The Many Faces of Sustainability

A book sprung from frustration. So might we describe the book "Hållbarhetens många ansikten" (The Many Faces of Sustainability) by political scientists Sara Nyhlén and Gustav Lidén and business economist Edith Andresen. With their book, and a planned series of podcasts, the editors break down the boundaries for how scientific material is traditionally presented.

Gustav Lidén and Sara Nyhlén.

“We had to be persistent because we have met opposition,” Sara Nyhlén, senior lecturer in Political Science and researcher at Forum for Gender Studies, says in a serious tone.

Her colleague and co-editor Gustav Lidén, senior lecturer in Political Science and researcher at the Risk and Crisis Research Centre (RCR), nods in agreement. Presenting some of the results of the “Hållbart Samhällsbyggande” (HåSa) [Sustainable Spatial Planning] in the form of a book was not what the academic establishment had had in mind.

“There happens to be a fixed form for how to write an academic article and some people have wondered why we made a fuss about that form,” Sara Nyhlén goes on with a touch of irony in her voice.

But now it’s here, “Hållbarhetens många ansikten – samtal, forskning och fantasier” [The Many Faces of Sustainability – conversations, research and fantasies]. On 6th December the members of the HåSa project team arranged a sustainability day with workshops and conversations between companies, academia, organisations and the public sector. And a book release. 

Wanted to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue 

HåSa, “Hållbart Samhällsbyggande: Från mellersta Norrland till Europas glesa bygder” [Sustainable Spatial Planning – From central Norrland to Europe’s sparsely populated areas] is a project that through the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth has been granted support from the European Regional Development Fund. The aim of the project is to develop god, equal and attractive living and life conditions in central Norrland. At the start-up conference in Sollefteå last autumn, the idea was born to compile an anthology. The idea was born out of frustration at how homogeneous the academic world is and how academics often treat each other.

“To us it seemed as if political scientist talked to each other and biologists with other biologists. The entire book springs from frustration with it, an ambition or an endeavour to break it. We wanted to open up the academic boundaries,” says Sara Nyhlén.

“We wanted to increase the complexity a little,” Gustav Lidén adds.

In their opinion, it is only through cross-border dialogue and collaboration, regardless of whether those borders are for example academic or organisational, that a society can be created that is as sustainable as possible.

“It’s good to have different ideas about things. It’s only in the gap between different opinions that development can take place,” Sara Nyhlén observes.

A book is born

Sara Nyhlén, Gustav Lidén and Edith Andresen issued a general call for texts on the subject of sustainability. An invitation wen out to, among others, the entire staff of Mid Sweden University. From professors to administrative staff everyone was welcome to send in a contribution. In addition to Mid Sweden University’s staff, invitations also went out to some players outside the university.

“It contains so many different perspectives and it is that that’s so exciting,” says Gustav Lidén about the book.

“When we sent out the call for texts we made it clear that the text could be a traditional contribution such as a research paper but also poetry or an essay. “You name it, give us your suggestions,” says Sara Nyhlén.

The result was 26 articles by 34 authors, all of which concern sustainability in different dimensions. Some are scientific products, others are co-authored, and two are interpretations of poems.

One of those who contributed to the book is Daniel Kindberg, managing director of the Östersundshem housing company and chairman of ÖFK (Östersund Football Club). His contribution to the book is a reworking of the talk he gave at Åre Sustainability Summit 2017 and is about how public housing, leadership, football and sustainability are connected and how this leads to profitability.

“Daniel Kindberg and Östersundshem are taking part in the HåSa project so we asked him if he would like to contribute a text to the book,” says Sara Nyhlén.

The book is divided into four themes: Sustainable homes and construction, Sustainable social planning and inclusion, The history of sustainability and sustainable culture and Thoughts on sustainable economics – economic, ecological, social and cultural reflections.

“You can choose to read one chapter, three chapters or the whole book in one go. We have tried to make the book attractive with many illustrations and photographs. The idiom was important for us,” says Gustav Lidén.

About a hundred copies of the book have been printed but it will also be available in digital form. The target group is primarily not other scientists in the field or other researchers but anyone who is in some way interested in societal development from a sustainability perspective.

“We hope that the texts in the book will inspire different players to continue to talk to each other, that people can pick up an idea or a reflection on how to drive sustainability efforts forward,” says Sara Nyhlén.

Podcasts coming soon

In addition to the book release, the editors are planning yet another new presentation approach in the HåSa project. Four podcasts are planned, where each podcast centres around one of the themes the book is divided into. The first was released in conjunction with the sustainability day.

Note the expression “centres around”.

“It’s impossible to have a distinct theme in the kind of podcast dialogue we intend to have – you have to cover all dimensions. Our ambition is for all dimensions to be discussed in all the conversations,” Sara Nyhlén says.

Everyone from bank managers to sustainability strategists and professors take part in the conversations. Some take part in the book, others not.

We wanted to spice things up a little and bring in people who are not involved with the book,” Gustav Lidén explains.

HåSa will run until 2019 and both Sara Nyhlén and Gustav Lidén are now continuing to work within the project. Sara Nyhlén will among other things be spending some of 2018 researching on hotel mogul Petter Stordalen’s new major project in Sundsvall. Gustav Lidén will be continuing to study Östersundshem’s work with so-called Attefall houses and integration matters.

Facts: Hållbart Samhällsbyggande: Från mellersta Norrland till Europas glesa bygder" (Sustainable Spatial Planning - From central Norrland to Europe's sparsely populated areas), HåSa.

The book aims to contribute to sustainable spatial planning in central Norrland. The intention is partly to develop a model for sustainable construction and housing processes and partly to develop efficient, flexible building solutions in collaboration with, among others, property companies, homes and actors in the public sector. 

The project brings together researchers from CER, Centre for research on economic relations, EHB, Department for and sustainable construction, FGV, Forum for Gender Science, and RCR, Risk and Crisis Research Centre.

The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth is financing the project with the help of contributions from the European Regional Development Fund.

The project began in 2016 and will run until 2019.