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2019 Knowledge to Action Projects
Published 26 September 2019
Students tackled overconsumption through setting up a centre for borrowing household items; devised an action plan to ensure that our universities become more sustainable, and explored the potential for art to affect social norms around flying.
The Knowledge to Action, K2A, course is all about bringing your theoretical knowledge to bear on real world sustainability problems. Students get to identify a sustainability challenge in society based on their interests, and come up with a creative way of solving it. As part of their projects, they develop an action plan and work together to implement it. This includes identifying and approaching stakeholders, setting up partnerships and making recommendations for sustainable change. Some students even continue with their projects after the course, and set up different organisations and voluntary networks.
Here are some examples of projects from batch 22.
Project: Circle Centre
“We wanted to focus on the things people only need for a short time”.
We decided to focus on international students and students in Lund for our project. We set up an initiative, the Circle Centre, where people can come and borrow items that they only need once in a while, like sports gear or household items. This stuff is great to have access to as a student, but expensive and unnecessary to buy, and not good for the environment. In Malmö there are places where you can borrow tools and sports gear, but not here in Lund.
Before we set up our project we did a survey of students, online and in person, to see what the current culture of consumption is. We wanted to figure out our niche and eventually settled on household and camping gear to begin with – as a way to stand out. From the K2A course we brought a lot of theory about social norms and transformations to the project. We also looked at social drivers and mobilisation. We want to make a culture of sharing within a small community the norm, and to make people think about alternatives before they buy.”
Some of the items that students can borrow through the Cirlce Centre, either through the website or in person include a doughnut maker, a backpack for camping, and an air mattress.
Circle Centre opened this September at Stenkrossen.
“We are lucky that we have a place to work from. We plan to be open Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. For us it was important to exist beyond the project. Now we’re registered as a non-profit organisation and have set up a payment system so people can subscribe to the service.”
Skills and knowledge gained from the project: Communication skills are really important, and persistence. Especially in setting up partnerships. And not giving up on something!
Project: Establishing a sustainability office at Lund University
Problem/challenge: changing the internal structure of the University to make it easier to implement sustainable changes.
“We think a sustainable office is important, over 5000 students demand that we do better.”
We looked at how the internal organisational structure of Lund University could be changed to make it easier to implement sustainable change. With the current structure, without a central team working collaboratively on sustainability, we believe it’s difficult to implement the changes needed. Sustainability Forum is doing a good job to unify research outwardly, and to host events, and the Environmental Management Team focuses on environmental risk and compliance, however the University lacks a proactive team to drive change.
During our project, we changed course, we started out looking at an overarching sustainability strategy for Lund University, but then, once the students’ climate petition was published in the spring, we decided to look at the feasibility of implementing students’ demands, one being the sustainability office. We looked at good practice, from other universities in Sweden and the UK. How are they structured? Say for example Gothenburg and Manchester, both of them have a good track record. We compared this to what’s in place at Lund University.
We used theories of transition management in the project and met with researchers and people at other universities to learn how they work. Based on our project, we think that the University should establish a sustainability office which could act as a point of contact and support for new as well as established sustainability initiatives. The strengths of a Sustainability Office lie in its cross sectional work model with university employees as well as student employees. The University should also identify key areas to work with and develop actions to support change, say for example to reduce energy usage.
One outcome is that we are now part of a group that will support the Environmental Manager in his work to make Lund University more sustainable. This will continue after we have finished with the actual project.
The biggest lesson we learned: how difficult it is to make changes at the University. Things take a long time here. But it has been really interesting to see how the University work and how change can be implemented.
Skills and knowledge gained from the project: Collaborative working, teamwork, and consultancy.
Problem/challenge: to reduce the negative climate impacts from students flying within Europe.
Flying, rather than taking the train, remains the favored mode of transportation when travelling longer distances within Europe. Many of us don’t think of the consequences. But quitting flying is one of the most important individual actions you can do for the climate. We began our project by focusing on the agencies that supply travel services to students (our target group), as an attempt to influence the supply side of the problem. But it was hard to get companies to engage with us. As an example, one consultancy firm wanted us to pay to work with them. Another agency was more focused on other sustainability issues which are insignificant compared to the emissions from flying (such as collecting garbage in the park in Lund).
We therefore tried to investigate how behavioral change can be generated, as a way to challenge the consumption side of the problem. Through theories from environmental psychology, we found out that there are implications for behavioral change, in that people create justifications of their unsustainable choices rather than actually changing their behavior. I.e. students already have knowledge about the negative effects of flying, yet they still fly. This, we found, is because they justify their choices according to existing social norms around flying and travelling in general. Thus, we wanted to create an action that tries to challenge these norms.
That led us to look at art as a way to change norms. Our action idea (which we did not actually carry out) is to host a photograph contest and exhibition where people can submit pictures from their travels with train in Europe. The point being, that it will show other students that train travelling is an appealing and feasible alternative to travelling by plane. We think that this could be a way of challenging and eventually changing the existing social norms around flying and travelling in general towards more sustainable social norms of taking the train within Europe.
Biggest lessons learned from the project: we spent a lot of time thinking about which actors to contact instead of moving forward with the project. In the end, a lot of people couldn’t meet us. If you have overall idea of something you want to achieve, contact as many actors as possible at the start even if they might not be the perfect fit.
Skills and knowledge gained from the project: We learned how difficult it can be to find partner organisations that align with your specific target goal. However, we also learned how to adapt our research as a consequence to this. Additionally, we learned how to apply theories, from fields we were otherwise unfamiliar with, to a practical case.
Partners: As the action wasn’t carried out (due to a change of focus and therefore time constrains), we didn’t have any partners. The plan was however, to partner up with the university in order to have a venue for the photo exhibition; possibly at the AF building.
The course gives deeper knowledge of sustainability science and the role of transdisciplinarity in understanding and leading to sustainable societal transitions.
The course concentrates on learning opportunities that expose students to real-world settings with societal actors such as municipalities, organisations, companies and/or communities where students actively partake in the design, implementation and evaluation of a project.