Sustainability requires interdisciplinary science

Linköping University continues to work across boundaries. Six
new professorships that drive world-leading sustainability research are the target for the research network “LiU Sustainable”.

Stefan Anderberg, Martin Rudberg och Kajsa EllegårdFoto: Göran Billeson

Interdisciplinary professors of today: Stefan Anderberg, Martin Rudberg and Kajsa Ellegård.

How do you build sustainable cities? How do you create the world’s most resource-efficient region? How do you set the price of sustainable system solutions? Can we develop new environmentally sustainable materials? Do we need to teach sustainability at school, and if so, how do we best do it? And how can we create a circular economy that does not tax the world’s scarce resources?

The questions are many, and all have one common factor: the answers cannot be found within one single scientific discipline. The challenges of welfare are great and difficult, the connections are complex and the problems rarely or never have simple solutions.

“We want to bring interdisciplinary science to a new level, where researchers from several different disciplines work together, taking a holistic approach to a problem,” says Jenny Palm, Professor of Thematic Studies - Technology and Social Change at Linköping University.

300 researchers

In spring 2012 the network “LiU Sustainable” was formed, and Jenny Palm chairs it. Technicians, natural scientists, social scientists, specialists within the humanities, medicine and didactics – some 300 researchers work for LiU Sustainable, addressing some of the major challenges of our times within climate, environment and sustainability. The initiator and project leader of the network is Anders Carlsson, Coordinator at the Division for Environmental Technology and Management.
Anders Carlsson och Jenny PalmFoto: Monica Westman
“We want to utilise and develop the unique knowledge that exists here at Linköping University, in terms of conducting interdisciplinary research. I dare to claim that we are already doing what many others are just talking about,” says Anders Carlsson.

Linköping University has a long tradition of interdisciplinary work. In 1980 when the university launched Technology and Social Change and Water and Environmental Studies, two units in the Department of Thematic Studies, there were lots of raised eyebrows. But today the practice of working across departmental and institutional boundaries, in close collaboration with businesses and the surrounding region, is well established.

Interdisciplinary research

For more than 15 years Linköping University has housed the interdisciplinary research school Energy Systems, and it is also the host university for the Biogas Research Center. At the latter, researchers from several institutions and departments investigate – in close collaboration with companies and organisations throughout the country – opportunities for and obstacles to the development of biogas as a sustainable energy carrier.

In order to drive the work forward within LiU Sustainable, Anders Carlsson proposed the creation of a number of cross-boundary professorships in sustainability, with professors rooted in one of the traditional disciplines, but with tentacles out to several other scientific areas. The proposal was greeted by a resounding yes, both from the researchers and from businesses and organisations in the region.

“The response far exceeded expectations, and we have now arranged two workshops to chisel out the problem areas where finding new solutions is the most urgent; areas that are also of urgency to the region,” says Jenny Palm.

“We were delighted that researchers and regional actors were almost unanimous when it came to identifying important and urgent areas,” says Anders Carlsson.

Examples of such areas include sustainable social planning, the ecology of everyday life, the pricing of the sustainable economy, the didactics of sustainability, applied biomaterials and health and sustainable food production.

The next step for Anders Carlsson and Jenny Palm is to coordinate the work and make the research challenges concrete in financing agreements. And for the university, the following step is to recruit the world’s best researchers within sustainability.

The aims are high: Linköping University will be world-leading within sustainability, both scientifically and in terms of practical use of the results.


LiU magazine no.2, 2014
5 June 2014