Clemson Students Travel to Sweden to Explore Best Practices in Sustainability

July 8, 2019

A group of Clemson undergraduate students are spending five weeks in Kalmar, Sweden, this summer to learn about what makes the area one of the most sustainable regions in the world.

From July 10 to August 13, the students will live and study at the Linnaeus University Summer Academy in Kalmar, where they will explore topics such as sustainable shipping, farming, water treatment, water, energy, transportation, infrastructure, local foods, environmental impacts, business and economics, policy and ecology.

Clemson students riding bicycles in Sweden

Students bicycling by the Swedish coast during last year’s study abroad program.

The study abroad program is organized by Lori Dickes, Chair of Clemson University’s Master of Public Administration program and Jeffery Allen, director of the South Carolina Water Resources Center.

The program responds to a new global environment, with governments, businesses and other organizations across the globe considering how they can be more sustainable. Sustainability impacts a wide variety of management issues, such as overdevelopment, environmental issues, municipal services – such as water, trash, transportation and power – public health and high-quality nutrition, access to green space and concerns of over tourism.

“The concept of sustainability is increasingly vital for students to understand regardless of their study focus,” says Dickes. “Students participating in this study abroad program will have a unique opportunity to experience a city that is at the top of the sustainability game, and to consider how they can apply these lessons to their studies and their communities in the United States.”

Sweden consistently tops the RobecoSAM Country Sustainability Ranking, a semiannual survey that ranks 65 countries based on several environmental, social and governance indicators. The country’s green technology industry produces revenues of approximately  $3.5 billion annually and employs more than 40,000 people.

The study abroad program includes field work, class field trips, case study sites throughout the region, and research and group projects with students from other universities. The program uses an integrated systems and interdisciplinary approach to teach students how to learn about and consider research, behavior and social norms around sustainability.

Students are placed in teams to complete group projects, and will also expected to write blog posts and share presentations about what they’ve learned on a wide variety of sustainability topics. When they’re not in the classroom, they’ll also be given the option of experiencing Swedish culture in a different way, by participating in cultural and extracurricular activities, attending lectures by internationally-renowned speakers and experiencing other popular recreational activities in the area, such as biking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and swimming.

Students learning about water management.

Students learn about several different sustainability topics throughout their month in Sweden.

Students will also study and assess best practices from local, regional, national and international perspectives, with an emphasis on the transfer of knowledge across regions. Dickes says that this is particularly important, as it helps students understand how the scale of a sustainability initiative can impact its planning, implementation and ongoing management to reflect specific regional, social and cultural needs.

“Sustainability is often complex and culturally-influenced, so there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach to solutions,” says Dickes. “Being able to see what is working in Sweden and what challenges they’ve faced, while also being immersed in that culture, can help students understand why certain initiatives were framed or developed in a certain way for that specific population.”

The ability to consider the cultural context for a sustainability initiative, including an understanding of what motivates people to change patterns of behavior, can help students better adapt and apply best practices to challenges faced in the United States and throughout North America. The program also enrolls students from universities around the world, helping its participants see sustainability initiatives through the lens of other cultures, and to discuss sustainability experiences through a global perspective.

Dickes feels that having students from different areas of study – and different countries – take part in the program reflects the need for every sector with a stake in the issue to come together to find multi-faceted solutions.

“Because sustainability is a broad topic with many dimensions, it requires an interdisciplinary lens and understanding of the breadth of topics that fall under this broad umbrella,” she says. “We need many different types of academic and professional backgrounds to work together if we’re going to solve the complex environmental, social, organizational and policy problems of the world.”