Automatgenererad bild.

6 February 2014

New CE to strengthen image of Mistra as an active funder

His interest in nature was aroused by Jacques Cousteau’s underwater shots. Now Åke Iverfeldt is tackling various environmental problems in depth. Soon Chief Executive, he wants Mistra to remain a unique funder of research that solves environmental problems and is relevant to environmentally sound development of society.

In December, Mistra’s Board appointed Åke Iverfeldt as the new Chief Executive. He will assume responsibility for heading the research foundation on 15 April, and hopes to contribute his long experience of both national and international environmental research.

‘Since the news of my job came out I’ve particularly noticed the fact that Mistra has a strong brand. I’ve had a tremendously positive response from various quarters.’

According to Iverfeldt, Mistra’s image is that it supports interdisciplinary research that benefits users, and is successfully maintaining its leading position in the field. Reinforcing this image even further is among his ambitions for the organisation’s future development.

A large waste-paper bin standing in Iverfeldt’s room at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute indicates that he has started preparing his move from the Institute. He has worked there since 1985, and been Executive Vice President for the past 15 years.

‘Going through old work papers is a nostalgia trip. I keep finding myself standing here and skimming through what I find on the shelves.’

Research on mercury

His shelf finds include his first research reports from the University of Gothenburg, where he worked on how mercury spreads in the environment. This research yielded documentation for the models of long-range dispersal of this substance that were used in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) negotiations on restricting emissions from different facilities.

‘Early on, I focused on the environmental benefits of what I was doing, although it was basic science. Since then, knowing that the research I’m working on will be useful to society has been important to me. And after all, that’s how Mistra works — by uniting scientific excellence with goals for environmental benefits. That’s why the post of Chief Executive feels especially stimulating.’

The interest in the environment that has led him through his working life was aroused in early childhood by Jacques Cousteau’s book The Silent World, which his mother gave him.

‘Those beautiful, exciting pictures opened my eyes to the marine environment, and that resulted both in my being a diver in my military service and in my then moving to Gothenburg to study marine chemistry.’

Sustainable building initiatives

For his doctorate in Gothenburg, he wrote a thesis about mercury in the environment. This brought him a position at IVL where the many sides of his work have included drawing up international reports for various conventions, and promoting IVL’s research on sustainable social urban development. In this field, for example, IVL and the major building contractors have developed the BASTA environmental assessment system, which compiles facts and reports on what various building products contain, as a tool to help the construction industry to work in a closed loop and minimise its use of dangerous substances.

‘I always defend the place of science in complex sustainability issues. An interdisciplinary approach is particularly valuable. I’ve seen for myself, for example, the contribution made by research on human behaviour to development of the housing and communications of the future.’

Åke Iverfeldt has a couple of months to pack and complete various ongoing tasks before he starts at Mistra in April. One forthcoming commitment is a trip to Mongolia to hand over a research project on sustainable building. He is also planning to recharge his batteries for the new job with a ski tour in and around the St. Bernard’s Pass.

‘Ski touring and hiking among mountain peaks are my way of relaxing and collecting my thoughts. My latest trips have been to Senja, the island off northern Norway, and La Gomera in the Canaries, both of which have magnificent mountain landscapes.’

Monitoring current developments and managing programmes

He has many ideas about what he wants to do, once in place at Mistra; but first he wants to listen to what development opportunities the Board and Secretariat have identified. The tasks he foresees include continuing to foster the distinctive nature of Mistra and stepping up the structured monitoring of environmental developments to find the most interesting areas for new calls for programme funding applications.

‘Mistra was alone in having a model of strategic environmental research when it was formed 20 years ago. Today, there are more funders that work similarly, so we need to find out how the model and programme options can be developed so that they make the optimal contribution and we can continue to be seen as a pioneer.’

Åke Iverfeldt also wants to look into the scope for developing Mistra’s programme management, by studying international research initiatives. For example, he thinks that there is a great deal to be learnt from the EU about how impact goals are linked to the programme objectives and how, on the basis of this linking, how monitoring and evaluation are shaped.

Another line of work he would like to develop is making it possible to use, in more ways than at present, all the knowledge accumulated in Mistra’s initiatives.

‘I’m not sure yet exactly how, but investigating ways of doing it in greater depth will be intriguing.’

Text: Andreas Nilsson, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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