For the second year in a row, we organised an After Work to hustle companies and organisations to generate mater’s thesis topics/proposals in the area of sustainability and ICT/digitalisation. The basic idea is this:
- Our students do their master’s thesis during the spring (Jan – June). They are good at what they do.
- Companies/organisations have tasks that would be suitable and we want to find sustainability-oriented tasks/thesis topics for our students.
- Companies/organisations do now necessarily know what tasks are suitable for our students, how to formulate a proposal to make it attractive for our students nor know how to get in touch with our students.
- So we (teaches/researchers) organize an after work where we tell them about these things and encourage/help them formulate suitable and attractive thesis topics.
I personally think the basic idea is brilliant and think that the people who showed up think so too. What could be improved though is that only about 10 people showed up. I do think it was a very productive event though and hope it will result in not just master’s thesis proposals but also (9 months from now) in presentations of sustainability-oriented master’s theses.!
Also companies/organizations that did not attend the event are of course welcome to formulate master’s thesis proposals and to get in touch with us – and the time do that is right now as our students are starting to look for projects at this time of the year! The invitation to the after work event could be a good start.
While there could have been more people coming, we now have a program and a structure in place so it will be easy to organise an event like this next year again. An event like this is also great as part of our public outreach – telling other societal actors about what we do.
I should finally point out that the event was co-organised with the CESC research center and with the KTH School of Architecture and the Built Environment. Some companies want things done that will be more suitable for their master’s students – so it’s great to co-organise and co-host an event like this.
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.
I was one of 11 lecturers in a summer school on the topic of ICT for Sustainability that was held at the Lorentz Center in Leiden (Netherlands) in the beginning of August. Around 25 ph.d student from primarily different countries in Europe attended the summer school. All lecturers belong to the ICT4S community and all had attended the ICT4S conference one or several times. It might have been the case that most of the lecturers knew most of the other lecturers.
Besides me, my CESC-colleague Mattias Höjer also attended (and organized) the summer school as a lecturer as well as two ph.d. student from KTH/CESC; Miriam Riviera Börjesson and Tina Ringensson. During the icebreaker exercise at the beginning of summer school, I was quite surprised to realize that I had met (though sometimes only briefly) no less than half of the summer school participants at one point or another.
The summer school was very well organized and besides the lectures, the most prominent thread throughout the week was to self-organize into teams (I think there were six) that aimed at writing a paper for the upcoming (2018) ICT4S conference in Toronto.
The Lorentz Center hosted the summer school and that’s actually the ”business” they are in. They organize scientific workshops – currently around 80 per year. Their experience and expertise meant that the workshop was very well organized. One example is the fact that they had 25 or 30 bikes for rent (a very popular option with the participants).
Everyone was really happy about the workshop and there was talk about organizing another workshop. I think that information would then be published at the ICT4S website (here).
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…
Our article about a world where there was only half the oil is in press but is as of today available online.
The article is/will be published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, in a special issue about ”Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research”. The full name of the article is ”What if there had only been half the oil? Rewriting history to envision the consequences of peak oil” and it is written by Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Mikael Höök, Joshua Tanenbaum, Marcel Pufal and Josefin Wangel.
We are really proud of this article, and, it is in fact only the first in a series of articles that will be published about this contrafactual scenario of a world, ”Coalworld”, where there was ever only half the oil and where peak oil consequently happened back in the 1970’s.
The purpose of this thought experiment of ours is to try to figure out what the consequences of peak oil would have been back then (and up until now). The ultimate purpose is of course to tease out possible consequences of peak oil here-and-now, in our world (”Oilworld”).
I attende the third workshop on Computing within Limits (Limits 2017) at the end of June. The workshop was held at Westmont College north of Santa Barbara, California and I am in fact one of the organizers of this great workshop.
The MID4S team presented no less than three papers at the workshop and they are all available in the ACM Digital Library as well as directly on the conference homepage. The three papers were:
- Tina Ringenson, Miriam Börjesson Rivera, Elina Eriksson & Josefin Wangel (KTH), ”The limits of the smart sustainable city”
- Daniel Pargman (KTH), Björn Wallsten (Linköping University), ”Resource scarcity and just internet access over time and space”
- Anton Lundström, Daniel Pargman (KTH), ”Developing a framework for evaluating the sustainability of computing projects”
Next year’s Limits workshop will be organized back-to-back with the mid-May ICT4S conference in Toronto so it’s an excellent opportunity to attend two conferences in a single trip!
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.