Sustainability work at departments and units

Departments and units play an important role in the work to contribute towards the University’s climate and sustainability targets. Through the delegation arrangements, heads of department and unit managers have a responsibility to fulfil the assignments detailed in the Ordinance on environmental management in government agencies.

The Action Plan for Climate and Sustainability 2021–2023 contains targeted goals and overall activities for the University's environmental and sustainability work during the period 2021–2023, aiming at 2030.

The following goals are particularly suitable for departments and units to work with:

• Sustainable development is integrated into education at all levels.
• The University's research on sustainable development must increase.
• Knowledge of researchers and staff is utilised in outreach activities and in the university's environmental sustainability work.
• The number of procurements setting environmental and sustainability requirements must increase every year.
• University premises must be used more efficiently.
• Climate impact from travel must decrease.
• The use of web meetings must increase.
• The amount of combustible waste and hazardous waste must be reduced.

The Swedish Environmental Code sets out some general principles for all activities that can affect the environment and human health:

The burden of proof rule means that anyone who carries out or will carry out an activity must be able to prove that the general rules of consideration have been met.
The knowledge requirement means that anyone who carries out an activity must obtain the knowledge necessary in order to protect human health and the environment from harm or problems. They must also investigate the environmental consequences of a particular action in advance.
The precautionary principles encompass three different principles:

  1. The precautionary principle of the Environmental Code, which means that risks of negative environmental impact must be prevented.
  2. The polluter pays principle (PPP), which means that a polluter must pay for the necessary environmental measures.
  3. The best available technology (BAT) principle, which means that the best possible technology and design from an environmental point of view should be used if possible and reasonable.

The product selection principle means that chemical products and biotechnological organisms that may involve a risk to the environment or human health should be replaced by other, less dangerous products, if possible.
The conservation and ecocycle principle means that anyone who carries out an activity should:

  1. Conserve raw materials and energy.
  2. Take advantage of opportunities for reuse and recycling.
  3. Use renewable energy sources in the first instance.

The location principle means that the activity's location must be chosen to minimise the impact on the environment and human health.
The rule of reason means that a balance must be struck between environmental benefits and costs. Environmental requirements imposed on an activity must not be economically unreasonable. The stop rule comes into force if the costs of an environmentally justified measure are too high.
The rule that the operator is responsible for remedying damage means that the party who causes harm or inconvenience is obliged to remedy it.

Organisation and roles

The University Board makes the overall decisions on sustainability and environment, whereas the Vice-Chancellor is the ultimately responsible party for the university's environmental work.

The deans are responsible for the environmental work at their respective faculties

The head of department, manager or director is responsible for environmental management and other environmental initiatives at their respective departments, offices or equivalent. These individuals are also responsible for making sure the organisation works according to existing legislation and make sure that necessary permits are in place.

The environmental coordinator's task is to support the organisation in the environmental work, not least by supervising that central environmental targets are followed up and annually updated. The environmental coordinator is also the university's contact with other authorities in overall environmental issues.

Areas you can impact

Within certain areas departments and units can take on extra responsibility to influence and drive the transition and contribute to the university's set goals. 

Educating for sustainable development

Higher education plays an important role in terms of providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to address sustainable development issues in their future professional lives. In order to teach for and about sustainable development, teaching staff also need to be able to place their subject within a wider perspective.
You can find knowledge and inspiration on the Education for sustainable development page.

Research and collaboration for sustainable development

The Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI) is the result of a grassroots initiative involving a large number of teaching staff and researchers to support interdisciplinary research collaboration in the transformation towards sustainable development.

You can apply to UTRI for support to develop ideas and to arrange various events on the theme of sustainability. For example, this could involve organising a workshop, helping with a pilot study or arranging a writing space. Anyone working at Umeå University can apply for support to develop collaboration for a sustainable transition.

There is also the UTRI Young Researcher Network.

Sustainability is a recurring focus area within the University's five strategic partnerships. Via these strategic partnerships, researchers and teaching staff can find a clearer entry point for collaboration. For example:

• established contacts if you want help finding the right unit, function or individual within an organisation.
• support for relationship and network building over time.
• various joint activities. Take the opportunity to participate in anything from partnership days to seminars for exchanging knowledge, making new contacts or getting ideas for your research.

Umeå University participates in the Forum for Social Innovation Sweden, together with Jönköping University, Luleå University of Technology, Malmö University and Örebro University. The goal is to increase knowledge about social innovation and create a fertile breeding ground for solutions that can meet the challenges facing society.

Under the umbrella of SEE Sustainability Week, all of Västerbotten County's actors come together each year during week 38 to inspire, engage and share knowledge with each other. All departments, units, centres or other collaborative constellations can take part by organising their own events. You can find out more at SEE's website. (Only available in Swedish). 

Sustainable use of premises

The University's operations require appropriate premises. Together with property owners, the University works constantly to develop premises, make energy consumption more efficient and increase utilisation.
A four-step principle for sustainable use of premises:

  1. Reduce the need for space, for example by replacing physical offices with digital services.
  2. Intensify the use of space, for example by using spaces and functions at the same time or at different times (including spread throughout the day).
  3. Adapt, extend or rebuild premises or those spaces and functions in the surrounding area that can facilitate sharing.
  4. Build new buildings in a climate-smart and sustainable manner that facilitates a high degree of usage and also contributes towards reducing greenhouse gases.

    The use of premises is followed up in several of the main campus buildings. Here, under Target 9, you can find what the average degree of usage has been between 2019 and 2022. The data applies to most buildings on the main campus. 

    Find out more about premises planning and operational development.

Sustainable purchasing

Did you know that you can and should set environmental and other sustainability requirements in connection with purchasing and procurement? We currently set environmental requirements in around half of all procurements (see Target 5), so there is great potential here for all of us to act more sustainably.

A simple way is to choose to search only for ecolabelled/green alternatives in Raindance's Marknadsplatsen interface and when purchasing via Wisum.

When it comes to procurement, ask the Procurement Unit or the University's Environmental Coordinator which environmental and/or sustainability requirements are appropriate to set if you do not know yourself.

A number of general sustainability requirements are also being drawn up during 2023, so look out for them.

Sustainable meetings, travel and events

When organising or attending a meeting, think about whether you need to travel.

Today, more than a quarter of the University's emissions with an impact on the climate come from business travel (see Target 11). If we are to comply with the University's climate commitments, everyone needs to meet and travel in more climate-smart ways.

The University's Environmental Policy and the Rules for Business Travel state that those who work at the University should always seek out opportunities for travel-free meetings, and that if we travel, we should choose public transport in the first instance and then travel in the safest, most cost-effective and most environmentally friendly way possible.

Find out more about arranging digital or hybrid meetings.

Find out more about the rules for business travel and how you can book environmentally-friendly travel

Are you planning some kind of event or arrangement? The University's Communication Guide includes tips for making your event more sustainable. Find out more about sustainable events (in Swedish).

Sustainable waste management

Avoiding the use – and limiting the spread – of hazardous substances and conserving resources are important aspects of sustainable social development. Each year, the University's operations generate between 350,000 and 400,000 kg of waste. The aim is to sort as much reusable or recyclable waste as possible instead of sending it for incineration. Find out what proportion of our waste is currently sorted under Target 13. A waste sorting project is underway during 2023, with the goal that everyone at the University should be offered full waste sorting opportunities in break rooms, kitchen areas and operational premises.

As an employee of the University, you have a responsibility to sort your waste correctly. Find out more about how waste should be sorted.

The University's second-hand furniture store has furniture that you can use free of charge for offices or other operational premises.


Alexandra Haglund