Finding solutions for more sustainable higher education in Tampere
Working together for a sustainable world is a fundamental goal of Tampere Universities, and sustainability is already present in their operations in many ways. However, major challenges that are common to all higher education institutions still remain to be addressed: the carbon footprint of campuses, accessibility, academic travel, and inclusiveness are some of the major issues that the sector is currently facing.
On 3–4 November, the national UNIFI & Arene Seminar for Sustainability and Responsibility brings nearly 200 people to discuss the best ways and solutions to drive sustainability forward in higher education institutions. This annual, rotating event is now in its third year, and in Tampere, people from universities of applied sciences have been officially involved for the first time. Participants include university specialists working on sustainable development, but also researchers, teachers, and students.
“I believe that an event like this will foster a sense of collaboration and common purpose around an important issue. There may often be a certain rivalry between universities, but in sustainable development and responsibility issues this is notably absent. We all share the common desire to move forward, and thus we genuinely try to learn from each other and be open about our practices,” says Matias Nurminen, Senior Specialist on Sustainable Development and Innovation Culture.
Tampere Universities want to make their sustainability work more prominent
In terms of sustainability, Tampere Universities have been recently focusing on such areas as equality and campus development. The Universities strive to be carbon neutral by 2030, and language-related inclusiveness has also been on the agenda. Yet, what easily remains hidden are the sustainability efforts made within the community.
“We have a great deal of amazing teaching and research that focuses on sustainable development, and many grassroots initiatives as well. You could say that in many ways we are currently at a building phase: we are looking for ways to highlight everything that is going on, and at the same time, we are also trying to build a system where all of this can flourish and expand,” Nurminen explains.
“While the focus is often on the carbon footprint, we also want to highlight our carbon handprint. This way, our organisation can set an example for others and also spread good practices, for example through partnerships.”
In recent years, Tampere Universities have started sustainability reporting that emphasises concrete actions instead of numbers. A community-based sustainable development network was set up last year, and a sustainable development steering group is also being established. One goal for the remainder of 2022 is to publish a roadmap for sustainable development which summarises the main steps needed to achieve the goal of sustainability.
While much remains to be done, Nurminen says that higher education institutions are also fortunate in that they have large potential to make a difference.
“If every student in the community could be brought to see how they can implement sustainable and responsible practices in their field, we would already make a huge impact. Different fields are in slightly different phases in this respect, and our aim is to establish clearer objectives and practices,” Nurminen says.
The seminar discusses the role of higher education in sustainability promotion
As the organiser of the UNIFI & Arene Seminar for Sustainability and Responsibility, Tampere Universities want to bring more societal sustainability issues into discussion. One example of this is a workshop on addressing war anxieties in university communities, organised by TAPRI’s researchers.
“Some of the other highlights of the event include a workshop on sustainability leadership, involving management from all Finnish universities, and an Activism Morning where two young, famous activists get to share their perspectives,” Nurminen says.
This year’s event also asks whether higher education institutions are taking enough of a role in sustainability. According to Nurminen, universities should carry even more responsibility and be more active in putting their views forward.
“In the higher education sector, there has perhaps been something of a habit of waiting for someone to ask us what we think. But as we have the knowledge and expertise, we could make more use of it without having be asked first. I hope that we will dare to take more of a stand and even make demands on how things should be done,” Nurminen says.
He also points out that the best way to build a sustainable university is for everyone in the community to seek for better ways for doing things.
“The best ideas do not necessarily come from having a sustainability specialist sitting here and thinking. They may come from the coffee room, for instance, when someone realises that something should be done in a different way. It would be good if we dared to discuss more and throw around ideas about what we could do,” Nurminen concludes.
Senior Specialist Matias Nurminen
matias.nurminen [at] tuni.fi
+358 50 318 2397
Photo: Jonne Renvall