It is a grey, chilly winter morning in the forests of the Rimforsa area, about 35 kilometres south of Linköping. Karl-Olof Bergman stands on a stone on some recently cleared land, answering questions from some 20 students. How much did the forest owners get for the timber? How densely planted should new forests be? What happens to the blueberry sprigs? The questions asked are wide-ranging. Enthusiasm is high. Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar
“When we did this for the first time, we were a little uncertain about how it would work. But it turns out that the students are very excited about going out into the forest, and that’s great. It’s a little more hands-on than they are used to,” says Karl-Olof Bergman, associate professor and docent in conservation biology, and coordinator of the Ecology and the Environment course.
Seeing the bigger picture
For this field trip, he has a taken on a somewhat different role. From teacher to expert in forestry matters. The students are working for a fictitious furniture company that wants to invest in raw materials from a supplier who is committed to more sustainable forestry that takes greater account of biodiversity.During the day, they visit different types of forests and collect data in order to produce a brochure that can illustrate why this is the right path for the fictional company.
“It’s important for both companies and society to understand how ecosystems are affected and how that in turn affects what we get out of them. It’s not always most profitable to maximise profits in the short term, as many have now discovered. One example is the great flooding of the Yellow River in China in 1998, where deforestation around the river was a key cause of the disaster. Subsequent analyses showed that maintaining forests as flood protection would have been much more socio-economically beneficial. Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar
“If you see the bigger picture, you can easily get a different answer as to whether it’s economically viable or not. And that is what sustainability is really all about,” says Karl-Olof Bergman.
On the master’s programme in Industrial Engineering and Management, the number of students choosing the biological resources and sustainability specialisation, which includes the Ecology and the Environment course, is growing every year. One big reason for the increase in awareness, understanding and interest, Karl-Olof Bergman believes, is that all companies must in some way have a position on sustainable development today.
“For a long time, issues such as the price of oil or share trading were the biggest risks to the development of the global economy. If you now look at the major risks in the long term, five out of the six biggest risks are sustainability related.
Caspar Sundell, Emelie Rooth, Hugo Ahlin and Simon Fabre are all in the sixth semester of their programme. They are happy with their choice of specialisation.
“I’d be happy to work with sustainability in the future, but I think everyone will have to do so, one way or another. We don’t have much choice. "This course addresses many different environmental problems that we’ve heard about before, but perhaps without knowing exactly why they’re happening and how things are connected," says Caspar Sundell.
“It’s a sign of the times, many people are becoming aware of sustainability issues. There are often very good discussions in these courses.”
Simon Fabre and Hugo Ahlin highlight the benefits of going on a field trip. In several different ways.
“Getting out like this is interactive in a different way. It's easy to ask follow-up questions, and it’s fun at the same time," says Simon.
”The courses follow on from each other well. I like that. We have read about genetics, the environment, ecosystems and been given a context before we go out like this.
“And getting out into the forest is also a valuable experience. It's a long day, of course, but it's a privilege and so much more fun than sitting in a lecture hall for two hours.”
Caspar Sundell agrees. Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar
“This is maybe not really what you have in mind when you choose to study for a master of science in engineering at the university, but it’s fun and I think you learn in a completely different way than by just looking at a PowerPoint presentation.”
FACTS: MSc Programme in Industrial Engineering and Management
The Master of Science Programme in Industrial Engineering and Management was established in 1969 at Linköping University, and its graduates are often in great demand in the labour market.
During the second of five academic years, students choose one of the five technical specialisations in computer science, energy engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or biological resources and sustainability, which includes the Ecology and the Environment course.
This coverage was published in LiU Magazine #1 2023.