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About NTNU Sustainability

About NTNU Sustainability


By its very nature, sustainability is a global challenge. The greatest societal challenge of our time is twofold. We must combat poverty and injustice; at the same time, we must take care of the local and the global environment for present and future generations. NTNU’s research on sustainable development of society includes environmental, economic and social aspects in the broadest sense.

NTNU aims to be an international player in society, providing research-based contributions into decision-making processes within politics, business and society at large, e.g. towards the UN, the EU 2020 Strategy and Norwegian climate policy. NTNU wants to develop high quality research groups further into taking an international leadership role in their fields.

One example is the Industrial Ecology Programme, which with its basis in environmental systems analysis and climate research, may constitute the core in development and use of environmental and sustainability assessments on different levels.

Another example is the Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics, where biologists and mathematicians collaborate to find answers to how and why animal populations vary, and how human activity influences biological diversity. It is important to understand these dynamics and to use scientific methods to understand the complex interaction between urban development, infrastructure and modern communication.

At the same time, we must respond to the need for food, water and other natural resources for the world's growing population. 

Consumption patterns in the Western world also influence the entire product value chain worldwide. It is important to establish a framework and business models that encourage green value creation and the green transformation in the business community.

Ethics-based knowledge is needed to prevent violation of human rights in the same value chains, which is a research focus in NTNU’s Programme for Applied Ethics.

Based on outstanding research environments, NTNU aims to be an international leader on four fronts: 


Institutional framework

Knowledge areas: philosophy, economics, sociology, political science, geography, history, interdisciplinary studies of culture, industrial economics and technology management, industrial ecology. 

The institutions represent the rules of the game for society, both nationally and internationally. Institutions shape our actions and express something about the solutions we aspire to as a society. A good institutional framework is one of the most important conditions to enable sustainable development of society. 

Sustainable adaptations demand clear goals. They require us to take advantage of technological possibilities and to establish attitudes and incentives ensuring that the players in society reproduce the factors essential to their existence and improve rather than worsen them.

Our commitment to this focus area overrides the others, and is intended to help ensure that opportunities are realized for both industrialized countries and developing countries. 

Sustainable urban and regional development

Knowledge areas: Architecture, building conservation, urban design and planning, civil and transport engineering, computer and information science, geography, sociology, political science, psychology, interdisciplinary studies of culture. 

In recent decades, urban growth has been dramatic. For the first time in history, more than half the world's population lives in urban areas. By 2050, this figure will probably rise to 70 per cent, with an annual population growth of 50-60 million inhabitants.

Cities are already by far the largest consumers of energy, and account for 80 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Today, urbanization is one of the greatest environmental challenges that our planet is facing. Most of the growth will be in cities in developing countries with life-threatening conditions and possibly with the greatest challenges related to achieving sustainable development. 

However, cities have great potential for reducing emissions because energy consumption and emission levels largely depend on how cities are designed and how available resources can be exploited in relation to this design.

Sustainable urban development will therefore be a fundamental contribution to economic growth and social progress. It will ensure good quality of life for the population with job opportunities, good housing, and access to resources, energy and social services.

We need theoretical and empirical research addressing the interaction between political governance/urban development strategies, technology, architecture and urban design, everyday life, land use, infrastructure and transport. Issues such as poverty, inequality, production and consumption in the urban communities of the future are key in the development of sustainable cities. 


Biodiversity and ecosystem services

Knowledge areas: biology, natural history, geography, economics, archaeology and cultural history, sociology and political science, ethics, industrial ecology, architecture, urban design and planning.

There is escalating pressure on biodiversity and ecosystem services, defined as benefits that nature provides to us. Changes in land use are the most important driving force, both nationally and globally. Other factors that intensify the pressure on the natural environment include climate change, overharvesting of biological resources, and pollution. 

These direct driving forces are in turn influenced by indirect societal forces related to politics, economy and technology. Changes in the natural environment also change our access to a number of natural resources, and thus have an impact on our well-being.

NTNU will conduct research on anthropogenic effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services. We want to understand how political, economic and social change processes and conflicts of interest create changes in the natural environment, and what measures can stop the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Methods and technologies for monitoring, valuing and modelling biodiversity and ecosystem services will be key themes for research. This is especially important because many of the most important regions for biodiversity are in countries that have not charted their natural resources to a significant extent. 


Environment and sustainability assessments

Knowledge area: industrial ecology, economic analysis and society. 

Environmental and sustainability assessments should help us to quantify and understand the actual impact on nature, on society and the economy, as well as the room for maneuver we have for human development based on available resources and nature's ability to absorb pollutants.

The core in this research area is ‘industrial ecology’, which makes use of material flow analysis, life cycle assessment, input output analysis and systems thinking to inform solutions in production and consumption systems aiming for minimized environmental footprints.

This includes development and applications of models, indicators, methods and strategies for realizing future green shifts on different levels in society (national, regional, city, company, product value chain and individual).

Such green shifts will cover new technologies, solutions and behaviour in different sectors such as energy, manufacturing, metal production, transport, marine and maritime activities, waste management and recycling, etc.

Analytical methods used today are further developed by integration of knowledge on economy, natural resources and biodiversity, as well as the need for addressing and balancing diverse values and interests with the use of multi-criteria decision-support tools. Environmental and sustainability assessments are strengthened through development of ICT-based modelling, automated data collection, processing and dissemination.

The four key areas can be summed up in the following research model:

Illustration showing the interconnections between the research areas.


Cross-cutting research challenges

As well as the four key areas, cross-cutting challenges must be tackled. Achieving operationalized and implemented research results addressing these challenges is vital. Although climate change is one of the major challenges related to sustainable development, it is worth noting that we have not selected “climate” as a separate key area.

Our approach is that climate is a theme that pervades all four selected key areas. This approach applies to climate interventions regarded as mitigation (that is, measures to limit emissions and consequent climate change) and adaptation (that is, measures to enable adaptation to climate change). All research under NTNU Sustainable Societal Development must address climate issues.

ICT as an enabling technology

ICT systems are everywhere in society, and modern societies depend on a large number of well-functioning ICT systems, including the infrastructure that links the systems together.

Sustainable solutions include ICT as an enabling technology, but ICT can also create unsustainable practice if it is used incorrectly in the four key areas under NTNU Sustainability. 

Ethical perspectives

Justice is an essential dimension of sustainable development. First, justice concerns equitable distribution between rich and poor countries and individuals. Second, it concerns fair management of nature and the environment. Third, justice is a question of responsibility to future generations.

These three dimensions of justice pervade many issues, and the four key areas must therefore take care of ethical perspectives.

Sustainable design and business models

Effective use of energy, land and material resources is important to all the key areas and a critical factor for realizing sustainable development of society. It is vital to emphasize resource efficiency throughout the product life cycle, from the extraction of resources and raw materials, through manufacturing and distribution processes, to end use in the individual sector.

Results from sustainability assessments should be integrated early in the design process to ensure sustainable products, and this knowledge should be integrated in strategic decision-making processes in the businesses.

Research on barriers and opportunities throughout the value chain will be a pervasive theme in all the key areas. 


Land use

The theme of land use changes is important in all the key areas. Insight into political, economic, social and cultural driving forces is necessary to enable sustainable land use at an overarching level.

Land use must be taken into account in development of sustainable cities; for example, through higher densities and mixed-use development and through the influence of green structures in urban areas on the population's health and welfare.

Land use changes represent the most important driving force for changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services, both globally and nationally. Thus, land use is also an issue in environment and sustainability assessments; for example, in ecological footprint analysis.


26 Jan 2016

Pilot projects

Pilot projects

Research in the 8 research areas must be internationally outstanding and must contribute to achieving the vision of a shift towards a more sustainable society. At the same time, the research must foster cooperation across traditional disciplinary boundaries and contribute to establishing multi-faculty collaborative projects. 

NTNU Sustainability has defined four pilots in a limited period (April-December 2015). The aim of the pilot projects is

  • to work on some themes that involve researchers across the boundaries of academic environments at NTNU
  • to establish a position in relation to research programmes at the national and international level
  • to help in highlighting new key areas at NTNU

Pilot projects

Pilot 1: Sustainable cities, local communities and regions

The aim of this pilot is to test and develop indicators of sustainable societal development by applying existing Norwegian indicators and new international standards for sustainable development of communities in a set of case studies / living laboratories: the city lab in Trondheim, the urban and regional labs in Steinkjer and Ålesund, the fjord lab Geiranger, the island lab of Frøya, the island lab/village lab at Stokkøya, the campus lab of NTNU, the megapolis lab of Xixian (China), and the village lab of Serengeti (Tanzania).

Work is being done in partnership with local organizations and research environments and with Standards Norway. Students are involved through vacation work, through projects and master's theses. 

The aim of this pilot is to establish a national centre for green value creation and sustainable business models.

This centre's mission is to develop knowledge related to new business models to inspire the green transformation in Norwegian business and industry, including modelling and analysis of value chains, value networks and value workshops with a view to sustainability, as well as to develop prototypes and demonstrate effects and opportunities through experiments in manufacturing companies.

The aim of the pilot is to help create new knowledge through research and doctoral education. An application has been submitted to the Research Council of Norway for a national research training programme.

Partners in addition to NTNU are the universities of Oslo, Stavanger and Nordland, BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, the Norwegian School of Economics, the research communities of SINTEF, Møreforsking and Standards Norway, as well as a number of international partners.

The aim is to gather strong relevant research environments that are already located in Trondheim. An interim board has been established with representatives from NTNU, SINTEF, NINA and Bioforsk – the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research. Work on employment contracts is in progress.

An established CeBES will be in a favourable position to apply for major national and international programmes, with several important initiatives as its point of departure: 

  • The regional assessments of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) for the period 2015-2018
  • IPBES Technical Support Unit on capacity building established in Trondheim 25 February 2015, 
  • The assessment for Europe will require Norwegian contributions: The Norwegian Environment Agency’s national assessment, and focus on Norway's lack of a national centre for biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES).
  • The Official Norwegian Report (NOU) 2013:10 “Naturens goder – om verdier av økosystemtjenester” [“Natural capital – on the value of ecosystem services”] is to be followed up in 2015 through a Report to the Storting in which this is included 

RRI involves explicit inclusion of values when we develop new technologies. The objective of this pilot project is to identify challenges for NTNU and explore opportunities to develop knowledge related to technology, ethical dilemmas and social issues.

During this pilot, we have developed the following applications: 

  • Horizon 2020: Developing a Reference curriculum for responsible research and InnoVation education for Engineers (DRIVE) (Delft University of Technology (coordinator), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), NTNU, Aalborg University, University of Zurich) – high rating, not funded. Partners are continuing work on future applications, as part of RRI cooperation under the CESAER umbrella. Application submitted in October 2014. Achieved a good evaluation, but no funding. Interesting links to upcoming application Horizon 2020 Supporting structural change in research organisations to promote Responsible Research and Innovation.
  • Ministry of Education and Research: National centre for learning analytics at NTNU, an interdisciplinary and internationally oriented centre. Application submitted to the Ministry in March 2015.
  • Research Council of Norway: Value chain responsibility and implications of ICT innovation (VRIII). Application submitted to the Research Council of Norway in February 2015.
  • An evaluation of Environmental Goods (EGs) for the WTO EGA: EGs for Developing Countries

Two applications under Horizon 2020 are being developed, with the deadline for applications 16 September 2015:

  • Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in an industrial context.
  • Supporting structural change in research organisations to promote Responsible Research and Innovation.