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iiiee – energy and passion for a sustainable future!

How do you get from words to actions in sustainability work? This was the theme permeating the sustainability conference held by the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics in Lund, iiiee, to mark its 20th anniversary. The conference was a two-day gathering of former students – many of them now outstanding sustainability experts working all over the world.
Lunds universitet

Lena Neij, director of iiiee, emphasised that it is not only a question of working with problems but above all with solutions. It is no longer about why we need to act, but rather how, and what must be done.

“In order to tackle the challenges, we have to work internationally. We learn an incredible amount from our students. They are our link to wider society”.

The courage to collaborate and innovate

The team spirit which develops among the students while they are at iiiee forms the basis for continued close collaboration after graduation. One of the students who studied at iiiee fifteen years ago is now Sweden’s assistant head negotiator in international climate negotiations – Johanna Lissinger:

“We had different backgrounds and professions, and came from different countries – but we had a common goal. At iiiee we learnt to understand the challenges facing other countries and to find a way forward together.”

This will stand her in good stead in the climate negotiations coming up in Paris later on this autumn.

“195 countries are to come to an agreement. This is a major challenge but I am optimistic and positive”, says Johanna Lissinger. “We see a political will to reach agreement. At the same time, it could be hard to get all the way to the 2-degree goal in Paris. The journey starts in Paris; the countries then need to raise their ambitions gradually”.

Another participant at the iiiee conference was Lena Pripp-Kovac, who is global head of sustainability for IKEA. She is also an alumna from one of the first groups to study at the institute almost twenty years ago.

“We believe that we need to move towards a more fossil-free society. Achieving this requires both political commitment and engaged companies which want to invest in the future. It is not only a question of understanding the challenges but also of taking action. We need strong leaders with in-depth knowledge of materials issues, human rights and climate issues. We need to work together – IKEA has many activities in poorer countries as well”.

Developing activities with the help of students

The courage to act was something which often came up during the two days of the conference. And the courage to think in innovative ways. Here, iiiee is still a support, according to Wouter de Gier, who is currently environmental manager for APM Terminals’ Asian ports.

“After my study programme here seventeen years ago, I was full of energy and passion to solve the world’s environmental problems. The links to the Institute are still there today and provide us with opportunities to critically reflect on what we are doing”, says Wouter de Gier. “For example, I have welcomed students who have conducted environmental reviews in some of our ports. This develops our organisation”.

Rosman Jahja agrees. He has a degree from the first intake group of students from twenty years ago and is currently responsible for Trelleborg’s sustainability communication.

“Students help us by providing qualified feedback on our sustainability reporting, for example. It is a win-win situation for both the students and the company”.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Yvo de Boer, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul, an international organisation working to promote green economic growth.

“My experience is that companies, public authorities and cities have taken the message to heart about the importance of acting now to achieve sustainable development. But few of them know what concrete measures to take. Many countries still have major problems with poverty. Here I think that universities and other educational institutions are of great significance in understanding how to successfully combine economic growth and environmental considerations”.

Education for a sustainable future

Yvo de Boer also raised the notion that 2015 is a significant year for a sustainable future. Besides the climate talks in Paris, the UN is to decide on global Sustainable Development Goals, a condition for the eight millenial goals for a better world.

“The Goals” a iiiee-project mentioned at the conference and connected to education and the global sustainabililty goals. It is a continuation of the iiiee online course “Young Masters Programme on Sustainable Development” for upper secondary school classes all over the world, which has so far attracted 50 000 participants. UNESCO has declared the course to be one of the world’s best educational initiatives for sustainable development.

Many of the participants at the conference agreed that training future leaders in sustainable development in various ways is crucial for the future, as is using new technology. Several of the seminars at the conference were on precisely this theme, for example how to attract people to more sustainable behaviour.

A holistic view and steps in the right direction

When the sustainability professionals at the conference looked 20 years into the future, several of them noted that, previously, much of the work in companies was dedicated to producing policies and environmental management systems.

“Now we have moved on and have a more holistic view of how to work with sustainable development”, said Anna Broekman. She is also a former iiiee student, now a sustainability consultant with extensive experience in the food industry.

Elisabeth Munck af Rosenschöld, who is Global Sustainability and Business Improvement Manager at Strålfors and one of the first Master’s graduates in 1995, spoke about how the focus of sustainability work in companies has shifted slightly.

“We need people who can see the whole picture and, at the same time, break it down into smaller, manageable projects. Whatever you are working with, you need to find the right direction and move forward step by step”.

Text: Nina Nordh, Lund University Sustainability Forum

3 September 2015

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