TalTech's plans to be climate neutral by 2035

September 28, 2021
Tiit Land
Photo courtesy of TalTech
By Eko Diena in 

As centres of higher education, universities should always be at the forefront when it comes to innovation and addressing issues in society and the world, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to sustainability and climate change.

TalTech (Tallinn University of Technology) seems to be taking that pretty seriously as it sets out a plan to be climate neutral by 2035, with the stated aim to 'pave the road towards creating a climate-neutral future and lead a digital revolution. First, a climate-neutral TalTech, then a climate-neutral Estonia'.

Speaking at the university's 103rd anniversary celebrations, rector Tiit Land made a speech on the commitment that TalTech is making to be 'seriously green'.

"I see a green race in society. One thought is chasing another. One article won't even appear if another is already in print. All this is complemented by a multitude of opinions, ranging from light green dreams to serious green science.

Tallinn University of Technology wants to be the leader of a real green turn in Estonia. We want the new truth of how we should live and manage today, tomorrow, and certainly the day after tomorrow, to be born.

This is a big change of thought, especially for my generation, who grew up in the midst of other thought patterns, saw success especially when we could do more, penetrate deeper and fly higher.

The days of trying for more are now over. It is important to be more efficient, more economical, to think carefully and to have limits. Unfortunately, 'having limits' is very difficult for big thinkers.

Green ideas are flooding in, even at Taltech. Green footprint calculators are already being seen at the entrances, which could add more credits to students who consume less.

It is suggested that a university that turns green should mainly work in spring, summer and autumn, when there is light and heat without lighting and without heating, and rest in winter.

Yes, we can change, some people also want to make fun of these topics. A joke is always welcomed, but not the green laundry that is gaining momentum. At Taltech - as well as at other universities - it seems natural that in the analysis of sustainability, the circular economy, green ideas, we only proceed from a scientific point of view.

After all, there is no point in trying to do what is impossible according to the laws of nature, it is not right to take sincere wishes from the depths of the heart into reality. There is no reason to say that we are doing something well and right when we are not actually doing it.

At Tallinn University of Technology, we want to give a green impetus to green thinking. From September 6, Helen Sooväli-Sepping, Vice-Rector of the Green Revolution, will be in office, whose task is, for example, to integrate the principles of sustainable development into curricula and to develop a circular economy strategy and curriculum.

We have set a goal to make our city carbon neutral by 2035. The newly completed nearly zero-energy building Ehituse Mäemaja, which produces solar energy with a full roof surface and uses many wooden structures to reduce its carbon footprint, can be considered a guide.

We also have an obligation based on internal coercion to participate in the process of a fair transition in Ida-Virumaa, because our Virumaa College is located there. We have compiled a vision and a concrete action plan to help implement the development revolution in Ida-Virumaa by developing green and digital competencies. One of the goals there is a regional innovation center with a supportive educational environment that supports the growth of companies' research capacity.

However, as we develop different ideas, we need to seriously research, conclude and decide what we want and can do. What we are going to change in ourselves, in our campus, in the whole world.

For decades, we have essentially stood at the same place, we have borrowed from tomorrow, without knowing whether we will ever be able to repay.

The behavior of the next generations is crucial, which depends largely on what students learn from the university today and tomorrow. Young people have a desire to do otherwise. We need to add knowledge, the scientific basis to that.

We at the university have to offer all this: both by changing curriculums and adding new ones, as well as by setting an example or at least inspiring students with our own behavior."

The university has also released a video, in Estonian but with English subtitles, setting out how they plan to achieve their climate neutrality goals.

It's an ambitious but easily achievable plan, and the kind of things that all universities across the Baltics and worldwide should be adopting, to stay where they should be, right at the leading edge of the fight against climate change.

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