Knowledge for Sustainable Development
Knowledge for Sustainable Development is an annual research conference, aimed at all researchers at Lund University who want to increase their knowledge about the challenges that lie ahead, learn how their research can contribute to change, and strengthen their contacts with researchers from other disciplines. The second conference was held on 2 May, 2022. Date for coming conference will be published later.
The Lund University Research Conference showcased the breadth of sustainability research across faculties, with presentations, matchmaking opportunities, creative workshops, and networking events. Taking place on 2 May 2022 at the Scandic Star Hotel in Lund, the annual day-long conference gathered researchers, students, and other stakeholders to learn about sustainability research. The focus of this year’s conference was Charting the Way Forward, which explored knowledge about our sustainability problems, potential solutions, and implementation pathways. Let’s explore some of this knowledge showcased at the conference.
Knowledge Integration for Systemic Change – Julia Leventon
Keynote speaker Julia Leventon – Professor in Sustainability Science at the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences – suggests that many may feel they are “listening to the science”, yet climate change and biodiversity loss continue to escalate. So, what is the disconnect? Governments and companies are making net-zero pledges, but Leventon suggests that the full scale of these problems, and thus the sense of urgency, is not translating between scientists and decision makers. In addition, easy solutions – often technological in nature – are preferred over more systemic solutions, which may be more difficult to implement. Thus, Leventon wonders if we have reached the physical and institutional limits of change in society. If this is the case, we must begin the hard work of transforming our social systems – the way we organise our societies.
Leventon suggests future research takes a systemic approach to understand how to create change in our societies, in addition to the problems and their solutions. A systemic approach applies systems thinking to understand the drivers that dictate how we currently do things, illuminating complexity, leverage points, and the importance of context. Some of this knowledge may be labelled “political” rather than “objective” – Leventon pushes back against this notion. Instead, Leventon warns that shying away from certain topics because they enter the political arena only reinforces the status quo. “What implications does this have on science?”, she asks. Leventon suggests we remain reflexive of the boundaries to knowledge that we create ourselves, as well as to be open to new ways of thinking and new ways of knowing.
‘Listen to the science’ – this mantra is said by activists, politicians, as well as researchers. However, this simple statement leads to more questions – What types of knowledge? Knowledge about what? Knowledge from where? These questions magnify issues of power, privilege, and politics, which must be reflected in how we conduct science and use scientific knowledge in society.
Knowledge for Food Insecurity – Elinn Leo Sandberg
There are a number of initiatives to redistribute excess food or food waste to those who are food insecure. Food insecurity describes those households that lack access to food that constitutes a healthy diet, because of a lack of financial resources or a lack of proximity to quality food sources. PhD Researcher Elinn Leo Sandberg – School of Social Work – is investigating these initiatives, which are framed as a sustainable innovation in order to address poverty, health, and hunger. However, Leo Sandberg suggests that these initiatives fail to address the underlying problem of food waste and poverty. Thus, knowledge that addresses food insecurity must balance easy solutions – which get food in the hands of people in need – and more systemic solutions – which may require more effort, but prove to be more sustainable over time.
Knowledge for Economic Injustice – Moa Petersén & Lena Halldenius
For many, the move away from cash is welcomed. Instead of cash, touchless transactions and smartphone apps are seen to be more convenient. And, Sweden has set the ambition to be the first cashless society. For most of us, this transition is natural and easy. However, research suggests that a cashless society will reinforce economic injustice among those living in poverty, or those unable to manage digital technologies because of learning disabilities or other reasons. Thus, exclusion of vulnerable populations is not solved by greater technological support or better apps. Rather, the use of cash is often a matter of necessity. Based on interviews and testimonials, researchers Moa Petersén – Department of Arts and Cultural Studies – and Lena Halldenius – Department of History – present knowledge to address economic injustice. For example, they say the move away from cash: 1) risks people being locked out of the formal economy; 2) risks cash becoming a local currency in parts of the formal economy; and 3) distributes greater power to commercial entities, rather than the state, that control digital payment tools (e.g. Swish, BankID, Klarna). Petersén and Halldenius suggest that knowledge – and the experiences of those impacted by economic exclusion – must guide future discourse and decision-making.
Knowledge for More Sustainable Research Practices – Iran Augusto Neves da Silva
Growing up in Brazil, PhD Researcher Iran Augusto Neves da Silva – Department of Experimental Medical Science – learned to creatively find solutions to problems based on available resources. Turns out, this experiential knowledge translates to the laboratory, too, where he is able to implement several solutions that are sustainable and save money. He showcased his pragmatic problem-solving approach during his presentation, with several examples of repurposing second-hand equipment to replace expensive lab equipment, for example, an electric water boiler traditionally used to heat tea and coffee. He also suggests replacing hazardous xylene with isopropanol in laboratory settings, a more sustainable option known for decades but not widely adopted. In addition, he recommends situational-thickness of gloves to reduce material use and timers to reduce electricity use. With so many good practices on display, he encourages others to think critically within their contexts to improve research practices and processes for sustainability.
Leading the Way
“We are living in an unsustainable world”, says Per Mickwitz, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Sustainability, and Campus Development. In his remarks, Mickwitz celebrated the breadth of sustainability research across all faculties at Lund University. But, he acknowledges that the University must take its role seriously to lead the transition to a more sustainable future. He suggests that systemic knowledge is needed about solutions, with a high likelihood of being useful for societal actors. Thus, he suggests the University needs to be better at working with different stakeholders, thus encouraging transdisciplinary research. The University is creating opportunities for faculties, departments, and researchers to initiate collaborative sustainability research, for example, the internal call for university-wide funding of interdisciplinary projects focusing on Agenda 2030 and sustainable development.
The conference highlighted the need to overcome fragmentation across research areas. As Leventon suggested, we need to better integrate knowledge for sustainable development in a systemic way that merges methods, tools, and knowledge to implement solutions. In addition, there was broad recognition that social science and humanities – as well as indigenous and cultural knowledge – are necessary in order to generate knowledge about how to implement sustainability solutions.
The annual conference is organised by the Research Board in collaboration with the Sustainability Forum at Lund University. A special thanks to Cerina Wittbom and her team, who oversaw the organisation of the Conference. And, of course, thanks to all of the presenters and participants who contributed to the discussions!
Summary by Steven Curtis, Postdoctoral Researcher, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University
About the conference
Lund University has arranged two official research conference on sustainable development. Focus is to discuss research and methods for action and progress for a sustainable development, and highlight obstacles and challenges to be overcome.
The conference is aimed at researchers associated with Lund University, as well as other researchers, stakeholders, and students who wish to join the discussions and share their views and learn more about research conducted at Lund University.
The conference is organised by the Lund University Research Board in collaboration with the Sustainability Forum at Lund University.
cerina [dot] wittbom [at] cec [dot] lu [dot] se