Date: April 26, 2018
Place: Westmanska Palatset, Holländargatan 17, Stockholm
The natural world is a beautiful and intricate system of intertwined and overlapping materials ecosystems. As humans, our understanding of the various interrelationships is only at the mostbasic level. One important reason why these naturally interdependent cyclic systems exist with exquisite complexity is because of the very fact that they all co-emerged over hundreds of thousands of years in the presence of one another. Evolutionary forces drove symbiotic relationships by selecting for and against mechanisms and materials that were conducive to the success of the entire multi-component matrix. As human society seeks to create a circular economy, we unfortunately have the disadvantage that our various industrial “species” have developed with a level of independence, essentially unaware of adjacent processes. We are forced into a position of creating connectivities that were not part of the considerations in theoriginal design. Obviously this creates a daunting challenge. While there have been some examples of the circular economy designed and deployed in many industrial settings, the vast majority of industrial products and processes continue to exist disconnected and unsustainable over the long run. The pathway to create most of these technological ecosystems will require the inventive application of green chemistry (the molecular level mechanistic underpinnings of sustainability). This presentation will describe examples of how organizations seeking a circular strategy benefit from integrating the principles of green chemistry with product design, manufacturing and supply chain management.
There is limited space available for this event. Reserve your place by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information contact Christopher Folkeson Welch, 0707 323074, email@example.com.
The new potato was developed by a group of plant breeders in Mistra Biotech, headed by Mariette Andersson. This potato’s main characteristic is its relatively high content of ‘resistant starch’ —starch that behaves like fibre; that is, instead of being absorbed by the small intestine, it enters the large intestine undigested. This confers numerous positive health effects. For example, it reduces glucose levels and insulin reactions; optimises bacterial flora in the gut and gives a good boost to processes in the stomach; and can also facilitate weight loss.
The Mistra Biotech plant breeders developed the potato by reducing the activity of two enzymes that bring about the branching of starch molecules in the potato cells.
The aim was to produce a higher amylose content in the potato. Potato starch usually consists of 25% amylose (straight molecules) and 75% amylopectin (branched molecules).
‘The goal was to come up with a potato that had a higher amylose content, and they succeeded,’ says Xue Zhao, a researcher at SLU in Uppsala.
Zhao has contributed to the research by performing the requisite chemical analyses of the potato. She is also the lead author of the paper, where the research results were recently published, in the journal Food Chemistry.
A higher amylose content results in a higher level of resistant starch when the potato is boiled, she explains. But the amylopectin left in the potato also became more like the amylose, and its action ‘slower’ when the potatoes were boiled and the starch recrystallised.
This discovery could have major positive effects in a country like Sweden, where we eat a great deal of potatoes. Today, there are no technical barriers to cultivating the new potato variety on a large scale. The major stumbling block is legislative: getting an EU permit for a genetically modified potato is difficult.
‘This potato was produced with GM (genetic modification. That’s the barrier preventing us from launching it. But my colleagues and I are working on a new solution,’ Zhao says.
What Mariette Andersson and other plant breeders at SLU are trying to do is to develop a similar potato using genome-editing technology, CRISPR-Cas9, known as ‘gene scissors’. Although the results are the same, this technique is less controversial and would not be an obstacle to the cultivation of potatoes.
Text: Thomas Heldmark
She finds it strange that she used not to see the connection.
It seems especially odd because she comes from a family with a keen interest in environmental issues, but also because several of her fellow students on the MBA course in Uppsala wrote papers about sustainability.
‘Despite that, I didn’t realise it was possible to link my interests in economics and the environment.’
Today, this is self-evident.
She is also responsible for the Sustainable Finance research platform at the Mistra Centre for Sustainable Markets (Misum), based at the Stockholm School of Economics.
However, her road there was a somewhat winding one.
After graduating, her first step was to a gallery for exclusive oriental rugs in Manhattan.
‘I’d signed up for a trainee programme where there was a prospect of being located anywhere in the world. And of all places, I ended up in New York, looking after the carpet shop’s small office.’
After a year in that family company with five male colleagues, she went straight into a new trainee job, still in New York, in internal communication at an IBM project organisation with 500 co-workers. There, all her closest colleagues were women.
Just after that, two planes flew into New York’s Twin Towers and Sjöström felt that it was time to go home to Sweden.
Here, there was a recession and no jobs were to be found.
‘Suddenly, I was forced to ponder what I wanted to do. I realised I didn’t want to be a little cog in the middle of a giant machine. Instead, I wanted to do something that felt meaningful. After all, work is a big part of my life.’
She took her next big step in a new direction after reading Funky Business, the book by Kjell A Nordström and Jonas Ridderstråle.
‘It made me realise that doing research can probably be quite cool after all. By chance, just then, the Stockholm School of Economics was looking for a person to work on sustainable finance. Although I had no experience in the world of finance, I got the job.’
Lacking experience in that world was not, in fact, a problem. It is entirely possible to investigate sustainable investment from perspectives other than financial theory as such, in her opinion.
‘I study the financial market from an organisational theory perspective. My main interest is in investigating whether it’s possible to use the financial market as an arena for generating change.’
However, while taking her doctorate, she caught up on a great deal of financial theory, which has also been useful for understanding how the financial market arrives at decisions.
‘But it’s interesting to see who’s working on sustainability issues in the financial sector. It’s rarely economists — rather, a bunch of biologists and chemists.’
That could itself be a problem, she believes — especially because it makes many traditionally schooled economists regard the sustainability crowd as outside the mainstream, so their views are not always considered.
‘Specialist knowledge of sustainability is needed, of course, but the more thoroughgoing changes come only when traditional financial types step forward and include sustainability data in their corporate valuations. Then things happen, and that’s why Mistra’s initiatives in the financial sector are so important.’
One important aspect of running a sustainability programme at the Stockholm School of Economics is that many of its students later take up senior positions in the financial world. If they have become aware of sustainability issues during their studies, this can eventually lead to significant effects.
‘When I lecture students as a sustainability expert, I always try to encourage them to be critical of traditional thinking. And they’re interested — that’s evident, not least, because they often choose to write essays with a clear sustainability perspective.’
But is it possible to reconcile an economic system based on companies’ constant need to maximise their profits with the need for long-term sustainability?
‘Sustainability can definitely be a way to make money. The difference is that you’ve got to have a longer-term outlook than the next quarterly report.’
Although in parts of the financial market there is an understanding that short-termism can backfire, getting off the treadmill where most people are running today is not easy. This is especially true for companies that risk seeing their stock prices fall if there is the slightest dent in the profitability curve.
‘So we still see lots of companies engaged in corruption, violating human rights and trying to make money on unsound supply chains.’
For progress towards a more sustainable system to be feasible, Sjöström believes we must venture to think along new lines. Requirements include new business models and other incentive schemes, but also new interpretations of what value actually is.
‘It’s not going to be easy: old traditions make it difficult for individual players to modify the system. But we see that several major companies and financial operators are now out there saying that sustainability’s important, and they’ve begun to align themselves with the global sustainable development goals.
‘This may mean that some change is on the way. In Sweden, we’re fairly far ahead. Here, it’s now more the rule rather than the exception for companies to say they want to be more long-termist in their actions. And they have some way to go. A report from Misum, Walk the Talk, shows that only a small minority of the big Swedish companies have sustainability goals beyond 2020. We need to see a bit more action now.’
However, appeals to corporate and investor morality and ethics do not work. On the other hand, pursuing sustainability can evidently be in companies’ own interests: it can help to cut costs, reduce risk and create scope for raising new capital using green financial instruments.
‘In the Swedish market, there are some good examples of companies that have long been investing sustainably. Whether it then makes any difference in reality and for the environment is a question that both engages and divides us researchers.’
Sjöström is currently running a research project in which she is looking at investors who try to induce international energy companies to reduce their use of coal.
‘What I want to know is whether these dialogues are successful and what gives them a hearing for their ideas or prevents them from getting it. I also want to know what happens if asset managers choose to sell off their holdings in companies with poor environmental profiles.’
Seeking answers to awkward questions is Sjöström’s driving force. She pursues them with the positive basic view that reforming a sector with such weighty traditions as the financial market, too, is possible.
‘If I hadn’t believed in a change, it wouldn’t have been as interesting to spend so much time on the topic as I’ve done in recent years.’
Even so, there are largely discouraging days, especially when she perceives that political trends are going in the wrong direction.
‘I’m concerned that researchers and others working for a more sustainable world are coming under increasing pressure in the US. We also see ever-rising short-termism in politics, and that the country’s governed by an administration that doesn’t believe in science. At the same time, it’s encouraging that so many, despite the resistance, are managing to struggle on.’
The trend in Sweden is the opposite. Here, activity surrounding sustainability in the financial markets is lively.
’Being able to research in this area in Sweden is a luxury. Here, unlike in many other countries, it’s easy to communicate with companies and other stakeholders, and they’re interested in our results.’
The Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) has become an important centre for research, both nationally and internationally, in the area of sustainable financial markets. Mistra funds Misum and Mistra Financial Systems directly,, while the Stockholm Sustainable Finance Centre is a government venture that arose partly from a Mistra initiative.
Misum is the broadest research effort, while the Sustainable Finance Centre is intended to fuse the research conducted at SSE with that of the Stockholm Environment Institute. Sjöström is among those with the task of ensuring workable, fruitful collaboration.
Although these initiatives show some mutual similarities, they have their own routes into the research area.
‘A key task for everyone is to make sure the results of our research get out to people outside academia. One way we do this is through SSE’s in-service training programme for business economists in employment.’
Are we now heading for a higher level of research in the area of sustainability?
‘Absolutely, but for really far-reaching influence we’ve got to dare to challenge the system the financial market’s working in today. If we do, innovative ideas at Nobel Prize level might emerge, perhaps.’
Text: Per Westergård
It will soon be a year since Mistra Carbon Exit started. Much of the initial period has been spent shaping the team and initiating the various components of the programme. Given the 30-odd participants, this took time.
‘Now we’re up and running,’ says Lars Zetterberg, Programme Manager.
One of the major tasks in the autumn was to produce nine messages on which the programme will be based. These are:
- Reaching the Paris climate target requires transformative changes.
- Restructuring basic industry for near-zero emissions causes only a slight rise in prices of end products.
- Carbon pricing needs to be supplemented with other policy instruments.
- We need to develop completely new control systems and business models.
- The restructuring must not be at the expense of other sustainability targets.
- Public purchasers can impose climate requirements in procurement.
- The municipalities have much to gain from green transport plans.
- Self-driving and electric vehicles may fundamentally transform how we travel.
- Connections with the transport and industrial sectors afford more flexibility for a renewable electric power system.
In parallel, the programme’s ten subprojects have taken shape and started. Five are industrial case studies, while five are academic work packages.
‘Our case study on construction and infrastructure has advanced the furthest. They’ve already had two major meetings with all participants. The task now is to develop a roadmap for how the sector can achieve zero emissions by 2045.’
The working group is currently analysing which technological development paths exist and considering which policy instruments are required to achieve the target. This work is to be completed during the year.
Work is also proceeding in the transport sector. For example, a workshop has been held to identify how the sector can attain zero emissions. The programme already serves as a resource for the Government and agencies in terms of overarching issues. Lars Zetterberg and his colleagues have been engaged, for example, to analyse the changes under way in European emissions trading.
‘The strength of Mistra’s initiatives, both past and present, is that they’ve enabled us to establish a successful group in this policy area. And that’s contributed to Sweden’s great competence in this field.’
There are also corresponding networks in technology sectors. Almost all major industrial stakeholders are involved in the programme.
‘We’re lacking some important parties in the consortium, including the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket). If there’s anyone missing in the working groups, we try to include everyone who can contribute something.’
Mistra Carbon Exit has also recruited five PhD students: three at Chalmers University of Technology, one at the University of Gothenburg and one at DIW Berlin (the German Institute for Economic Research).
The Board is also in place. The Chair is Peter Nygårds, who has broad experience from the worlds of both politics and government agencies.
‘Peter’s great experience gives security to the programme. We’ve also put together a good Board with representatives from agencies, the municipal sector and business. But we’re keen to add one or two people from industry, preferably from the construction sector, and if possible from one of our Nordic neighbours.’
The current Board members are:
- Peter Nygårds
- Birgitta Resvik, Fortum
- Erik Eriksson, Swedish Energy Agency
- Stefan Nyström, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
- Anna Ledin, City of Gothenburg.
Although the programme has only recently gained momentum, researchers and programme management are already active in the media and in debates.
‘We can’t sit and wait for research results to be ready before we begin communicating. So, right from the start, we’re trying to get a name for ourselves. This way, we hope to make future users of our results aware of our existence now.’
An example of how the programme works actively to convey its thoughts and results is a recent opinion piece (in Swedish) in Dagens Nyheter, by Lars Zetterberg and Svante Axelsson jointly. In it, they describe the future implications of the EU’s decision to reform emissions trading. For example, local environmental action will play a major part in rapidly reducing global carbon dioxide emissions.
The background of the opinion piece is that, after two years of negotiation, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers recently agreed on how to reform emissions trading. One important step is Europe’s planned cut in emission allowances by 2.2 per cent per year, which means lowering the emission ceiling at a faster pace.
Another is the introduction of a mechanism that automatically annuls emission allowances.
Lars Zetterberg and Svante Axelsson argue in their article that no climate decision of this importance has ever received so little attention in the past.
Facts about Mistra Carbon Exit
Backing the programme is an international consortium of universities, research institutes, agencies and some 20 companies (including Volvo, Skanska and Danske Bank). The goal is, in the next four years, to identify solutions needed to bring Sweden’s net greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2045. Mistra is investing SEK 56 million of the programme’s total budget of SEK 81.9m, the remainder being from participating organisations.
We meet in a hotel lobby near Stockholm Central Station late one Friday afternoon. The whole region is seething with people and traffic ahead of the weekend. Isaksson is decent enough to wait for this reporter who, having got stuck in a traffic jam from Södertälje, then had to search for a space in an inner-city underground car park for SEK 150 an hour.
The car, once the key to freedom, is no longer the obvious, intelligent option for getting around in a metropolis.
The first question for Isaksson will be whether this is not exactly the sort of problem Mistra SAMS will solve for us, so that in the future we are spared from traffic jams and expensive multi-storey parking garages in city centres.
Isaksson politely sidesteps the question and replies that it is not Mistra SAMS that will make the actual changes. They will be made by others in society. But the journey will hardly be trickier than today.
‘On the contrary — it will be more convenient to travel when we restructure the transport system. Friction will be reduced. Vehicles may drive themselves, so we won’t need to park. We’ll avoid quite a lot of hassle.’
Isaksson has settled down as Chair and already chaired four meetings in the interdisciplinary research programme. According to the Riksdag, Sweden’s transport fleet should be fossil-free by 2030 and Mistra SAMS is to find out how this can be achieved.
It is a challenge that spans urban planning, law, politics, fuel technology and digitisation.
Isaksson has no research background. According to Anna Kramers, Programme Manager at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, however, she has other crucial skills.
‘Darja is as quick as a weasel and leads our Board straight to the interesting questions. She’s one of the most skilled entrepreneurs in Sweden, with knowledge of how digitisation can help solve public challenges,’ Kramers says.
The solutions are largely about using digital technology. ‘Disruptive’ technologies such as the iPhone, the taxi service Uber and the accommodation website Airbnb are knocking over the pieces on the game board, shaking up markets and starting new ones — with new rules. Isaksson is an expert on these matters and has been an entrepreneur in this area.
It is also a matter of changing the ingrained mindset of consumers. Instead of owning cars, we can just as well subscribe to the journey itself, more or less as we subscribe to music through Spotify.
If we want to go from A to B, we enter the choice in our app, which takes care of the rest, drives the car, displays the bike’s location or puts together a clever set of travel arrangements.
The freedom lies in the fact of moving about with the least possible difficulty — not in owning cars, with all the complications involved in parking hassle, repairs, MOT appointments, tyre changes and so forth.
Isaksson sums up: ‘If you want to leave your hotel, a self-driving car appears, picks you up, drives you to your end destination and then parks itself somewhere outside the city.’
She points to the fact that cars are used only perhaps 5 per cent of the time. For the rest of the time, they are stationary and take up space on streets or in multi-storey parking garages.
The actual pricing of a journey could be dynamic, Isaksson reasons, perhaps depending on the fuel type and on how many people share the vehicle. Similarly, tax rates could be dynamically controlled by an algorithm, and the policy task would then be to design the correct algorithm. Isaksson refers here to urban historian and sociologist Anders Gullberg, who has launched a vision for joint payment systems to solve traffic problems in metropolitan areas.
Here, questions about infrastructure, urban planning, policy, digitisation and consumer behaviour are interwoven in a single tapestry. SAMS will penetrate the complex issues involved.
Isaksson grew up in a working-class home in Piteå, with a father who liked inventing. He spent most of his time in his own room, full of diodes, relays and the like. If she wanted to hang out with Dad, she had to be in there too.
In the 1970s, he was already building such items as a home computer known as the HEZ–80 (short for ‘Hemmapul Z-80’). On it, Isaksson played ‘Snake’ and other games. It was great fun when Dad got a modem.
‘The Internet didn’t really exist, but we called one another on our computers. It became very social. From my teenage room I was suddenly able to get in touch with middle-aged white conservative men in Texas. And we discussed politics!’
As a teenager, Isaksson sat in her room in Piteå and sensed how big the world can be. No one in her family had studied in higher education, but there was pressure on her when she was choosing what to study at upper secondary school.
‘I was told: “You can choose what you like: science or technology,”’ she recounts, smiling.
After completing upper secondary school, she studied engineering at Umeå and went abroad — all in a sort of escape attempt, striving not to end up in Stockholm. It did not go entirely to plan. Today she lives with her family in a rooftop terraced home in the middle of innermost central Stockholm.
‘It suits us well. The kids can ride a bike on the roof and I’m within walking distance of many important clients.’
The only time Isaksson hesitates is when asked whether she owns a car.
‘Well…’ she replies, pausing. Her husband bought a car without permission: parked out in suburbia, it is used for trips to the in-laws. She is herself no car owner.
Isaksson has started a business, which has grown and opened offices in Sweden’s largest cities. Early on, she understood how the market could develop digital services.
But she has also encountered adversities. One such ‘epic hit’ was when she tried to get Sony Ericsson to launch a smartphone with a touch screen and open it up to external services. The year was 2005. The word ‘app’ did not yet exist.
‘I said: “You’ve got 43 different models. Here, one model that can be customised by users for their own needs is enough. Take a retired man who needs four functions, such as calling his wife and two children and buying shares at Avanza. You’ll never find him in your customer segments. Here, he can get what he needs.”’
The company representatives squirmed. Oh yes, maybe… but what would it cost? When they realised they would have to change operating systems to make it work, the idea collapsed completely. However much Isaksson argued and nagged, it made no difference.
‘You’re combating our business model’ was the answer Isaksson received.
Two years later came the iPhone. Sony Ericsson ended up helplessly left behind, was split up and sold. The rest is industrial history.
‘It was a setback I fretted quite a long time over,’ Isaksson says.
She started the innovation agency Ziggy Creative Colony — dedicated, for example, to providing customer-friendly technical solutions to help banks, telecom companies and others.
In 2014, two important things happened in Isaksson’s life:
- Her father was told he had a severe form of cancer (he survived).
- Prime Minister Stefan Löfven called and asked whether she wanted to join the Government’s National Innovation Council as a digitisation strategist.
Isaksson was keen to do so, although somewhat startled to get a phone call from the PM himself (thinking there would have been a process behind that kind of decision). It was as a digitisation expert, too, that she was recruited as Chair of Mistra SAMS.
Already, she sees low-hanging fruit to pick. These relate to public transport enterprises. Today, travelling across regional boundaries is troublesome: we have to buy tickets from different places. Buying combined tickets, or trips in different directions — perhaps from the hotel lobby where we are — is unreasonably difficult.
‘That way, the guests wouldn’t take a taxi unnecessarily. We can change this without the need for any new technology,’ Isaksson says.
In other countries, such as Finland, a law on Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has been enacted. There, public transport companies must make it easier for travellers to buy multi-mode tickets seamlessly.
Sweden also needs to manage data storage better. We do not see data as a strategic resource, as many other countries do. Here, Sweden has fallen behind, Isaksson says. This means that innovations are impeded and major infrastructure initiatives slowed down.
‘Sweden’s still good at IT, but it’s mostly due to investments made long ago — broadband development, personal computers and so on. If you consider various other parameters, you see we’re lagging behind,’ she says.
Mistra SAMS is to last only eight years. I ask Darja Isaksson where she thinks the transport sector will be then.
She hedges her bets somewhat.
‘Think or hope? I hope MaaS will become a reality in our cities. There really aren’t any serious obstacles to it. I also think we’ll get more electrically powered traffic. There are so many reasons for it: financial and climatic. And I think self-driving cars and buses will have got beyond the test stage. Then they’ll really roll.’
In her view, development is so rapid that the programme cannot have plans that are too fixed. They must be flexible and ‘work-agile’. But in eight years’ time, things must have happened, she emphasises. By then, there should be a functioning ecosystem for new services. Instead of being the big exception, Uber will one service among many.
‘I also think we’ve changed our view of workplaces and working hours, so we may not need to routinely get to work every day,’ says Isaksson.
Facts: Darja Isaksson
Age: 41 years.
Occupation: Digitisation Strategist.
Does: Chair of Mistra SAMS.
Leisure: Playing FIFA and Minecraft with the children.
Talents: Good at swimming. Phenomenally fast at typing — over 500 characters per minute.
Text: Thomas Heldmark
Waste researcher Nils Johansson has started his Mistra Fellowship at the German environment institute Oeko. He will interview various participants about why other European countries have such different attitudes towards industrial waste.
‘In Europe, there’s a political climate in which innovation for circularity is more likely to be undertaken than in Sweden,’ he says.
International programmers have been invited to Stockholm for a three-day workshop, a ‘hackathon’. Their assignment will be to help Mistra EviEM to simplify systematic reviews of research results.
‘We want to shorten the working time required to carry out systematic reviews and automate the work as much as possible. If these reviews become easier, the method will become more widely available,’ says Project Manager Neal Haddaway.
In August, Mistra Financial Systems is holding an international conference with several well-known big draws on the speaker list. Everyone with an interest in sustainable finance should take this opportunity.
‘I hope the conference will be a meeting place not only for researchers, but also for investors, asset managers, decision makers and regulators of the financial market,’ says Bo Becker, Programme Director for Mistra Financial Systems.