A climate work that unites

plus Maria Djupström

Collaboration is required to find solutions for the climate. But how do you gather different groups and agree on a way forward in such a difficult question? Swedish universities have succeeded. Could more countries follow? The Climate Framework for higher education institutions is now an SDSN Northern Europe Solution Initiative.

Around the world, there are many different actors who want to change their operations and fight climate change. However, it is not always that simple and that is why we want to tell the story of how 37 Swedish higher education institutions (HEI) have managed to unite in a framework for the climate.

The person who leads us in the story is Maria Djupström. She is a sustainability strategist at Chalmers University of Technology and is one of the people behind the development of the so-called Climate Framework.

Read more: Climate Framework for higher education institutions – an SDSN Northern Europe Solution Initiative

Maria Djupström says that the journey originally started in 2012 with the European directive on energy efficiency, which Chalmers had to follow because it is a registered company.

– Chalmers developed its first energy strategy with various measures for energy efficiency and its own electricity production, such as the installation of solar cells that I worked on.

A short time later, the Swedish government started the Fossil Free Sweden initiative ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

– I wanted Chalmers to support the initiative, as the first educational institution and one of the first stakeholders at all. Chalmers management took it seriously and asked its institutions “dare we do this; can we stand for this?”. Finally came the decision from the Rector Stefan Bengtsson saying that “yes, we sign”.

The West Swedish initiative Climate 2030 – Västra Götaland in transition was also signed and the journey continued. The work went on to develop roadmaps linked to Fossil Free Sweden. At the same time, discussions were underway in Chalmers’ management group on what would become Chalmers’ next step to improve energy efficiency. For example, air travel was up on the agenda as the university’s single greatest climate impact comes from air travel.

Then something happened that became of great importance. On October 28 in 2018, a debate article was published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter where a group of researchers challenged the universities’ climate work. Maria contacted Stefan Bengtsson and suggested to write a post about Chalmers’ perspective in response to the article. But Stefan said no. Instead, he wanted to do something even better. It became the starting point for what we today call the Climate Framework.

– In December 2018, the management informed me that Chalmers had shaken hands with the management of KTH Royal Institute of Technology to push the climate issue forward. A working group was formed with Fredrik Hörstedt and me from Chalmers and Göran Finnveden and Kristina von Oelreich from KTH.

In the spring of 2019, the group worked out a draft climate framework with the aim of presenting it at the upcoming spring meeting of MLUH, which is a Swedish network for environmental management in universities and colleges.

– A few weeks before the meeting, we sent out an embryo to the climate framework to all educational institutions in the network for consultation. We wanted their help to refine the content. The response was very positive, and we received a lot of input from several people. The framework was also discussed during the meeting itself and was updated as a result.

As the next step, Maria involved researchers from Chalmers to ensure that the content was supported by the latest research findings. The reviewed version became the first edition of the Climate Framework which was sent out for endorsement to all rectors at Swedish HEIs.

Today, 37 universities and colleges have signed the Climate Framework. The framework itself consists of a main document and a guide. In the main document, the signatory undertakes to set up and implement climate strategies with the aim of contributing to both national and international commitments to reach the 1.5-degree target. With the help of the guidance document, the HEIs can select areas where they set goals and implement measures based on their own conditions.

Now the climate framework is in place – but the job does not end here. So, what happens next? MLUH has been given responsibility for the operational monitoring of the climate framework, but Maria is also planning a unique workshop this spring, specifically for those who have signed the framework.

– The idea is to meet and work together on our respective climate strategies. In the area of ​​sustainability in general, but especially in the climate issue, I believe that collaboration is essential. If someone has a key to good climate work, they should share it with others.

At Chalmers, work continues as the climate strategy is being developed. The work started in August 2019 and is expected to be completed in May 2020. Eight working groups have been formed to develop the strategy.

– We have chosen to work bottom-up. Of course, some work is done at the top of the organisation, but most of it is done with the help of different parts of the organisation. The working groups consist of representatives from, for example, procurement, property owners, payroll services, HR and of course also researchers.

Maria has also arranged an internal climate meeting at Chalmers, which gathered over 50 researchers in the field of climate and all employees have had to fill out a climate survey. In addition, Maria has been assisted by the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development to make assessments of how the proposed measures impact all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, not just goal 13 related to the climate. Together, all of this contributes to the development of the strategy. Now the content will be anchored within the organisation once again, Maria will head out on a road show as she calls it.

– I will visit ten different groups at Chalmers that include departments, areas of advance, the Faculty Council and undergraduate education to present the climate strategy and show how their respective unit responded to the survey. There is some variation in how they have responded to what they think is most important in the climate area. We will also discuss the consequences of implementing the strategy. I think many people expect that there will be bans and restrictions – but I think they will be pleasantly surprised.

Clearly, serious climate work requires a lot of work.

– Honestly, it was more work than I thought. It’s not just writing something on a piece of paper. Everything must be anchored. “Is it okay? Is everyone willing to implement it all?” But, if we are to succeed, everyone must stand behind the decision.

Regarding the anchoring issue, Maria wants to emphasize the importance of showing respect for that the individual researcher’s everyday life is already filled to the brim with activities. It is also important to be humble to the task of changing the individual’s behaviour. It makes it easier when research funding agencies such as Formas and Vinnova really embrace Agenda 2030 and the climate issue.

In addition to the climate framework being anchored within Chalmers, it has also been raised to SUHF, which is the rector’s arena for collaboration in higher education issues, for a joint strategic work.

In connection with the climate strategy work, Chalmers has put together a sustainability steering group that includes both business support, researchers and management. There is also a main reference group with people who research on climate issues at a more strategic and global level.

In conclusion, Maria would like to emphasize that many people have put a lot of time and commitment into this work and everyone needs to be recognized.

– Without their time and dedication, it would not have even been half as good. There is a risk that it would have become empty words. Therefore, I want to thank all of you who have contributed!

SDSN Northern Europe has chosen to highlight the Climate Framework as a so-called “Solution Initiative” to inspire more universities and colleges around the world to work strategically on the climate issue.

The working group that has led the development of the climate framework includes:

Maria Djupström, Sustainability Strategist Chalmers
Fredrik Hörstedt, Vice President of Utilization Chalmers
Göran Finnveden, Vice President of Sustainability KTH
Kristina von Oelreich, Sustainability Manager KTH



Read more about the Climate Framework as a Solution Initiative.
Read more about Fossil Free Sweden on their website.
Read more about the Paris 2015 Climate Change Conference on Wikipedia.
Read the debate article “Universities must start the climate change themselves” on Dagens Nyheter’s website (behind paywall, in Swedish).
Try the free SDG Impact Assessment Tool.

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