Tallinn University of Technology

On September 6, Helen Sooväli-Sepping started working as the Vice-Rector for Green Transformation, who is responsible for making Tallinn University of Technology a leader of green transformation in Estonia. We asked her to explain how she understands the green transformation terms that have appeared in our everyday language.

Sulev Oll | Fotod: TalTech,  Karl-Kristjan Nigesen

droonivaade TalTechi kampusele

Sustainability, in Estonian jätkusuutlikkus

The all-encompassing term jätkusuutlik (‘sustainable’) has two synonyms in the Estonian language: säästev and kestlik. All three of them are used interchangeably in official documents, media and everyday language. When we talk about sustainability, we mean the objective of creating long-term value in a way that maintains the balance of the ecological, social, cultural and economic environment.

The UN, together with the research community, has created the Sustainable Development Goals (see keyword) to measure sustainability. These goals are increasingly being incorporated into national development targets as well as strategies of private enterprises.

Climate-neutral, in Estonian kliimaneutraalsus

Climate neutrality means that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities is more or less equal to the amount of emissions removed from the environment naturally or by means of technology. In order to achieve climate neutrality, the increase of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere must be stopped.

All greenhouse gas emissions are converted into CO2 equivalents, which is why we mainly talk about reducing CO2 emissions when we discuss halting climate change.

Circular economy, in Estonian ringmajandus

Circular economy is an efficient economic model, the main focus of which is on the reuse, repair and recycling of existing materials and products. This kind of approach requires changes to the entire value chain of products. Product design, new business models, and consumption habits are at the core of these changes, which, in turn, will also bring about changes in culture, values, and lifestyle.

Circular economy is based on an interdisciplinary approach, according to which climate neutrality can only be achieved through cross-sector cooperation.

Green transformation, in Estonian rohepööre

The transition towards a more sustainable future is directly linked to the EU-wide European Green Deal. The aim of just transition is to achieve a carbon-neutral and sustainable economy and create a resilient society that is based on solidarity and ensures a healthy living environment for all by 2050.

Green transformation will require more resource-efficient policies in all areas and changes in the current economic models but also in everyone’s individual behavioural patterns to minimise the ecological footprint.

Green transformation in Tallinn University of Technology means achieving climate neutrality by 2035. We will prepare the university’s sustainability strategy and action plan and set specific indicators with defined baselines and targets. We will develop the university’s circular economy strategy and implementation plan as well as a climate plan for Mustamäe campus. Our ambition is to also integrate sustainable development and circular economy into study programmes.

Greenwash, in Estonian rohepesu

Greenwashing is the act of misleading people by making them believe that something is green, sustainable or even climate neutral. Service and product providers are aware that consumers have growing expectations regarding environmentally friendly products and services. As a result, they use deceptive marketing techniques to make their products and services seem better for the environment than they actually are. This type of misleading may be intentional or unintentional, the latter results from a lack of knowledge about what sustainability truly involves.

The question is whether carbon offsetting should be considered greenwashing or not. An example of this would be a situation where a courier company that is the source of air pollution in our urban environment invests in environmental projects in Africa to balance out their own carbon emissions.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in Estonian säästva arengu eesmärgid

The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the world’s heads of state and governments for a period of 15 years (2015–2030). In total, there are 17 goals. In addition to these 17 global goals, Estonia also monitors the goal of the viability of the cultural space, thus we have 18 goals.

Goals for Estonian sustainable development have been agreed in the National Strategy on Sustainable Development ‘Sustainable Estonia 21’. The strategy is based on the Sustainable Development Act passed by the Riigikogu in 1995. There is no separate implementation plan, sector-specific strategies and development plans are used to achieve set objectives. The National Strategy ‘Estonia 2035’ provides a direction, for example, for the implementation of the SDGs of the UN.

In the Strategic Plan of Tallinn University of Technology, the main focus is on SDG 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. With regard to the area of the Vice-Rector for Green Transformation, the university is also committed to SDG 13: to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. As set out in the strategic plan, creating equal opportunities for all is also very important for the university, which is in line with SDG 5: to achieve gender equality.

Personally, I really care about the goal Estonia has set for itself, Goal 18: to contribute to the viability of Estonian culture, the foundation of our statehood. I deeply appreciate the activities of the cultural groups of the university as well as the use of proper Estonian as the working language. Every researcher can contribute to the viability of Estonian culture with the use of Estonian technical terminology.

Carbon neutrality, in Estonian süsinikuneutraalsus

Carbon neutrality means ensuring a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks. In order to achieve net zero emissions, all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions will have to be counterbalanced by carbon sequestration.

The main natural carbon sinks are soil, forests and oceans. To date, no artificial carbon sinks are able to remove carbon from the atmosphere on the necessary scale to fight global warming.

The carbon stored in natural sinks such as forests is released into the atmosphere through forest fires, changes in land use or logging. This is why it is essential to reduce carbon emissions in order to reach climate neutrality.

Ecological footprint, in Estonian ökoloogiline jalajälg

One of several consumption indicators. Ecological footprint is a method used to determine the approximate area required to produce the natural resources consumed in a year (heating, motor fuels, food, etc.), and to processes, store, or recycle the waste and pollution generated.

Ecological footprints can be calculated for individual persons, households, products, organisations, or territorial units (e.g. a country or town).

Helen Sooväli-Sepping