Aalto establishes a Sustainability Hub to address the challenges of sustainable development

Aalto University has ambitious goals to promote sustainable development and responsibility. The aim of the new Sustainability Hub is to address diverse societal challenges by increasing dialogue between different scientific fields and social actors.

“Aalto conducts a vast amount of high-quality research on sustainable development in the fields of technology, business and arts. Societal challenges, such as climate change and scarcity of natural resources, are so complex and large that they cannot be addressed without a multidisciplinary approach,” says professor Minna Halme, who has been appointed the director of the Sustainability Hub. “Our aim is to cooperate with companies and society to increase understanding of the solutions that are needed to build a sustainable future.”

One of the aims supported by the Hub is integration of sustainability with the university curriculum by 2020. Aalto has, for example, piloted a Sustainability Game Changers course that explains the challenges of a global society to the students using a multidisciplinary approach and reflects on how to address them. “During the course, the students receive tools for changing the world by themselves – with their own skills, activism and agency,” says the course leader Katri Pulkkinen.

The campus as a test laboratory

Another rare opportunity is presented by the growing and changing main campus in Otaniemi. Aalto's sustainability research and teaching can be utilised in its development – and vice versa. The campus can act as a “living laboratory” where new research innovations are tested and demonstrated.

“In Otaniemi, we can make the future today. For example, we are examining the possibility to utilise the water technology laboratory's knowledge and equipment on phosphorus recovery by having urine-separating toilets in the campus restaurants. Circular economy requires open-minded solutions, and many disciplines have a lot to offer for their introduction,” says professor Mikko Jalas, director of the Creative Sustainability programme at Aalto University.

The design of a changing campus includes investing in energy efficiency, which is an important step in the goal towards an energy self-sufficient Otaniemi. The use of ground heat and solar energy in the buildings is continuously increased. For example, geothermal energy accounts for about 45% of the energy used for heating the recently renovated new main building, Dipoli, and up to 90% of the Väre building, which will be finished next year.

“There is an acute need for new solutions for sustainable development. In order to create them, scientists and practitioners should join forces already at the research and development phase. That's where the Sustainability Hub can help: it can support cooperation, not only across disciplines but also across societal sectors and stakeholders,” summarises Minna Halme.

More information:

Minna Halme
Professor, Sustainability Management
Aalto University