Published 2021-12-16

This post is also available in Swedish

“We will have the same inquisitive approach as Nils Holgersson”

In 1902, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils was published in Sweden. The idea was to inspire schoolchildren to learn more about their country’s geography, a learning journey that highlighted societal challenges that we are still struggling with 120 years later, and which we will probably continue to do so in the future.

At the turn of the last century, the Swedish population was a little over five million people and society had moved rapidly from agriculture to industry. The Swedish population has now more than doubled and we are undertaking change that has an environmental focus, similar to the journey taken in the early days of industrialism. Globalisation, urbanisation and digitalisation all mean that the context is different, but the societal change now happening is just as transformational.

In The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, industrialism and urbanisation are contrasted with a free life close to nature. The author, Selma Lagerlöf, uses short tales about grass snakes, elk and a family of bears to highlight important perspectives and draw conclusions. She allowed herself to be impressed by the growth of modern Sweden, but also encouraged consideration of the more invisible values of nature. Mistra’s research profile and its focus on environmental strategy also reflects this balancing act and, just like Selma Lagerlöf, we do not avoid the difficult issues.

Mistra was early to fund research into the management of natural resources and had several programmes that centred on measures to reduce emissions of chemicals to air, soil and water. Climate issues and action to manage the changing climate have characterised much of Mistra’s work over the years, and continue to form a strong profile are for our programmes. We are proud to have contributed to Sweden’s leading expertise in this area, something that became clear at this year’s climate summit in Glasgow.

In our current research programmes, researchers and societal stakeholders are improving the knowledge surrounding conflicting goals and potential routes to transforming energy systems, food production, water and drainage infrastructure and household consumption. Many of our projects are distinguished by their challenges to accepted truths and the adoption of a system perspective on the issues.

Several of Mistra’s research programmes create the right conditions for a paradigm shift in industry. We want to contribute to Sweden having the greenest industry in the world, and to help Swedish companies lead the way for others. This is why we now have programmes that are tackling the most difficult issues in industry. Researchers and industrial partners are developing everything from an overall concept for the more sustainable use of chemicals and plastics, to digital methods that support sustainable forestry.

We will continue along this path, and our ambition is to remain a step ahead and identify new and pressing needs for knowledge and research. We will have the same inquisitive approach as Nils Holgersson, and our hope is that more travellers will join us on our journey to a more sustainable future.

At the time of writing, in 2022, fifty years have passed since the influential Stockholm Conference, an international environmental conference, and it is time to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the UN Environmental Programme. As we know, environmental problems do not understand national boundaries so, like Akka the goose in The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, let’s look outside our borders and address our time’s major issues together.

With these words, and on behalf of Mistra, I wish you the very best for the coming year!

Anna Jöborn, CEO at Mistra