Towards a sustainable society – in exceptional times, too


Towards a sustainable society – in exceptional times, too

The coronavirus crisis has dominated the headlines this year, and it has naturally been the focus of HYY’s operations, too. Do not let that fool you, though! Solving the environmental crises is extremely topical and important in exceptional times, too – especially then, in fact.

Saving the world from environmental crises requires genuine action from all of us. In line with our strategy, HYY is setting a good example with its own operations, acting as a pioneer in the fight against environmental crises. The values of sustainable development have been strongly integrated into our advocacy work goals, with the upcoming municipal elections an especially prominent arena for them next year.

HYY’s sustainability activities during the coronavirus situation

This year, the special focus of our sustainable development activities has been on strategic planning. The coronavirus crisis has made it difficult to conduct our advocacy work and made it practically impossible to organise climate demonstrations and other events built around the theme. As a silver lining, though, it has provided a great opportunity to develop the strategic planning of our operations.

The new Sustainable Development Plan for 2021–2023 drafted during the year and approved by the Representative Council in its meeting on 13 October is the culmination of this work. For the first time, the plan sets out concrete goals, focus areas for our own operations and clear indicators for our work towards becoming carbon neutral as well as towards other kinds of sustainability.

Establishing a collective sustainable development sector has been another focus area for us. In this line of thinking, ecological sustainability and the environmental sector meet the development cooperation sector, and sustainable development is integrated deeper into the work of all sectors. The Sustainable Development Plan and other new initiatives that we have laid the groundwork for this year will provide the platform for this development to continue in the future.

During this exceptional year, we have carried out our work in other ways, too. Cooperation with the University of Helsinki on issues such as the planning of a course on sustainable development for all students as well as other environmental goals has been constructive. We have continued to support statements and demonstrations virtually, while the Environmental Committee has continued its safe event activities commendably even during this coronavirus-filled year.

Of course, we should not forget our business side, Ylva, either. Its goal for achieving carbon neutrality is ambitiously as early as 2025. We are constantly working hard to reach this goal, which remains completely realistic despite the challenges set by the coronavirus crisis. We hope to see others do the same! We are already building the Helsinki of the future today.

More information about Ylva’s visionary work on building sustainable business activities and a sustainable city is available here: https://ylva.fi/en/

What does the future look like?

Despite our many good goals, practices and activities, there is still lots of room for improvement.

We cannot be satisfied with what has been done or decided before. Real change requires real and bold action. HYY, the University of Helsinki and the entire student movement can afford to and have the responsibility to continue to act as a pioneer in the future, too.

The coronavirus crisis should also motivate society to consider a sustainable structural change and ways to realise it, as these exceptional times provide a good opportunity to achieve this. The investments in the mitigation of climate change included in the European Union’s stimulus package, China finally setting the goal of becoming carbon neutral and the recent decisions of the Finnish government are promising signs, but obviously not enough. At the same time, Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections and the signs his future government has shown of returning from the darkness of climate denialism to once more take an important role in the mitigation of climate change on the international stage are also encouraging.

However, change begins with each of us and our courage to embrace it. As a University community and as people who will change the world in the future, let’s be on the right side of history. Let’s continue to foster the change towards a sustainable society!


Akseli Rouvari

The writer is a member of HYY’s Board (in charge of environmental & climate affairs, educational policy and communication) and an optimist dreaming of a sustainable society, better dialogue and Manchester United winning the Premier League.