Master theses presented in 2018

Also this year I have supervised a number of interesting master thesis projects on various sustainability related topics. Find a brief description of each thesis below and links to Diva for the final reports.


Analyzing Function and Potential in Cuba’s El Paquete: A Postcolonial Approach
Jonathan Adam
Design explorations of internet connectivity within an ICT4D and computing within limits context.

The (un)Sustainable Business of Business
Julia Creutz, in collaboration with Cybercom
Analysis of how an IT consultancy firm apply frameworks such as the SDGs and NetPositive to integrate sustainability into their core business.

Identifying Opportunities for Digital Tools to Support Energy Advisors Working with Housing Cooperatives
David Samuelsson, in collaboration with the research project Brf Energi
Development of design concepts supporting municipal energy advisors.

Evaluations of how carbon dioxide calculations can be integrated into 3D models at an early design stage for more efficient Life Cycle Assessments on buildings
Frida Haugsbakk, in collaboration with Tyréns
Analysis of how the environmental impact of building materials can be integrated into digital tools for building modelling.

Designing the Publikvitto, a system to make government expenditure tangible
Tomás Rothfuchs Albrecht, in collaboration with RISE Interactive
Design exploration of how to support public debate around the environmental impact of flying in relation to politics and government subsidies.

Exploring Concerns and Expectations of Future Smart Systems for Managing Domestic Water Services
Lon Hansson, in collaboration with Stockholm Water and Waste
People’s concerns and expectations of future smart water services explored through cultural probes and conceptual scenarios.

Facilitating communication for marginalised communities in Mexico
Amanda Lindén Guinez, in collaboration with Rhizomatica
Design and development of an application enabling low cost phone calls through open source mobile networks. Minor Field Studies project carried out in Mexico.

Are companies walking the sustainability talk?


Today Mistra Centre for Sustainable Markets (MISUM) at Stockholm School of Economics launched the 2017 “Walking the Talk?” report on sustainability communication in 88 of the largest Swedish companies. I attended the launch event which included a presentation of highlights from the report and a panel discussion with sustainability managers from BillerudKorsnäs, H&M, SEB and ÅF. Here are a few points from the presentation and discussion:

  • Compared to two years ago, when the first Walking the Talk report was published, companies are better at communicating both their sustainability ambitions and how they actually work with sustainability and are following up on sustainability goals.
  • In general, the companies do more “talk” than “walk”, but interestingly the telecommunications and technology sectors differ from the other sectors in that there is overall slightly more “walk” than “talk”.
  • Setting measurable sustainability goals, and following up on the performance, was discussed quite a lot. According to the report, more than half of the companies communicate no or only very short-term sustainability goals and only 8% of the companies communicate goals that go beyond 2020. The companies represented speculated that the relatively short time frame of a CEO may affect the time frame of sustainability strategies. They also thought some companies might find it difficult to set concrete goals related to complex issues such as human rights, but they argued that it’s definitely possible. The need for having independent third party organisations to monitor the companies’ performance was also stressed.

The report from both this year and 2015 can be found here.


Summer school: Energy in the city

In the middle of July I made a break in my holidays to attend a summer school with the theme “Energy in the city”. The summer school was organised by the DEMAND centre in the UK and hosted by the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds.

The three-day programme included a mix of talks, discussions, field work and other activities (e.g. an outdoor version of floorball/innebandy with around 10 people in each team). Employees of the DEMAND centre, and some invited guests, gave talks on topics such as infrastructure and practices, food supply systems, consumption in cities, shopping practices, and the futures of work spaces. There is a nice summary of highlights from the event here.

We also did some more practical work in the form of fieldwork mini-projects that were supposed to be used for input for Leeds City Council. We were divided into groups and given a specific place in Leeds to explore from an energy perspective. My group got the legal district with the court and old town hall. The area also included a small business block with a very manicured and tidy park (with an excessive number of bins) surrounded by old, but well-managed, office buildings occupied mainly by solicitors and surgeons. From the empty bike racks and full street parking we drew the conclusion that it was not a place where people bike to work.

In contrast to the elegant front of the buildings, the back revealed more of a mess with air conditioning units attached to ensure the occupants’ comfort despite dressing up in suits also on a sunny summer day. During our three-hour work session we did not come to any conclusions or solutions, but we found the contrast between “the tidy front” and “the messy back” interesting and we thought that the desire to keep up appearances (both of the buildings and the people working there) could be relevant to further explore in relation to energy use.

The next day we continued discussing the fieldwork but not in the original groups. Everyone selected another group’s project and in the new groups we formulated a research proposal for a small project that the City Council could take on. I chose a project with observations from a large (private) workplace in the city centre that, despite its central location, seemed to have a very strong car culture. The workplace was located next to a huge parking lot and close to the entrance were parking spaces marked with “gold cones” where the “employees of the month” got to park their cars. We thought it might be a good idea look into both how car cultures are reinforced and can be challenged in workplaces, and the City Council liked the idea. And I’m sure there are better ways of rewarding excellent employees than by depriving them of daily exercise while at the same time contributing to climate change and air pollution…


Four master theses on sustainability successfully defended

During the spring I have supervised a group of six master students of which four have sustainability related thesis topics. This week the students presented and successfully defended their results, and below are my very brief summaries of their work. Despite working hard all spring, the students have found that there is always more that could be done. So, their theses could possibly also serve as inspiration for future master thesis students.

Sofie Nyström: Providing meaningful waste feedback to larger grocery stores to promote sustainable development

The thesis work was carried out as part of a CESC project in collaboration with the grocery store Coop. Sofie investigated recycling practices in large Coop stores and explored different ways of providing feedback on waste recycling to staff and managers, for example by relating a store’s amount of recycling to central Coop goals. The concepts, and particularly statistics related to economic benefits of recycling, were appreciated by the managers and ideas for future feedback solutions are to include more tips on how to improve recycling and tools to spark motivation. There might also be future opportunities in engaging more with other staff in the stores than the managers.

Gabriella Sanchez Karlsson: Designing a Game for Learning About Recycling

This thesis work is related to a MID project on design and energy use, funded by the Swedish Energy Agency. Gabriella investigated recycling habits of young adults, who may recently have moved out of their parents’ place and being in the process of establishing new habits. The focus of the study was on knowledge and motivation related to recycling, but Gabriella also found other aspects, such as lack of space at home, that mattered for if people were recycling. Gabriella designed a game with questions aiming to increase knowledge of recycling and motivation to recycle. The results showed a significant increase in knowledge of recycling among the players, and future work could explore how recycling habits are affected by such increase in knowledge.

Emil Westin: Visualization of Quantified Self with movement and transport data

Related to the same MID project as Gabriella’s thesis, Emil recruited participants who for two weeks tracked their trips with the app Moves. He designed an interface where the participants could follow their daily carbon emissions from different transportation modes, compared to for example other partipants and Swedish transport emission goals for 2030. The interface served as a tool for reflecting on transportation practices and the participants expressed an increased understanding of their own transport related carbon emissions, from extremely low before the study to somewhat higher after. The work focussed on capabilities (in terms of knowledge) and motivation related to sustainable transportation and future opportunities include to further explore how these factors are linked to each other and to opportunities to choose sustainable transportation modes.

Samuel Lindberg: Encouragement for sustainable pension – A better understanding for sustainability in regards to pension savings

This thesis project was proposed by the Swedish pension company SPP. They wanted to explore ways of communicating sustainable pensions to companies that place their occupational pensions (tjänstepension) with SPP. Samuel found that the interviewed companies did not make links between sustainability and pensions. They also thought it would be more expensive and less beneficial with sustainable pension funds, which according to SPP are misconceptions. Samuel explored ways of concretising sustainability on the SPP web portal for business customers, and while the sustainability-oriented design was appreciated by the study participants Samuel also identified risks of rebound effects: people might use the carbon emission “savings” from sustainable pensions to justify activities with a negative impact on the environment (such a driving cars). A challenge for the future is to highlight sustainability benefits of certain pension funds without triggering such rebound effects.

The theses will be available in Diva eventually.


Global Development Lunch

Daniel, Cristi and I (and many other KTH employees and some students) were at a lunch meeting yesterday on the topic of how KTH can contribute to global development and to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. More specifically, the plan is to launch a Global Development Hub, which as a first step will provide courses with a challenge-driven approach (read more about challenge driven education in this guide) in collaboration with a few partner universities in Sub-Saharan Africa. The idea is that there will be exchanges where students from KTH and the partner universities visit each other and work, preferably together, on projects related to global challenges in specific local contexts.

If you have experiences of working with developing countries or challenge-driven education or are interested in being involved in KTH Global Development Hub you can send a one-page description of who you are, what you do, and what you have done/want to do. Send the description to


Sustainability highlights (and lowlights) of CHI 2015

Sustainability workshop: Expanding the boundaries

On the Saturday before the conference I attended a workshop with the SIGCHI HCI & Sustainability group. The workshop was building on the work from last year’s workshop at CHI and one of the themes of the workshop was how to increase the societal impact of the research we do. We discussed the importance of actively seeking cross-disciplinary collaborations, both in projects and teaching, and one very concrete example of how to scale up research results was to involve consultancy firms in the research projects. Since consultants typically work with many different organisations, both public and private, they are good actors for spreading and making use of new knowledge. In the end of the workshop we came up with ideas for what to do after the workshop, individually and collectively:

next steps


It was encouraging to see that the title of the opening keynote was “Crossing: HCI, Design and Sustainability“. Unfortunately the speaker, Lou Yongqi, dean of College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University, taked about sustainability in a very superficial way. He did mention the planetary boundaries and the seriousness of the situation but at the same time, as an example of how design can support sustainable behaviours, he mentioned an experiment where people chose to take the stairs instead of the escalator when the stairs were made into piano keys and made sounds when stepped on. I really do think design can make a difference in many ways, but to me this is a very simplified example that doesn’t say much about the long-term changes required for sustainability. Would people still prefer the piano stairs after a week or if they were everywhere?

Another keynote worth mentioning, because it completely lacked sustainability thinking, was by Donghoon Chang from Samsung Electronics who presented “UX Design in the IoT Era”. We were shown a video of the “future city of your dreams” where coffee is automatically prepared after the alarm clock goes off in the morning, you can go for a run indoor on a floor screen that makes it look like outdoors, you can take a swim in an augmented reality pool, and when you are out walking and want to cross the street the crosswalk automatically appears – just for you. There was a strong focus on individuals and the speaker didn’t have any good answer for how this would work in a city full of people.

Paper sessions

I attended a few different session with themes related to sustainability. The presentation I found most interesting was a paper with the title “Beyond the Individual: The Contextual Wheel of Practice as a Research Framework for Sustainable HCI”. There was also an interesting presentation of a paper about renewable energy forecasting on an island with limited access to energy. The authors proposed a change from energy feedback to energy forecasting for this specific context and in their study they found that people felt an “energy instinct” and were willing to adapt their energy use although there were no financial incentives to do so. Adapting the energy use to limitations, such as the access to locally produced energy, I think could be relevant for many more places in the future if we are going to increasingly rely on renewable sources of energy.


Seminar about self-produced electricity

This morning I went to a seminar on self-produced electricity organised by Sustainable innovation. The topic was so popular that they couldn’t use their own facilities but had to move the event to a conference center. Johan Ehrenberg, journalist and founder of the company Egen El, talked about the ongoing global “solar power revolution”. Up to now we haven’t seen so much of the revolution in Sweden, but with prices significantly lower than a few years ago Johan doesn’t see why this wouldn’t happen also here.

In a future when more people produce their own electricity it will be increasingly important for the big utility companies to get onboard. Interesting questions for such a future are who should pay for the electricity grid and how should we organise storage of electricity. Johan predicts that selling electricity will be easier; energy companies will simply trade the surplus electricity you produce for electricity you need from the grid the times of the day when the self-production is low. To increase the amount of solar power in Sweden it is not enough with people putting PVs on their own houses, there have to be “PV parks” as well. Some possibilities are to cover old garbage dumps with PV panels and and close nuclear power stations and use the land for PVs instead.