The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research
Supporting research of strategic importance for a
good living environment and sustainable development
In 2018, we strove to integrate our efforts to refine our research investments, to be a progressive asset owner and to influence the development of society by means of research-based knowledge. We have been trying to consolidate our three pillars — research, asset management and dissemination of ideas and knowledge — to ensure they work together optimally and create added value.
Integration includes bringing the programmes into contact to learn with one another, and our programme directors’ meetings have served this purpose. Another integration process is bringing asset managers and researchers together. We also plan a new position in Mistra’s Secretariat, to integrate research results from our initiatives with demand in society.
Mistra’s work relating to the EU was intensified. We prioritised it since much of Sweden’s environmental legislation originated in the Union. Moreover, many environmental problems today are global, associated with such matters as climate and chemicals. We also have global trade and product chains, which raise the question of how we are to defend our more sustainable products in the EU against those that may have been produced less sustainably.
Our research initiatives included two centres that reached their conclusion during the year. Both have brought about structural changes in the research community. We transferred the Stockholm Resilience Centre to Stockholm University, and it has been integrated in SU’s organisation. In view of the international impact the Centre has had, its continued existence is important. We are immensely proud of what SRC has achieved, and will remain so. Mistra EviEm, the Council for Evidence-Based Environmental Management, was also concluded but will continue under the aegis of the Swedish Research Council Formas, which has received extra block grants to run this kind of activity. The progress Mistra EviEm has succeeded in attaining will thus be perpetuated.
Two new programmes came into being during the year. One, Mistra InfraMaint, concerns maintenance of infrastructure, which is important for generating structural change. The other, Mistra Digital Forest, addresses ways in which a digital platform can help to optimise forest production as part of a bioeconomy and circular economy.
In terms of the financial outcome for 2018, we are immensely pleased. The year saw a good return initially, but this had deteriorated considerably by year-end. Overall, the final figure was 2.7 per cent, whereas in the past five years the annual return on our assets has averaged 7.7 per cent. It is especially gratifying that our funds in Cleantech are beginning to deliver. There, we took on long-term commitments that initially had an inferior return, but this has now changed.
Ahead of 2019, we have begun to prepare the midterm evaluations that are due for some of our initiatives. We are also looking forward to establishing the new knowledge hub that will match research results to demand in society; part of it will have a European focus. Moreover, we are continuing to work on four ideas regarding new calls for research proposals: marine environmental management; prosperity and sustainable development; technical solutions for restructuring the business sector; and digitisation in a societal perspective. Finally, we hope that our activities, both in Sweden and in the EU, to ensure progressive and sustainable asset management will continue to influence development.
Mistra produced a handbook, Från forskning till faktabaserade beslut – sju tips om kommunikation för Mistras forskningsprogram (‘From research to fact-based decisions: Seven tips on communication for Mistra’s research programmes’). It was intended to provide a better understanding of media logic and how professional opinion leaders work.
The Swedish Medical Products Agency set up a knowledge centre on medicines and the environment. Its functions were to include working to boost knowledge of drug residues in wastewater. The centre was a clear result of the previous MistraPharma research programme.
Green chemistry can fundamentally change the use of chemicals. In total, Mistra decided to invest SEK 56 million over four years, with the aim of replacing many of today’s often aggressive chemicals with non-toxic ones.
Mistra Sustainable Consumption started at year-end 2017. The plan is for the programme to pave the way, partly through studying and spreading sustainable practices, for consumption with less environmental impact.
We need greater understanding of the connection between knowledge and action where the environment, climate and sustainability are concerned. Accordingly, Mistra planned a new research programme on environmental communication.
Would you like to know how your holiday affects the climate? The holiday calculator at klimatsmartsemester.se is a digital tool aimed at making us rethink our holiday choices. Two Mistra programmes are behind the initiative.
One focus of Mistra’s new call for proposals on environmental communication was intended to be the gap between knowledge and action. The plan was for results from the four-year initiative to be rapidly put into practice.
Mistra decided to start a research programme on how sport and outdoor life (friluftsliv) can reduce their climate impact and promote sustainable development. The call was based on a background report produced by an international working group.
The leaders of Mistra’s research initiatives met in October to discuss success factors in interdisciplinary research and the business community’s contribution to environmental adaptation. The theme of this year’s meeting was sustainable development of society.
Mistra EviEM was renamed the Council for Evidence-Based Environmental Management, with Formas as its host. The Government appointed Lisa Sennerby Forsse, former SLU Vice-Chancellor, as Chair.
Some people want to maximise forests’ economic value, others to use forests as a tool in climate change mitigation. To find out more about the potential of forests, not least as a carbon sink, Mistra co-organised an international forestry conference.
Several of the projects funded by Mistra Innovation had resulted in commercial products or solutions with positive effects on the environment. The programme was now to be reviewed and there were hopes that a new, similarly oriented initiative would be possible.
The Mistra Carbon Exit programme began, with five case studies and five work packages intended to help bring about a fossil-free Sweden by 2045.
In November, researchers and decision-makers from the Baltic Sea countries gathered for a conference on how researchers, innovators and politicians can generate sustainable development. The organiser was BONUS (‘Science for a better future of the Baltic Sea region’), the partly Mistra-funded Baltic Sea programme.
In December, the world’s climate scientists and decision-makers assembled for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland. Researchers and representatives of several Mistra research programmes took part to exert influence the world’s leaders.
The focus of Mistra Digital Forest is on forestry that makes use of digital technology. A consortium led by the Swedish Forest Industries Federation and several research practitioners will manage the initiative, which has a total budget of SEK 83 million over four years, Mistra being the principal funder.
One clear trend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, a major US science conference, was the proliferation of seminars on communication from different viewpoints. Another was that environmental issues now seem to be integrated into almost every research field.
Five questions to Line Gordon, Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre, Mistra’s now completed major initiative
It’s only thanks to Mistra’s bold investment that we exist. As far as I know, there had never been an investment like that in the environmental and climate area in Sweden. Mistra’s really big contribution from a research viewpoint was that, with its flexible long-term initiative, it gave us the opportunity to take on big, complex issues.
Although this initiative has now ended after 12 years, I hope Mistra will continue with this type of long-term investment. For us researchers to be able to address the greatest public challenges, brave research funders are needed. Mistra is one of the few that have had both the courage and the strength to take on that role.
In 2007, research groups were already working successfully on environmental issues on a broad front. What changed when the Centre was formed was that groups with different research specialities gathered under one roof. That helped us build up well-functioning interdisciplinary research on how people and the environment interact.
Compared with many others, we spend more time defining which questions to try and answer. At first, it’s a slow work process, but it helps ensure that we often ask relevant questions.
One advantage we have is not only working towards the same goals, but also literally sitting together. Having coffee and lunch together gives more depth to our cooperation than is possible in more virtually assembled groups. Early on, this created a cooperative atmosphere that helped us to be rated in the first review, back in 2009, as a world-leading research centre. Building strong collaborations with international research groups over the years has been equally important for the Centre’s success.
Sometimes people mistakenly think working on conceptual terms is all we do. That’s not true; although we do work on these concepts, our actual research is ordinary, basic and data-driven.
On the other hand, a term like ‘planetary boundaries’ has educational value when we want to communicate research results. The concepts also work well when we cooperate with others. Although we initially have different ways of expressing ourselves, the concepts give us common ground to start from.
It’s huge. Back then, we struggled to find forms of interdisciplinary cooperation. Work processes that are now in place and are more accepted. Today, instead, we have changes in policy and society’s development to grapple with. At the same time we realise that, with growing fact resistance, it’s increasingly important for us to remain a strong scientific voice.
We also see that when it comes to climate and environmental policy measures, there is increasing political disquiet. One insight is that if unless we work in parallel on issues like justice and equality, we won’t be able to achieve sustainable development. So we’re now trying not just to describe the negative impact of environmental change. It’s equally important to show what a good life can be like in a world of 10 billion people.
Read a longer interview with Line Gordon about SRC’s research and future here.
Total to Swedish recipients, SEK m 0Total to foreign recipients, SEK m 0
Disbursements in SEK m, by recipient
Disbursements in SEK m to the five largest recipients
0Five largest recipients’ share of total funds disbursed.
Four questions to John Howchin, member of Mistra’s Asset Management Committee and Secretary-General of Ethical Council of Sweden’s AP Funds
The dividing line is traditionally between the companies selected and those that are excluded. This, in turn, depends on whether their management is active, rather than the more passive, index-linked kind. For a long time, Mistra has worked with small-scale, active managers who pick out good companies for small, concentrated portfolios that are believed to help bring about a more sustainable world. Many large-scale managers’ ultimate concerns are more a matter of costs and spreading risk. What’s more, for many good, small-scale and active managers, receiving an unrestricted amount of capital isn’t feasible and would cause their models to fail.
It’s generally difficult to find good, active managers with concentrated portfolios that, over time, exceed the benchmark index. Personally, I believe in the idea of stockpicking — actively seeking out and finding the really good, sustainable companies. In that way Mistra stands out and has succeeded tremendously well. It encourages us, and I see that Mistra’s approach is beginning to be more widespread.
One major challenge ahead is to get active investors to succeed better in relation to those who invest passively. Active management has had problems in attaining the same results as those who spread their risks. For example, stocks in a particular part of the IT sector comprising the FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) companies have been extremely successful, and people who haven’t invested there have found it difficult to make high profits. If they also have relatively high charges, it’s hard for them to find convincing sales arguments.
All enterprises have challenges. There are stakeholders whose expectations of ‘sustainable companies’ are too high. In general, they’re a bit better than companies that aren’t sustainable. But the difference isn’t always a massive one. What’s sustainable can also vary from one issue to another, and over time, after all.
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Birgitta Jonsson Palmgren
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Christopher Folkeson Welch
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