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New research centre, SustainLab, to be an arena for sustainability research

With more than half a century of research behind us, there is certainty about what needs to be done to achieve a sustainable society. However, creating change is difficult, and research doesn’t always reach a wider audience. SustainLab aims to build bridges between research, policy, civil society and business, allowing collaboration on the challenges facing our planet.

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“What we often find is that research exists in its own sphere, politicians in another and business in yet another. And all of us are said to live in our own bubbles, with likeminded people. Despite this, what we know about sustainability is that we only have one world, and if it is to be sustainable we must all work together,” says Tomas Kjellqvist, doctor of technoscientific studies and researcher at Södertörn University.

“By focusing on a lab environment that encourages innovation, new meetings and knowledge exchange, Södertörn University wants to further strengthen its sustainability research. A lab environment was not chosen by chance, as it is something of an international trend and often entails close cooperation with the surrounding community or other on-campus actors,” says Michael Gilek, professor of environmental science.

A hub for work on sustainability

Environmental problems and sustainability are difficult issues. They require societal change, both politically and in the economics of how we live our lives. SustainLab wants to become a hub for a shared path towards sustainability – a place where people work together to find solutions, discuss ideas and suggestions, and find ways to move forward. Equally, it is also about inviting others into the world of research.

“People with ideas about sustainability can make researchers aware of problems and complications that those of us in academia have no idea about, redirecting our teaching and research towards issues that are important to them,” says Michael Gilek.

Students will be an important part of SustainLab’s activities, giving them the opportunity to make space and integrate involvement in sustainability issues with their education, or to come into contact with future employers or organisations that interest them.

“Thanks to our local engagement, both on campus and in the community, there is exceptional potential for students to join in and actively participate. The campus is an excellent lab environment, as it reflects the functions found in society. This includes the single-use items in restaurants, administration and paper consumption, power provision and much more. Much of the idea of a lab can be actualised by being on campus,” says Tomas Kjellqvist.

Strong field of research

Research on sustainability issues is already an important interdisciplinary field at Södertörn University, not least because of its research in environmental science. Researchers have established national and international networks that will contribute to the breadth of activities at the new research centre. However, the two researchers and founders are aware of the challenges they face.

“Cooperation is not always easy, particularly when the people who must work together on solving a problem come from different backgrounds and traditions. We have different ways of thinking, we don’t value things in the same way, our ways of interpreting problems and their causes may differ. At SustainLab, we believe that one of our most important tasks is to find viable methods that allow cooperation between researchers, businesses, public authorities and ideological interest groups,” says Michael Gilek.


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