This new blog Voices of Sustainability is an excellent idea! The blog provides a needed platform for researchers and students to discuss sustainability and share their insights with a larger audience. The blog has been built in collaboration between students of the Master’s Programme in Environmental Change & Global Sustainability and HELSUS. Many thanks to all of you for creating a timely and useful blog for making sustainability science more approachable and visible in the society.

Sustainability science emerged in the early 21st century to study (and ultimately solve) the wicked problems of our time. Sustainability science can be defined as problem-oriented and system-driven interdisciplinary scholarship that seeks to foster transformations in the society towards sustainability, i.e. shared prosperity and reduced poverty while protecting the environment. It is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it involves.

As the largest and most multidisciplinary university in Finland, the University of Helsinki is in an excellent position to promote research in sustainability and its applications in the society.

In response to the need of universities to take a more significant role in finding pathways towards sustainability transformations in the society, the University of Helsinki established Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) in January 2018.

HELSUS is a unique unit within the University as it includes seven of its eleven faculties. The HELSUS faculties cover a wide range of disciplines from natural sciences to social sciences and humanities. This multidisciplinarity provides HELSUS an excellent opportunity to promote sustainability science and its applications in the society. The University has invested considerably in HELSUS, for instance, by employing 11 new professors and over 10 post docs in the field. Together with existing researchers at the University, the new recruits form a network of several hundred sustainability scholars.

HELSUS has started its activities with impressive energy. Researchers are involved in prominent projects and are actively engaged in teaching. Various kinds of events bring together researchers and societal actors to promote sustainability. For instance, last year HELSUS organized Policy Dialogues, which focused on discussing and reviewing indicators of Finland’s progress towards achieving the UN Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals.

What next? HELSUS is up and running, and there is wide support within the university for HELSUS. It seems that the next step for HELSUS – according to its own vision – is to strengthen its position as an internationally recognized centre. HELSUS is in a good position to become such a unit, as it involves bright minds with all the needed energy to reach the international landscape.

In addition to international collaboration, national collaboration among universities in matters of sustainability is important. HELSUS already has good collaboration with Aalto University’s Sustainability Hub. For instance, the two units jointly organized this year’s Sustainability Science Days in early May. Collaboration with other universities in Finland is enhanced by Universities Finland (UNIFI, an organization including all the universities in Finland) coordinating the sustainability work among Finnish universities.

The next step for the University of Helsinki is to improve the sustainability and responsibility of its own operations. We have established a working group for this purpose. HELSUS is represented in this group, and the role of HELSUS is very important in providing expertise in sustainability in order to make sure that the University acts according to its teachings, ‘walks the talk’. Furthermore, promotion of sustainability and responsibility will be included in the new strategy of the University which is currently being drafted.

In conclusion, sustainability science is increasing in importance both as regards scholarly activities and societal impact. We need a solid scientific basis for societal decisions towards a more sustainable and responsible world. HELSUS will make an important contribution here. Thus, sustainability science is here to stay and grow in importance.

Jari Niemelä

Jari Niemelä is the Rector of the University of Helsinki, Professor of Urban Ecology and former Director of HELSUS.

Photo by: Veikko Somerpuro

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  1. Great insight and crystallisation. Walking the talk is the way to go.

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