The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research
Supporting research of strategic importance for a
good living environment and sustainable development
For Mistra, one important event in 2017 was our move to new premises. We rest firmly on our history and our Statutes, but we also want to be part of modern society — and have tried to create a setting that reflects this. We have purchased second-hand classic Swedish furniture, used products made from recycled materials and renovated furniture instead of buying new items.
Among research initiatives launched during the year was Mistra Geopolitics, which took its place in security policy and geopolitics from the start. Once a platform has been created, the research results generated subsequently will be in demand. Another programme that has been established is Mistra Carbon Exit, which links directly to the new Swedish Climate Act and the net zero emissions target by 2045. The programme will cover sectors such as transport, infrastructure and construction, to see how these can help achieve net zero emissions.
Mistra TerraClean, also launched in 2017, builds on Sweden’s existing lead in materials research. Finding more applications in the environmental sector is important for purifying gas or water streams, for example. Finally, Mistra Sustainable Consumption is a new initiative that addresses one of our major challenges for achieving a sustainable society: how our consumption can change so that we reach key climate targets.
In our asset management, we have focused on corporate governance. We invest in funds and engage in a close dialogue with their managers. During the year, we developed a structured process for this dialogue, based on an in-house analysis of our investments. The return has been good and exceeded the benchmark index. Today, our assets total SEK 3.1 billion, while we have disbursed SEK 4.1 billion to various initiatives since the start. In 2017, SEK 200 million was spent on research aimed at favourable conditions for life and solving high-priority environmental problems.
A panel of experts, including Maria Wetterstrand, identified success factors at Mistra EviEM.
Since December, Mistra’s new address has been Sveavägen 25, in a building with the international LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold ecolabel.
The Stockholm Sustainable Finance Centre is a new knowledge centre for sustainable investment. Mistra is one of the participants that have worked to bring about the Centre.
Mistra is to start a programme on bioeconomy, focusing on forest resources. The programme will have a budget of SEK 83 million over four years.
Two Mistra programmes held side events at the major UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, for example presenting an action plan to reverse upward emission trends and reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050.
Fifty years of European measures to combat acidification were highlighted at an international seminar, where Mistra was one of the organisers.
Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development presented its conclusions after four years’ research. In its efforts to understand the history of the Arctic, the programme has looked both back and forward in time.
Mistra’s website has undergone a complete makeover. The idea is for it to be both better-looking and easier to use.
Mistra contributed to the discussion on whether hedge funds that manage large-scale assets can become more sustainable in their investments.
At the Royal Colloquium, celebrating its 25th (silver) anniversary, Mistra’s CEO Åke Iverfeldt joined in discussing climate change and the importance of cooperation.
The Swedish Government wants to spread knowledge of the environmental impact of drugs, and improve wastewater treatment to remove medicine residues. These measures are both based on research in MistraPharma.
A buffet of genetically modified (GM) foods and discussions on improved clothes recycling and Swedes’ outdoor recreation were among the programme items to which Mistra contributed during the 2017 politicians’ week in Visby, Gotland.
Although concluded, the Future Forests programme continues to feature in debate. Five films on the choices ahead for Swedish forests have been produced.
The Mistra Refugee Programme was extended by one year. The initiative is intended to give refugees a chance of getting traineeships or trial jobs in Mistra’s research programmes.
Mistra’s CEO was elected as a member of the highest decision-making body, the Board of Trustees, of the Centre for Business and Policy Studies (Studieförbundet Näringsliv och Samhälle, SNS). He wanted to use this position to exert influence, not least in the area of sustainability, but also to be influenced by other members of the Board.
Delayed trains and leaking water mains are examples of shortcomings in Swedish infrastructure, Mistra issued a new funding call for a research programme on maintenance of infrastructure.
Getting involved in public debate without jeopardising one’s credibility was discussed when Mistra’s programme managers met to create synergies among their research fields.
A list of Sweden’s most powerful women in terms of their capacity to transform society included several women connected with Mistra.
Digitisation and technological development, as well as more individualisation and health, were the themes addressed when upper secondary students shared their views on sustainability.
Even more environmental research along the lines of Mistra’s initiatives was the wish expressed by Karolina Skog, Sweden’s Minister for the Environment, on her visit to Mistra.
A research programme headed by KTH Royal Institute of Technology began investigating which tools politicians can use to steer society towards sustainable consumption.
New results on the inherent capacity of barley to protect itself against pests were based on research in the PlantComMistra programme.
Mistra Urban Futures started the year as the winner of a European competition on responsible research and innovation.
Five questions to Thomas Rosswall, who after many years’ of work in Mistra’s initiatives leaves for a postponed retirement
No, not quite yet. I still have a commitment as chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of Sida (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency). We‘ve recently taken on the role of advisor to the whole of Sida on issues relevant to research. I think it’s wonderful that research issues have gained a more distinct profile in foreign aid activities.
In my spare time, I’ll read all the fiction I buy but never get round to reading. And I’ll travel, see friends and go to the opera.
Most policy decisions in the environmental sector are based on knowledge and research results. But it’s very difficult to measure the effects of research and give concrete examples of how political decisions may be connected with research findings.
Discovering the hole in the ozone layer was brilliant atmospheric chemistry research, but the causes were few and relatively easy to identify, so agreeing on policy decisions and measures was simple. Still, it’s taken 30 years to see results. Many other environmental issues are considerably more complex and call for both scientific and social science research. Here, Mistra has led the way and played a key role in making it relevant, by creating broad interdisciplinary programmes based on given ways of formulating problems.
Mistra Urban Futures, where I chaired the Board until last year, is an excellent example of relevance. We worked on sustainable urban development in five cities and regions around the world, in close cooperation with the authorities. Municipal, city and regional officials alike sat down with researchers to identify key issues. It’s an unusual new way to work. It enhances people’s understanding of one another’s situation and, not least, lets researchers know what to expect from the political process.
‘Relevance’ is a buzzword and many claim to be achieving it, but unfortunately most researchers don’t take the matter seriously. A closer look shows that it’s mostly a Potemkin village. When I was helping to evaluate some major Swedish research programmes a few years ago, the requirements were, first, that they should become world-leading within five years and, second, that the research should be socially relevant. All the programmes were world-leading, but only one programme management in five even understood the issue of relevance and was able to respond. The researchers had reflected on relevance in their applications, of course; but later, in doing the research, they hadn’t borne it in mind.
No, I don’t think so. Curiosity-driven research and relevance are concepts that overlap. What’s crucial is to support high-quality research. My perception is that young researchers today are generally much more interested in social relevance than they used to be. Take the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where I also worked: right from the start, it devoted great efforts to making the research socially relevant. Lots of young PhD students went in for this kind of research, because it was an exciting new way of working, although it didn’t fit into the traditional academic structure.
Total to Swedish recipients, SEK m 0Total to foreign recipients, SEK m 0
Disbursements in SEK m, by recipient
Disbursements in SEK m to the five largest recipients
0Five largest recipients’ share of total funds disbursed.
Six questions to Mette Morsing, holder of the new Mistra Chair of Sustainable Markets at the Stockholm School of Economics
My reasons for taking the job and moving to Sweden were that the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) offers a prestigious education of a high international standard and that its management has such a clear focus on sustainability issues. It’s hard to find anything similar elsewhere in the world.
What’s equally important is that every part of SSE is working actively on long-term development. At Copenhagen Business School (CBS) too, where I used to work, there was a great commitment to sustainability. With one exception, the Department of Finance was not in the least interested in the issue, unfortunately.
Mistra has systematically, and with great steadfastness, promoted research in the field, spreading interest in sustainability, and not only in the Swedish business and research communities. Today, almost all companies, banks and fund management firms are involved in the issue. Since the Government also launched the Stockholm Sustainable Finance Centre initiative, Sweden has had an even stronger platform for sustainability research.
We have a unique opportunity to highlight the subject, thanks to Mistra giving us a free rein to develop the research area. On the wish list now are resources that would enable us to invite international researchers to work with us for varying periods.
I want Misum [the Mistra Centre for Sustainable Markets] and SSE to focus on international development. This doesn’t mean that we should drop the Swedish perspective. Rather, we’ll take some of the lessons from Sweden, and test and develop our country’s solutions in collaboration with researchers from other parts of the world. That way, we can gain insights and knowledge that may be advantageous to Sweden.
What we do attracts the attention of many internationally active researchers, who are keen to cooperate with us. For example, the University of Oxford has invited us, along with 14 other universities, to collaborate on research in the field.
We’re now also establishing research collaborations with various other international universities, such as New York University. It’s interesting to see different countries’ attitudes to the topic. For instance, the New York financial markets aren’t quite as interested as Swedish financial stakeholders in integrating sustainability into their management.
Most of them understand the thinking, which may come to exert a great impact because many of the students will eventually have high positions in Swedish society and business. If they’re well informed about and committed to sustainability issues, it could have significant effects. But giving them an understanding of the pitfalls on the path to sustainability, not least in terms of politics and economics, is important too.
Not all students agree with us on how best to manage sustainability issues, of course. And that’s good because it creates stimulating classroom discussions and demonstrates to the students that no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions exist.
It’s certainly possible to make profits in a green economy as well. The difference is that you should have a slightly longer investment perspective. The other advantage of a more sustainable approach is risk reduction. After all, for a company, one implication of not caring about the environment or human rights may be the risk of losing clients’ confidence.
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Birgitta Jonsson Palmgren
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Christopher Folkeson Welch
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