1/2015, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Nordic higher education institutions joined forces to support sustainable development

History of Nordic collaboration supporting sustainability

The Nordic countries have collaborated officially since 1952, when the Nordic Council was established. It was followed by the establishment of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1971. Right after the establishment, Sweden had the honor to host the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment was adopted at the close of the conference (United Nations 1972). Following the declaration, the Nordic countries developed their environmental policies, the Brundtland Commission launched the concept of sustainable development in 1987 (WECD 1987), and as one of the milestones of the Nordic environmental collaboration, the Nordic eco-label, the Swan, was born in 1989. Furthermore, the Nordic Council of ministers started to publish a Nordic strategy for sustainable development in 2001, the latest being the strategy published in 2013, A Good life in a Sustainable Nordic Region (Nordic Council of Ministers 2013).

The academic collaboration has a long history in the Nordic countries, but in 1976 a network was established to strengthen especially the collaboration between university administrations. NUAS, Det Nordiska universitetsadministratörsamarbetet, includes several working groups for different fields of university administration, such as the archives, communications and facilities. The collaboration within higher education was further strengthened by the establishment of the Nordic Science Policy Council in 1983, and the establishment of research training collaboration in 1990. Furthermore, in 2006, the Nordic technological top universities organized, and Nordic Five Tech, N5T, was established to form a strategic platform for research and education in the fields of technology and industry.

However, The Nordic higher education institutions (HEIs) did not have administrational collaboration in the field of sustainable development until 2012, despite of the long history of joint efforts in other fields, and the strategic support from the Nordic Council of Ministers. Instead, the institutions developed their sustainability work individually and adopted international connections, such as the International Sustainable Campus Network, ISCN, to find support for their work. Additionally, active national networks, such as the Finnish SD-forum for universities, prevailed in the Nordic countries.

Establishing a network for sustainability experts in the Nordic HEIs

In 2011 Finland had the chair for the Nordic Council of Ministers. As an educational contribution for the year, Aalto University organized a Nordic Climate Festival @Aalto for students (Haanpää 2011). The joint Nordic higher education -event concerning climate change was the starting point to the Nordic Sustainable Campus Network, NSCN, established in Denmark, January 2012 by Aalto University and the Universities of Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Iceland and Oslo.

The new network targeted at gathering together sustainability experts working in the administrations of Nordic higher education institutions, including also universities of applied sciences. The aim was to create platforms to share experiences and find colleagues in the framework of both, greening the campus, and education for sustainable development, ESD.

The establishment of NSCN was financially supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers during 2012-2013. Aalto University provided the home base for green campus -activities and Åbo Akademi took the responsibility for ESD-activities for the funding period. The financial resources enabled the creation of an own website with a blog, a mailing list, and a functioning organization consisting of a coordinator and a core group of representatives from all 5 Nordic countries. The first NSCN seminar was organized at Aalto’s Otaniemi campus in Espoo, Finland 2013, gathering over 70 Nordic participants to share experiences, case examples and to meet each other. NSCN was additionally introduced to the international ‘sustainability in higher education’ -community through a presentation in the ISCN Conference 2014 at the University of Singapore.

Recent activities of NSCN – The Rio+20 project

In 2013 the core group of NSCN decided to apply for funding for a joint Nordic project concerning the implementation of UN Rio+20 targets in higher education institutions (United Nations 2012a). Besides the signed parties of NSCN, also KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Lappeenranta University of Technology joined the project, and the funding was granted by the Nordic Council of Ministers for 2014-2015. The project is coordinated by Aalto University.

The aim of the Rio+20 project is to follow up The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative for Rio+20 (United Nations 2012b), a declaration created in a side event of Rio+20 Conference, the World Summit on Sustainable Development – Universities, WSSD-U. The project targets to find out how the Nordic HEIs have integrated sustainable development into their activities, especially those 12 institutions that have signed the initiative. The more detailed targets of the project are to inventory the steering mechanisms directing sustainable development and the level of integration of sustainable development. Additionally the target is to inventory the enablers and obstacles affecting the implementation of sustainable actions, and to find out ways to overcome the obstacles.

The targets relate closely to the outcomes of Rio+20 Conference relating to higher education. In the Rio+20 Outcome document, The Future We Want, the effect of transparent and effective governance on the implementation of sustainable development principles in organizations is strongly emphasized (UN 2012a). Good management practices require adequate information on the implementation of sustainable development, and furthermore, change in attitudes and engagement of the management and decision makers to the goals of sustainable development. Therefore, by focusing on benchmarking and reforming the steering measures in all Nordic countries to more effectively support sustainability goals, Nordic HEIs have a full potential to work as examples of sustainable communities reflecting transparent and sustainable management practices.

In order to reach the goals of the project, a wide survey on steering mechanisms and sustainability was conducted in November 2014 in the Nordic HEIs. The survey reached 152 respondents in all Nordic countries. The results of the survey will serve all Nordic HEIs, but especially the institutions that responded the survey.

Joining forces with university administrations

NSCN has collaborated actively with NUAS from the very beginning, as it is the most central network for university administrations in the Nordic countries, though lacking an environmental/sustainability perspective until 2013. NSCN encouraged NUAS to include sustainability into their organization, and as a result, the working group ‘Buildings and Facilities’ was renamed ‘Facilities and Environment’ in 2013. NSCN collaborated with the working group in organizing their annual conferences at University of Oslo 2013 and at Helsinki and Aalto Universities 2014.

After two years of successful collaboration with NUAS Facilities and Environment and active discussions with NUAS board, NSCN was decided to form a new NUAS working group, NUAS Sustainability, from the beginning of 2015. Being a part of a comprehensive university network enables sustainability experts in the Nordic HEIs to reach the other fields in university administration easily, and hence, enables integrating sustainability perspective gradually into university activities as a whole.

Conclusions and next steps

Apart from proceeding well with the Rio+20 project targets, NSCN has created well-functioning platforms for sharing experiences and connections. Additionally, NSCN has strengthened sustainability perspective in NUAS and clarified the status of sustainable development in the Nordic HEIs in international contexts.

The active collaboration with the Nordic Council of Ministers has taken Nordic HEIs to an even wider international arena; the Rio+20 project was invited to be presented in the International Symposium on Northern Development in Quebec, Canada in February 2015 (Plan Nord 2014). The discussions are also going on concerning future projects. The main theme discussed with the Nordic Council of Ministers is Green Growth, which is a strategic framework launched by the Nordic prime ministers (Nordic Council of Ministers 2011). At Finnish level one of our targets is to support the society’s commitment to sustainable development 2050 -process (Ministry of the Environment 2013). It is evident, that we need to continue strengthening ESD and green campus activities in all Nordic HEIs and thus, also support the Rio+20 process and the UN Post-2015 agenda (United Nations 2012c). As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Ban 2007) put it: “We hold the future in our hands. Together, we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and let them suffer the consequences.”

More about the network: www.nordicsustainablecampusnetwork.wordpress.com


Meeri Karvinen, NSCN coordinator, Rio+20 project Manager, Aalto University, Finland, meeri.karvinen@aalto.fi

Meri Löyttyniemi, Chair of NUAS sustainability, Senior Advisor for Sustainability, Aalto University, Finland, meri.loyttyniemi@aalto.fi

Ban, K. 2007. Secretary-General’s address to a High-Level Event on Climate Change: The future in our hands, New York, 24 September 2007.

Haanpää, S. (ed.). 2011. Shortcuts to Sustainable Global Communities. Experiences from Nordic Climate Festival @Aalto. http://lib.tkk.fi/CROSSOVER/2011/isbn9789526044156.pdf

Ministry of the Environment. 2013. The Finland we want by 2050─ Society’s commitment to sustainable development (in English). Online: http://ym.fi/download/noname/%7BFE80DF3A-FEA3-4193-9FC2-F37B84D65CCE%7D/96164

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Plan Nord. 2014. The International Symposium on Northern Development 2015. http://plannord.gouv.qc.ca/en/symposium-en/

United Nations. 1972. Environment Programme: Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration). http://legal.un.org/avl/pdf/ha/dunche/dunche_e.pdf

United Nations. 2012a. The Future We Want, sections 233-235. Outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro 2012. Online: http://un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/66/288&referer=/english/&Lang=E

United Nations. 2012b. The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative for Rio+20. Online: http://uncsd2012.org/index.php?page=view&nr=341&type=12&menu=35

United Nations. 2012c. Report of the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Realizing the Future We Want for All. http://un.org/en/development/desa/policy/untaskteam_undf/report.shtml

WCED, World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. Report of the WCED (Brundtland report). Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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