Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives – UUSI

Illustration of sustainability, a green city, water flowing, a circle with a smartphone, a car, clothes and a recycling symbol

Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives (UUSI) is a platform where researchers from various fields can meet and cooperate on sustainability issues. The work takes place in close cooperation with companies and organisations outside the university.
From 2019, UUSI works with four especially chosen initiatives where the three disciplinary research domains can together find new solutions for a more sustainable future.

  • Climate change leadership
  • Urban sustainability
  • Water, a shared critical resource
  • Circular economy

UUSI’S goals:

Contribute new knowledge to the public and professional dialogue on sustainable development.
Do so by:

  • Developing tools for effective multi- and interdisciplinary research collaboration.
  • Illustrate and communicate the research initiatives’ operations and results within Uppsala University and to the surrounding society.
  •  Initiate and develop multi- and interdisciplinary research initiatives with a focus on sustainable development.
  • Support cooperation between disciplinary research domains and external actors within the initiatives.


Leadership in a broad sense is of crucial importance to the ability to achieve a sustainable society. Within different disciplinary research domains, Uppsala University has on-going research in this subject. Between these, we are now building new cooperation projects within four areas.

Area 1: International and national perspectives and governance and regulation of climate issues 

Within this area, we are working on multiple levels: International level with the Paris Agreement, the EU climate targets, Sweden’s climate strategy at the national level and municipal level. Actors that are affected are the public sector, private sector, civil society and the citizens. Interaction and individual actions are being studied with a focus on Sweden. 
The overall research question in the area is:
How does Sweden contribute to developing, adopting and implementing policies, laws and norms to solve the challenge concerning climate change at the international, national and local level?

Area 2: The role of universities for climate change leadership

How can we understand existing practices for learning in our and other universities? How can universities generate knowledge that is useful for and contributes to transforming society?
The area aims to develop knowledge about the universities’ role in climate leadership. The research in the area wants to increase knowledge about how academia can be innovative and be on the forefront in terms of integration and handling of sustainability in higher education and how this in turn affects the development of society.

Area 3: Conflicts concerning climate change 

How can we prepare society for changes in social structures and migration patterns in response to climate changes? What kinds of social conflicts can arise when leaders try to transition to a more sustainable future? What are the underlying tensions between climate justice and fair transitions, and how can they be handled?
There are a number of conflicts that threaten to arise in relation to climate change or as consequences of society’s actions to avoid the same.
Projects for limitation of climate change and environmental care may in the poorer parts of the world result in both physical and financial displacement. Moreover, reduced global demand for fossil fuels may also constitute a threat to the economies that are dependent on them. 

Area 4: Behaviours

Everyday activities, purchasing decisions and travel behaviours have a major impact on how the global climate develops. The immediate effects are, however, largely invisible and every individual’s impact is negligible in relation to other sources. Only when effects are aggregated over time is it possible to distinguish the negative effect of decisions by individuals. In this theme within CCL, focus is on how one can motivate people to reduce their carbon dioxide footprints voluntarily by providing purposefully formulated feedback mechanisms. 

Illustration of a hand holding a sphere with a city and citzens

Urban sustainability

The world is undergoing rapid urbanisation. Every week, the world’s collective cities grow by around 1.4 million residents. It is estimated that two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. How all of the world’s cities are growing and developing largely determines if we will succeed in shifting to a sustainable society. Uppsala University has research in several different disciplinary research domains that addresses sustainable urban development. Research is conducted through four areas. 

Area 1: Social and political challenges with technology and innovations for the sustainable city 

A number of new technologies and innovations for the climate-smart and sustainable city are already developed or under development. This involves technologies for renewable energy, for traffic and other transports within and to or from the city, for communication, and to measure air pollutants, among other things.
But how does the technology affect the social interaction in the city and who has access to the city? Is there a risk that the technology for the sustainable city increases the gap between the city and country, that we increase gentrification and segregation? Are there alternative innovations and solutions to avoid negative consequences of new technology from a social and financial sustainability perspective. 

Area 2: Development of cities below ground

Internationally, cities have increasingly begun projecting for expansion below ground. Singapore with very limited access to land above ground has advanced the fastest and today has conducted urban planning for 200 metres underground. It is not only new infrastructure and industrial and warehouse facilities that are being built, but malls and educational premises are also being planned.
By using the underground, it has been possible to reduce huge amounts of energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the emissions from 10,000 cars. But at the same time that technical development is providing cities with the possibility of expanding downwards, we need to explore and analyse what the social consequences are of these expansions.

Area 3: Health aspects of the transformation city

In this area, how the city of tomorrow can be developed to promote good physical and mental health among various groups of residents is being explored. The area works on issues such as: How we can avoid the most serious health situations in a city in extreme weather (urban heat islands)? How does the city’s structure have an impact, meaning the degree of functional mixing vs. functional separation, placement of parks and green areas, placement of walking and bike paths, access to stores and various service functions?
One of three focuses is on how the design of the city affects the origin of various public health diseases and links to social science research (economics, human geography). A second focus looks at health aspects in heat waves in a city? In a third area, the importance is being studied of various forms of greenery, green areas and nature within and near a city to mental health/illness. 

Area 4: Urban Lab 

The Urban Lab project is under development in cooperation with Uppsala Municipality. The project works through quantitative research of urban development processes. 

Illustration of a green and sustainable city

Water, a shared critical resource

Water constitutes a cornerstone to society and is an important prerequisite for biodiversity. Water takes a central position in several of the global sustainable development goals – especially goal 6 ‘Clean water and sanitation’ and goal 14 ‘Life below water’, but also other goals. How water is managed also constitutes an important indicator for society's transformation to a more sustainable condition. 
Within all disciplinary research domains, Uppsala University has ongoing research in the theme of water and expanded cooperation is now under way within three areas: 

Area 1: Groundwater 

Groundwater is an invisible freshwater resource for more than 2 billion people on Earth, including around half of Sweden's population. With global growth, the demand for water-intensive goods has increased and entailed a depletion of more than half of the world’s largest aquifers, including Sweden’s. Despite society’s extensive dependence on groundwater, there is limited research in this area.
To highlight groundwater research in the debate on the sustainable society, interdisciplinary basic research is needed from various disciplines, such as geographic, hydrological, social, political, legal, financial and technical. We are working to develop this interdisciplinary approach within Uppsala University.

Area 2: Contaminants in water 

Modern analysis methods have made it possible to discover and quantify many different kinds of pollutants in the aquatic environment. In Uppsala, there are conditions to create research projects that are interdisciplinary, such as analytical chemistry, limnology, ecology, ecotoxicology, food research, toxicology, materials research, microbiology, political science and jurisprudence. Together, we can solve the sustainability problems associated with water pollution.

Area 3: Water conflicts 

Today, people impact the Earth’s geology, ecosystems, climate and hydrological systems. The era we live in is called the Anthropocene and is predicted to entail e.g. more extreme water-related events, such as floods and droughts, with negative financial, social and environmental consequences. Altogether, the new water landscape is considered to lead to more conflicts when limited water resources must at the same time contribute to e.g. creating a fossil-free society, manage drought, provide drinking water, produce food and be a place for human recreation.
Besides the direct anthropocentric benefit that water entails, there are also many ecosystem services that are dependent on water as a medium for biodiversity. The water is, however, not always managed to support a diversified use, but rather focus is instead often on one or two areas of use, which gives rise to conflicts. To ensure access to water and manage conflicts between various needs, sustainable use of the water is necessary.

Illustration of water flowing

Circular economy

Interdisciplinary research on systems, facilitating and obstructing factors for a circular economy and a well-functioning re-use of materials in a product cycle is being built up.

Illustration of a circle with a smartphone, a car, a house, clothes and a recycling symbol.