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SmartClean – Sustainable transformation through science–business collaboration?

How can the research community and businesses pool their efforts for the good of a sustainable society?



The transition towards a sustainable society requires new types of solutions and collaboration that challenge traditional operating models. What can the scientific community and businesses do together to help achieve sustainability goals in the Helsinki capital region? In mid-January, Sitra, Future Earth Finland and the Helsinki University Centre for Environment HENVI invited researchers and businesses to discuss this issue. Renowned futurologist, Jørgen Randers acted as a sounding board for the discussion.

The economic, social and ecological balance of societies is being shaken up by the major challenges of our time. Problems arising from climate change, population growth, the depletion of natural resources and other major challenges are coming to a head in our cities. Air quality and transport infrastructure problems are affecting our cities, which also hold the key to resolving such challenges. Therefore, cities are on a mission to develop new approaches to fostering sustainability.

The Helsinki capital region is developing into an internationally attractive reference area for ecologically sustainable and smart solutions. In the Smart & Clean partnership project, Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa are seeking new technological solutions and approaches for generating new business and jobs in the region.

The issues surrounding sustainable development are complex and solving them will require collaboration and expertise from a range of players. The Smart & Clean partnership project is a joint effort among Finnish cities, businesses and the state. The scientific community is also interested in transdisciplinary collaboration with scientists and societal stakeholders. Future Earth Finland and the Helsinki Sustainability Science Center, which is currently being established at the University of Helsinki under HENVI’s co-ordination, collaborate to design their operations and research activities with various academic disciplines and societal stakeholders. The aim of the collaboration is to co-create solutions-oriented knowledge that benefits both the scientific community and society.

This new collaborative approach was put into practice at a workshop organised by the Smart & Clean partnership project, Future Earth Finland and HENVI on 14 January 2016. The workshop brought researchers from various fields of the natural and social sciences together with businesses and city representatives to discuss science–business collaboration as a means of promoting sustainable change in the Helsinki capital region.

Internationally recognised futurologist Jørgen Randers of the Norwegian Business School acted as a sounding board at the workshop. When seeking sustainable solutions for the future, Randers emphasised, we should determine the short-term benefits to city residents. Accordingly, engagement of these residents as consumers and citizens became a key theme underlying participants’ suggestions on how to remove bottlenecks in transport, construction, urban planning and consumer cleantech.

The need to strengthen collaboration between the research community and the rest of society was a key topic throughout the day. Researchers were invited to join the pilot projects and product development activities of businesses. Participants emphasised that research also has the important task of showing what kinds of ecological and social benefits – in addition to economic growth – sustainable solutions can provide for society.

The workshop produced plenty of ideas on how to develop the Smart & Clean partnership project and the Helsinki Sustainability Science Center. The aim is to continue the collaboration between cities, businesses and the research community in the future.

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