Panel discussion on sustainability in education
Panel discussion on sustainability in education. Photo: Jens Olof Lasthein

Stockholm University has signed the UN Agreement on Global Sustainability Goals for Higher Education. This means that the University has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2040 as well as to investing in action-oriented climate research and developing courses focusing on environmental and sustainability issues. As part of this commitment, a climate roadmap for 2020–2040 was adopted by the Vice-Chancellor in 2020.

From a societal perspective, it is deemed that the University’s research and education initiatives as set out in the climate roadmap will have a far greater effect on reducing emissions than the direct efforts being made to achieve carbon neutrality in daily operations. For this reason, the plan highlights proposals for education-related measures. These measures include spotlighting and developing courses and programmes with a climate and sustainability focus and strengthening academic staff’s expertise in climate- and sustainability-related issues.

Discussion at the Sustainability Forum

Another measure is to develop Stockholm University’s sustainability forum as an arena where researchers and other players in society can meet to exchange knowledge and ideas. Consequently, this year’s Sustainability Forum on 22 April included a session focusing on how the University addresses sustainability in its courses. The session looked at the University’s ambitions relating to sustainability in its courses and included a discussion on how this work can be taken further.

Examples from sustainability programmes and courses were also presented. Christina Schaffer at the Department of Physical Geography is a pioneer in introducing sustainability aspects in education. One of the courses she has been involved in developing is the interdisciplinary Sustainable Social Development course. Among other things, she emphasised the importance of introducing students to different perspectives, and that interdisciplinary science is enriching for both students and teachers. She argues that including more sustainability elements in courses can be an effective way to define the University’s profile.

Linking sustainability research with courses

Lisen Schultz at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) spoke about how for a long time the centre has been offering interdisciplinary courses in sustainability, such as Världens Eko and a Master’s programme. SRC has also established sustainable science as a research subject in its own right, and has increased the number of courses to meet growing demand.

Sustainable leadership vision

Li Malmström
Li Malmström at Stockholm Business School. Photo: Per Larsson

Li Malmström from the Stockholm Business School discussed how the Business School designs its courses on the basis of a sustainable leadership vision. In recent years, sustainability aspects have been integrated into all the courses in business administration for two semesters. Courses in sustainability are also offered in advanced semesters. This development is largely driven by a growing demand from students for sustainability perspectives to be included in courses. This autumn, the Stockholm Business School will also launch a Bachelor’s programme in business, ethics and sustainability in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Department of Philosophy.  

Elis Wibacke, Vice President of the Stockholm University Student Union, stressed that the University can make a major social contribution by producing research and education in sustainability. He believes that students should be given the opportunity to put societal challenges into a broader perspective, which requires greater inclusion of sustainability aspects in the University’s courses and an effective dialogue between academic staff and students on how this can be done.

Courses designed from the bottom up

During the discussion, it was emphasised that the University’s courses are largely designed from a bottom-up perspective, with individual researchers and departments driving the development. The panel agreed that this should continue to be the case. However, it should be possible to include aspects relating to one or more of the UN Global Goals in many of the University’s courses, regardless of faculty.

There may also be a need to strengthen academic staff’s expertise in sustainability and clarify how existing courses and programmes can be linked to sustainability issues. During the discussion, it was also stressed that when sustainability is included in a course, it is important to have some type of examination in the subject to prevent it from being regarded as of ‘lower value’ than other subjects.  

Read an extensive article in Swedish.