What does sustainability mean for Umeå University?

Working with sustainability issues and the goals of the 2030 Agenda can be difficult, as the scope is broad and can cover almost everything. Conflicts between different sustainability goals can make it even more complex. On this page, we try to describe what sustainable development can mean for Umeå University.

The University's sustainability work

The overall goal of the University's sustainability work, as stated in the University's vision, is to contribute to a sustainable future and to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. An additional goal is to achieve a sustainable working life.

The sustainability ambitions are given concrete form in several policies and other governance documents, most notably the Environmental Policy, the Action Plan for Climate and Sustainability, and the Work Environment and Equal Opportunities Policy. Sustainable development is also a pervasive perspective in the Quality System for Education and in the Policy for Quality Assurance and Enhancement of Research at Umeå University. Sustainability aspects are also incorporated into other governance documents, such as the purchasing policy and rules for business travel. The Investment Policy and the Ownership Directive for Uminova Holding also contain relevant governance, as does the Property Management Plan.

The concept of sustainable development

In 1987, the UN Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development in the report "Our common future" as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The concept is based on human needs and includes a long-term perspective in the form of "future generations". It also includes an equity perspective, as all people throughout the world are included in the definition.

At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the meaning of the concept was clarified, and the three dimensions – social, economic and ecological – were incorporated in all contexts.

Due to the time perspective and the fact that it includes three dimensions, the concept can be perceived as complex. Moreover, the results of sustainability work are often not seen immediately; they come in the future. This contributes to the concept being perceived as abstract.

Social sustainability

A socially sustainable society can be described as an equal and equitable society in which people live a good life in good health, without unjust differences. People's equal value is central, requiring people to trust and rely on each other and to participate in societal development. Human rights and a sense of belonging are some of the key elements.

Social sustainability and democracy go hand in hand. Social sustainability is also necessary from a socioeconomic perspective. Socially sustainable societies are robust. Equal opportunities and equality are important, with inclusion regardless of gender, education and income level, social status, ethnicity, religion or other beliefs, place of residence, sexual orientation, transgender identity and expression, age and disability.

The University's work with factors such as physical and psychosocial work environment, fair working conditions and trade union collaboration, equal opportunities, gender equality and diversity, as well as Healthy Campus, promote a sustainable student life and working life for the students and staff of the University.

Economic sustainability

There are several definitions of economic sustainability. It is often referred to as "sustainable growth" and described as growth not standing in the way of ecological and social sustainability.

In recent years, the term "circular economy" has become more common. It implies that economic systems are based on renewable resources or resources that can be recycled and reused again and again, combined with the use of renewable energy and fuels.

The University's Investment Policy and the Ownership Directive for our holding company include sustainability requirements. The University also has an anti-bribery and anti-corruption policy, which is a form of governance for economic sustainability.

Ecological or environmental sustainability

Ecological or environmental sustainability is about conserving natural resources without damaging the potential of natural systems to ensure that societies and people have access to natural resources and ecosystem services in the long term.

The planetary boundaries are nine so-called "environmental processes" that need to be stable for life on Earth. If we step outside these "boundaries", sudden negative changes are likely to occur. Through human activities, our increasing consumption and demand for energy and natural resources, several of the planetary boundaries are at risk of being exceeded, thereby threatening our future survival. Read more about the planetary boundaries.

At the University, work on environmental sustainability aspects focuses on the aspects for which we as a higher education institution can make the greatest difference. In addition to the core activities that can make a major positive difference, the University has a major environmental impact from business travel, energy use, waste management, chemical use and the purchase of IT and electronics. Here, the Environmental Policy and the 13 targeted goals in the Action Plan for Climate and Sustainability form the basis of our work.

The 2030 Agenda

Today, sustainable development is embodied in the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets. All 17 SDGs include perspectives of equity, sustainability and social, economic and environmental aspects.

Different countries have different needs and opportunities to work with the 17 SDGs. In order for all the countries of the world to succeed, collaboration and global partnerships are needed.

In Sweden, the climate goals of the Paris Agreement are often mentioned as particularly important in the context of sustainability. It has a bearing on SDG 13 Climate Action. Other SDGs are also prioritised for work in Sweden. One example is SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, where Swedish consumption has a large negative environmental and climate footprint. SDG 15 Life on Land, which relates to ecosystems and biodiversity, is another important goal to work on in Sweden. The SDGs can take different forms in different countries. For example, in Sweden SDG 2 Zero Hunger relates more to the opposite of hunger, namely the problems resulting from poor diets and overweight and obesity, and the prevention of these.

Under each SDG below, there is a brief description of the aim of the goal and examples of what it can mean for Umeå University. A more detailed description can be found in the University's sustainability report.

SDG 1 No Poverty

This goal aims to ensure that all people have the same right to a dignified and secure life with freedom, influence, health, physical safety and access to education. Its focus is on eradicating poverty in all its forms, not just economic poverty. For Umeå University, the goal means, among other things, that all students, regardless of background, shall be given the same opportunities to study here.

SDG 2 Zero Hunger

This goal aims to provide sufficient and nutritious food for all. The goal also focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture through new technology and a fair distribution of resources. For Umeå University, the goal means, among other things, collaborating on new methods for producing food.

SDG 3 Good Health and Well-Being

This goal aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for everyone at all ages. Umeå University conducts education and research linked to this goal. For the University, the work also entails striving to ensure that staff and students have a sustainable working life and student life.

SDG 4 Quality Education

This goal aims to ensure inclusive and equal education of good quality and to promote lifelong learning for all. For Umeå University, the goal involves teaching knowledge about sustainable development, developing key competences and using educational approaches that are compatible with the values behind sustainable development.

SDG 5 Gender Equality

This goal aims to achieve equality between women and men, as it is a prerequisite for sustainable and peaceful development. The goal also relates to a fair distribution of power, influence and resources. Achieving gender equality is also something that runs like a common thread through the University's activities. The ambition is for the University to be characterised by an inclusive culture with gender equality, diversity and equal opportunities.

SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation

This goal aims to ensure access to, and sustainable management of, water and sanitation for all. More precisely, it is about reducing pollution in water and significantly increasing wastewater treatment globally. In Sweden, the work focuses more on not polluting water and protecting, preserving and restoring watercourses to their original form. For Umeå University, the goal includes research and dissemination of knowledge about the status of aquatic environments and changes over time.

SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy

This goal aims to ensure that everyone has access to reliable, sustainable and affordable energy that does not harm the planet. In 2022, the issue of energy, electricity consumption and electricity costs was a major focus in Sweden and the rest of Europe, thus also the University.

SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth

This goal aims to create safe and decent working conditions for all. It includes lasting, inclusive and sustainable economic growth. For Umeå University, the work involves conducting education and research that can promote sustainable economic growth.

SDG 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

This goal aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation. For the University, this can mean being a driver of growth and providing society with a well-educated labour force, as well as generating knowledge for the benefit of society.

SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities

This goal aims to reduce inequality, and to ensure that everyone has the same rights and opportunities and that no one is marginalised. The University's equal opportunities work is based on the seven grounds for discrimination: gender, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, and age.

SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities

This goal aims to ensure that cities and communities, including their buildings and infrastructures, are sustainable, where the rapid and large influx of people into cities places demands that need to be met in an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable manner. At Umeå University, this is translated into collaboration that can contribute to the development of sustainable cities and urban districts.

SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production

This goal aims to promote a transition to sustainable consumption and production. It includes environmental, social and economic aspects needed to change these patterns. At Umeå University, this is implemented in education and research on resource management and sustainable consumption patterns, as well as in research on water, soil and air pollution.

SDG 13 Climate Action

This goal aims to combat climate change and increase capacity for climate change adaptation. The University conducts education and research related to climate change in all faculties. The University's environmental and sustainability work is based on what is known as the Climate Framework for Higher Education Institutions, through which virtually all higher education institutions in the country have undertaken to work in line with the intentions of the Paris Agreement.

SDG 14 Life Below Water

This goal aims to preserve and protect the oceans and seas, and to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources. Umeå University can contribute to this goal through knowledge, research and technology that contribute to healthier oceans and seas.

SDG 15 Life on Land

This goal aims to protect and restore ecosystems and halt the loss of biodiversity. It also aims to promote the sustainable use of land-based ecosystems and the sustainable management of forests. At the University, work towards this goal is concretised in research and education on forest ecosystems.

SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

This goal aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies and to ensure that accountable and just institutions are built at all levels in all countries. Human rights are a central issue, and governance shall be free from conflict, corruption and violence. At the University, work towards this goal means, among other things, that academic freedom, autonomy and student influence are vital factors.

SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals

Implementation of the SDGs requires global solidarity, capacity development and mobilisation of economic resources to ensure that no country or group is left behind. This goal supports implementation of the entire 2030 Agenda. Exchange of knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources are important components for achieving the goals of the Agenda, and Umeå University can contribute to its implementation through education, research and dissemination of knowledge about sustainable development and new findings. The University can also contribute through collaboration with different actors in different countries.


Frida Fjellström