I recently published a round-up of things that happened in April (blog-worthy but didn't make it to the shortlist of stand-alone blog posts). That list included no less than two April talks about our Flight project. Well, we just held a third talk to a very particular audience and this time I was joined on stage by my project colleague Markus Robèrt.
The Flight project (formally "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations") has cooperated with KTH's Sustainability Office for a long time. Ours is a research project but we are interested in and can provide data and insights that supports the Sustainability Office in their efforts to transform the ambitious KTH targets into policy and then into action. The Sustainability Office similarly has an interest in supporting our research project (e.g. make sure we get the data we need etc.).
While there might not always be a Sustainability Office, but sometimes perhaps only a Sustainability Officer, each Swedish Higher Education Institution (HEI, "lärosäte") has someone who is responsible for sustainability, and these persons have a network and a distribution list. I'm not sure exactly what "MLUH" stands for but it's a combination of environment ("miljö"), management ("ledning") and HEI ("universitet och högskolor"). They also meet up now and then (I believe it's twice per year) and they just met for two days in Stockholm. KTH hosted the first day and Karolinska Institute (KI) hosted the second day. Me and Markus gave a talk at the tail end of the first day and then stayed to mingle and have dinner.
Our talk didn't have any description and hardly a title, it was just presented in the program as "Research project about business travel", but most of the people in the audience already knew of us and something about what we do, since we have recruited no less than 16 higher education institutions to our research grant application, "Reduced emissions from business travel" through their own distribution list. That also meant that for the first time, the focus of our presentation wasn't on results from our current research project, but on our upcoming, not-yet-approved research project - that many in the audience were part of and wanted to know more about.
This was the most knowledgable and enthusiastic audience we have ever talked to! And we would love work with them! Me and Markus only talked for 15 minutes before we opened up for questions - and the questions never ended. Someone in audience asked what would happen if our application was not approved and suggested that perhaps the HEIs could pitch in money to make it happen anyway. My answer was that we had not considered that option but a more realistic option would be that we would rework the application and send it elsewhere - since the project idea itself is too good to be abandoned.
What has amazing was the extremely high level of collective knowledge in the audience. Some of them knew more than we do in the research project about how a travel agency works (but assumed we already knew everything they knew). For gods sake, some of them had colleagues who had worked at travel agencies and who had intimate knowledge of intricate details in the travel agencies' booking systems! The mingle and the dinner was a delight, and it was also fun to put faces to persons that I had mailed or talked to on the phone when we rallied support and partners for our application.
The very best thing though was that two persons in the audience, representing two different big Swedish universities stated on the spot that they were interested in joining the application. Another person in the audience represented a university that had gotten in touch with us and wanted to sign up on the very last day (but it proved too hard to add them to the application since the budget would then have had to be updated and we were short on time). Yet another university had gotten in touch with us and wanted to join one week after the application was handed in! All in all we now have four additional universities who are interested in joining and that is an increase by 25% (from 16 to 20 higher education institutions).
So I have these four universities to sign Letters of Intent and sent to me (preferably signed by the president or a vice-president). I will then get in touch with the funding agency and ask if it is possible to "adjust" (update) the application to add these four (for the most part Big) universities. I'm not sure we will be allowed to do that, but it can't hurt to ask. Also we now have 20 Higher Education Institution as prospective partners in our application and that is more than 50% of all HEIs that have signed the Swedish "Climate Framework for Higher Education Institutions". This is basically the same as having more than 50% of all Swedish Higher Education Institution being part of our research grant application.
I think our application is pretty unique. After having done research in the area of "academic flying" for just about three years, I have certainly never heard of anything similar in any other country - and what is amazing is that the environmental officers at 20 Swedish universities hope that this project will be approved just as much as we ourselves do!