Eeva Primmer and Eeva Furman: What is the role of knowledge and knowledge producers in sustainability transition?

2020-11-18 Eeva Primmer and Eeva Furman

No one could have missed Finland’s search for sustainability with green recovery or Europe’s commitment to a just green transition. But what is the role of knowledge and knowledge producers in sustainability transition?

Sustainability improvements are targeted at climate change, biodiversity loss and chemicalization. To tackle these issues, we need sustainability improvements across the society, for example in waste management, food production and traffic infrastructure.

At the system level this means sustainability transition. Sustainability transition requires a re-orientation in administration and business, among cities and rural municipalities as well as inhabitants and users of new technologies.

The expectations on sustainability transition are high. This generates big expectations also for research and research uptake. The diversity of range of knowledge needs are exemplified by the Finnish low carbon roadmaps. The routes on these roadmaps are not straight, neither can their implementation cut corners: the implementation will generate more knowledge, as the industries and researchers cooperate.

Sustainabiity transition will transform our societal systems

Sustainability transitions are more than the sum of specific sustainability improvements. It is not enough that we see a rise in solar panel production. Rather, we need change in the entire energy system, also in those systems that consume energy. Energy consuming buildings, vehicles, infrastructure and gadgets can start producing or storing energy, and energy saving can be a business.

It is also not enough for sustainability transition that Finland there is a new faba bean product or that the sales of oat milk are on the rise. In addition to food production and processing, new selections in shops and restaurants, sustainable food transition requires completely new dialogue and identities. We need the producers of a range of new ingredients and dishes, and good cooks. The everyday and party meals at home and in canteens can be renewed so that our plates can be filled with nutritious, low footprint and fair staff that makes us enjoy the meal.

Sustainability transition means that our societal systems, from ecosystems to food production and from transport to industrial system, accounting for our wellbeing, will be radically transformed. The direction of this transformation will need to be assessed and re-assesed along the way. For this, the society needs knowledge.

We need transition in the way we produce and deliberate knowledge

The promotion of large-scale systemic change requires much new knowledge. Knowledge can be produced, tested, verified and utilized during the process of change. In this process we will have to identify connections between issues, address wicked complex bundles of problems, new unforeseen risks as well as the distribution of benefits and costs.

This is why we need a transition also in the way we conduct and deliberate research. Sustainability transition implies that knowledge production and utilization come closer together. The interface between knowledge production and use becomes an active zone for critical dialogue and search for solutions.

Research helps in finding the direction for sustainability transition and in assessing progress toward sustainability. However, because the makers of transition and those who are in the midst of it also generate knowledge, research has a special role in in relating and positioning different views, innovations, observations and masses of data.

This is the knowledge production system in which the 25-year old Finnish Environment Institute SYKE operates. SYKE is an active promoter of sustainability transition at all stages of knowledge production. SYKE bridges problem identification and solution seeking with the knowledge production stages that generate observations, model processes and develop scenarios.

Sustainability transition happens across the society, all over the world. This is why SYKE operates in close dialogue and collaboration with others.

Eeva Primmer is SYKE’s Research Director and Acting Director General. She has always worked in the interface between knowledge production and use. In her free time she enjoys ecosystems and is in dialogue with her friends.

Eeva Furman is the Director of SYKE’s Environmental Policy Centre and the Chair of Finland’s Sustainability Panel. Her ambition is to engage in discussions with people whose perspectives differ from hers. In her free time she relaxes both in nature and in the watermarks of urban landscapes.

Comment (1 comments)
Leah kaltman
at  16:40
Lovely, inspirational and informative. Ty for sharing.