Tallinn University of Technology

On 19 February 2021, the board of the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) approved the university’s strategic plan for 2021-2025. It sets out short but explicit goals, which the university is striving towards. What are the specific steps in terms of sustainability and becoming a climate-neutral university? Helen Sooväli-Sepping, Vice-Rector for Green Transformation.

Helen Sooväli-Sepping

Universities play an important part in dealing with global environmental issues. Education, research and community engagement contribute to long-term environmental impacts and changes in society. By implementing best practices in their administrative operations as well as studies and research, universities have a major effect on society.

Scientific literature highlights three primary drivers of integrating the principles of sustainability into the university’s administration, studies and research activities. They are as follows:

1. requirements set out in international and national directives; 2. the ethical obligation to address global issues; and 3. pressure on staff and students to contribute to a sustainable mindset and apply their knowledge for the benefit of international and national policy development.

Many of the world’s universities are role models for TalTech with the metrics and measures set out in their development strategies. Positive examples can be found nearby in Sweden, Norway and Finland. For example, the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT) is committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the university aims to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2024. By analysing the sustainable development programme and action plan of LUT and other universities, it appears that they focus on four primary impact categories: sustainability in research, sustainability in teaching, sustainability in studies, sustainable campuses and societal interaction and cooperation.

One of the key objectives of the 2021-2025 strategic plan of TalTech is also to be a sustainable and inclusive university. The primary indicators of the strategic plan are aimed at the development of a strategy for a sustainable future and a climate-conscious university, and the university is committed to being climate-neutral by 2035.

On 3 February 2022, the Centre for Climate Smart Transformation was established at TalTech on the basis of a directive issued by the rector, whose first major goal is to prepare a methodology and metrics for carbon emissions. The centre’s courses of action include the preparation of a sustainability strategy, the creation of plans and development projects for the public spaces and buildings on campus as well as mobility, circular economy and biodiversity. Similarly to other universities promoting sustainability, integrating initiatives of sustainable development, a circular economy and climate-neutrality into the university’s study and research activities play an important role.


TalTech has already contributed to the integration of the circular economy into studies – starting from this spring, students can take part in the interdisciplinary university-wide course “Introduction to Circular Economy”. In addition, a circular economy course was organised this year by the university staff for the high schoolers of Paide.

From January 2022, a new Master’s programme “Green Energy Technologies” was launched in the School of Engineering, which is aimed at introducing solar, wind and hydrogen technologies. This study programme is the first to directly contribute to the green transition. There are plans to create study programmes for sustainable industry and sustainable chemical engineering at the Virumaa College.

Under the leadership of the School of Business and Governance and the ethics, responsibility and sustainability working group, these topics have been integrated into the core of course curricula in order to find potential links between the UN Sustainable Development Goals and what is being taught. Students are also encouraged to make the relevant connections in their internship reports. Lecturers are encouraged to suggest thesis topics related to sustainability.


The largest parts of TalTech’s carbon footprint are related to buildings and mobility. It takes a great deal of resources to maintain and upgrade the physical spaces of the university, but resources, as we know, are limited. We have become quite skilled at assessing and planning measures to reduce the footprint of energy consumption, but there is still a lack of a common understanding of the methodology and good practices for assessing the carbon footprint of the lifecycle of buildings (report of the green policy expert group of the Government Office, April 2022).

The buildings of TalTech were established as single-function buildings and it is difficult to use the space effectively, as 30% of the space consists of corridors, technical rooms and other such spaces, which are not directly related to the university’s primary function, i.e. studies. Due to the architecture and primary functions of various buildings, the relative amount of space varies significantly for both staff and students. For example, the main building of the Estonian Maritime Academy has spacious corridors and large common areas and was not designed to be a study building of a university.

In addition to using university premises more effectively, we have been working on the energy efficiency of buildings themselves in order to reduce the footprint of energy consumption, including increasing the proportion of on-site and off-site renewable energy in our energy balance. For example, installation of solar panels on available roofs and southern facades is becoming more popular and an agreement has been signed with the Geological Survey of Estonia to establish and utilise a test station for geothermal energy on Mustamäe campus. Along with energy savings and the reduction of carbon footprint, we are exploring better ways of using indoor spaces, which are related to post-COVID use as well as changes in the purpose of use and renovation. Decisions on building and renovating premises are largely influenced by reducing the footprint as well as improving indoor climate and productivity, i.e. a space that is more user-oriented and used more frequently.

The university’s campus is like a living laboratory, where we can develop and test novel solutions to boost the economy while reducing environmental impacts. For example, in the autumn, students will build a joint classroom on campus using recycled materials, which is part of the Circular Valley project of the building materials laboratory.

When making the decision to invest, we need to be even smarter in terms of climate and take into account the entire lifecycle of buildings. A lifecycle-based way of thinking and a comprehensive assessment of the carbon footprint is linked to the concept of procurement and smart contracting, which takes into account the actual total impact of buildings in their lifecycle, i.e. the CO2 intensity of their building materials as well as the transport needs and accessibility related to the location of buildings, which may have a significant effect on the actual environmental impact of a building. A similar principle applies to procurement in a broader sense, such as to office supplies and catering, where a conscious contracting entity promotes a smaller footprint with the way the procurement is structured. An environmentally conscious contracting entity understands the circular economy and product design, i.e. raw materials as well as production and logistics processes. TalTech is an environmentally conscious contracting entity.

Transporting people and goods from one place to another is another major part of the footprint. Mobility is related to spatial design and here, too, TalTech is thinking outside the box. We are launching an idea competition to find an architectural layout to connect the university and the Tehnopol Science and Business Park with a promenade. This benefits a wider range of people – the students of the new technical state gymnasium can use the promenade to get to the university’s sports and study facilities and thus get to know the campus of a university where they are likely to continue their studies and residents of the surrounding areas will have a healthy recreational opportunity, as they can take a walk along an illuminated, innovative path enriched with small architectural structures and use the nearby services.

The goal of reducing the footprint of mobility is to motivate staff and students to give up personal vehicles and use public transport, light electric vehicles as well as rental and shared vehicles. To that end, we will improve the charging infrastructure for electric scooters, bicycles and cars on campus, as well as infrastructure promoting bicycle use, i.e. bicycle storage facilities and washrooms. In the development of the light traffic infrastructure on campus, we are collaborating with the City of Tallinn.


The Centre for Climate Smart Transformation is constantly contributing to events related to environmental sustainability and finding solutions on campus. The third Sustainability Week, led by students of the School of Business and Governance, took place in April 2022, which included several lectures on sustainability, responsibility and ethics, discussion groups, challenges and other events intended to draw the attention of the university members and the public to overconsumption, health (i.e. exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.) and unequal treatment.

Some immediate successes include the addition of dispensers in the study buildings of Mustamäe campus to fill water bottles as well as waste bins for glass waste. In April, the library’s cafeteria offered on Tuesdays a wider selection of plant-based food, including vegan food.

All members of the university are contributing directly or indirectly to the achievement of our goal of becoming a climate-conscious university. Involving our researchers and students in the activities of our support structure is essential to achieve a science-based and well-thought-out result. In its organisational culture, TalTech values cooperation, inclusion and support, which is why we have organised, and continue to organise, seminars, discussions and brainstorming sessions, which allow members of the university to have a say and share their ideas with a broader group.