to around 5% of a person-year.
- These things should preferably be discussed and decided already in May when the manning of the next academic year is done. This year, there is a dearth of advisors, so we can definitely get groups if we can just find the people (team members) to do it.
- It is highly desirable that each research project that falls within the MID4S team’s area of interest should formulate at least one (but preferably more) proposals for bachelor’s/master’s thesis topics this year! Perhaps ”highly desirable” should be exchanged for ”each research project should…” or ”each research project shall…”.
- An alternative to being the advisor of students is to formulate the task to be done and have someone else be the advisor, i.e. that persons in the team take on the role that a company can have in theses that are done with industry partners.
- An alternative is to offer students (who do not write theses that focus on sustainability) the chance to discuss or write about sustainability issues. A suggestion was to have a ”drop in sustainability clinic” in the beginning of spring term where students show up to discuss their proposals and where they hopefully can get some references to relevant literature.
- Master’s thesis students who write their thesis in our area of interest should be invited to our bi-weekly team meetings. Perhaps we should even schedule an extra lunch meeting once per month that we use for learning more about their projects and give them useful feedback.
- One think we did not have time to discuss was concrete proposals for thesis topics as we concentrated a lot more on policy, form and the process, e.g. how should we as a team work with our students theses courses today and in the future (i.e. during the spring term and during the coming years).