Putting sustainability in the calendar

​Chalmers vision for a sustainable future was what led me here. And almost immediately I got to participate in a global sustainability event hosted by the university! ​

Long before studying and even applying to Chalmers, I stumbled upon this beautiful statement from the university:

Chalmers – for a sustainable future is our vision. It defines our most important focus – a vibrant and dynamic vision of the future in which the fate of humanity is in the balance. Through this vision, we will seek to meet the need for ecological, social and economic sustainability in a committed, innovative and pioneering way. 

If you haven’t seen this before, I encourage you to visit the site: Chalmers- for a Sustainable Future. This vision, this commitment with the future, is what drives many of my own personal aspirations. And finding it at the heart of Chalmers’s agenda is what drove me to eagerly chase the opportunity of pursuing a master’s of Industrial Ecology here. Today I am very happy to be having this opportunity, and it’s as exciting as I expected. 

It goes without saying that I did not imagine a pandemic within the global landscape back then, and that beginning my studies and moving to Sweden during a pandemic has had a lot of challenges. But this surprising year has highlighted the fact that stirring towards sustainability should indeed be our most important focus: postponing it has been the breeding ground for the rising number of infectious diseases, and looking away from it is affecting our well-being already. The current challenges are thus a reminder of how relevant Chalmers’s quest is. A reminder that Sustainability must be a part of our calendars. To kick off, let’s talk about how great it was to participate in one of the events that Chalmers, literally, had in its calendar.

Looking at Chalmer’s calendar of events for the first time was a bit daunting for me. The long list of motivating and upcoming conferences, public lectures, seminars –a lot of which were focused around sustainable development–, made me wish I had a whole semester only to participate in all of them. It was surprising and encouraging to see that they were not stopped by the pandemic. Moreover, the fact that they were being held online had the advantage that they were easier for me to fit in the tight schedule of my studies. With this in mind, I made up my mind to participate in Beyond 2020: a 3-day conference marathon around sustainability in the built environment all around the world.

This edition of conference was organized by Chalmers, but it is part of the Sustainable Built Environment (SBE) conference series, running globally for 20 years now, and co-owned by four international organisations including UN Environment. I was happily surprised to discover the digital platform (Brella) that was used for the event: it structured perfectly the extensive agenda which included hundreds of speakers and presentations in parallel rooms. Another great feature of the event and its digital platform was that it included a functionality for participants to network according to our interests and expertise. In this way, over a thousand delegates across the world had a chance to interact and build a dialogue on how to shape sustainable cities and communities of the future.

The overarching goal of Beyond 2020, as stated by Holger Wallbaum —the leader of the event and professor of sustainable construction at Chalmers, was to provide a shared understanding among stakeholders of how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be operationalized in the built environment. Diving into the different sessions of the conference, I was able to appreciate great examples of this, which will be very useful for my future social housing projects in South America. 

Seven of the event’s sessions featured various projects from all around the world, discussing different ways in which Life Cycle Assessments are being applied, improved, and integrated with Building Information Modelling (BIM) to minimize environmental impacts. And one of the parallel sessions, titled The Swedish "fika" model - a way to sustainable innovation success, carried a powerful message around the importance of co-creation in a multidisciplinary and horizonal way (as opposed to the strong hierarchies and dialogue-scarce specialization that have paved the way for environmental and social crises). Furthermore, the panellists in this session illustrated their ideas with very down-to-earth and successful examples of projects in the Johanneberg Science Park. I was especially interested in one of these projects, the Positive Footprint housing​, which has the potential of serving as a tangible example of how the “impact minimization” paradigm in sustainability might be shifted to further improve the well-being of society and ecosystems. 

After one of the long days of the conference, I joined what I though was a formal evening networking session. But when I entered the zoom room, I was met by a background screen with Abba music playing as everyone was hanging out and sharing anecdotes and their experiences. The participants in the room were some of the event organizers and pioneers of sustainable construction in Europe, and they were very welcoming and friendly with me as well. I felt the room was a lively example of the “fika” model of experience sharing, of co-creation in a multidisciplinary and horizonal way. My experience in Beyond 2020 was a great reminder of the fact that friendly human relations are the breeding ground for all the knowledge necessary for sustainability. 

Author: David​

Page manager Published: Wed 27 Jan 2021.