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A new Norwegian Sustainability Centre in Mid-Norway

This article originally appeared in The List Summer issue 2023 and was written in partnership with the Norwegian Sustainability Centre.

Kristian Mjøen and Samah Elsaadi from the Norwegian Sustainability Centre.

The List caught up with Kristian Mjøen and Samah Elsaadi, two of the people behind the new Centre, to discuss sustainability and what really motivates people to be part of solutions.

People and companies often don’t know where to start when it comes to sustainability and being a force for good in their local community. That’s exactly what the new Norwegian Sustainability Centre wants to change.

Although the Centre was only officially founded in August 2022, the team behind it has years of experience working with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Throughout their work on implementing SDGs, they realised there was one key issue: “You cannot change a country without doing something with cities and local communities. There is a practical need to help realise SDGs at the local level,” Kristian explained.

That’s why the Centre was established, to foster this relationship and make a real impact. Another great motivator to get the Centre off the ground was the huge international interest garnered in finding solutions to implement at the city level, as well as a practical way of measuring the success of implementation. This has historically been difficult to achieve. “It also became a business case,” Kristian said, “what kinds of services and solutions do these cities and partners need?”

International local approach

The local is always emphasised, even regarding the international work the Centre does. They want to know: what do partners need locally? In Norway, this means systems innovation. What is the right mix of funding and partners, given the local context?

Samah Elsaadi advising former Egyptian Prime Minister, Professor Essem Sharaf, on sustainable development.

Samah and Kristian emphasised the importance of the combination of the top-down and bottom-up approaches, but based on local context. “You cannot convince people in Norway to change their consumer behaviour if they don’t believe in what they are doing,” Kristian explained. “However, even if they want to, they will not be able to unless they are incentivised, supported, and informed.”

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as part of a 15-year plan to achieve them and ultimately reverse climate change. One of them is no. 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Not all societies are like that, some have low trust in the government and higher trust in the local community. Creating adaptions to these approaches is crucial and exactly what the Centre is doing. However, Samah underscores there’s one thing that unifies everyone: “People need to feel that they are welcome to contribute, we need to see the impact of our actions.”

The ultimate goal of the Centre is framed by SDG 11 – sustainable cities and communities – but the Stavanger Declaration has been the guiding principle in achieving them locally. The declaration was one outcome of a breakout session at Nordic Edge 2020, which a number of cities and counties adopted.

Stavanger declaration 1. Secure that people know what the status is in their local communities 2. Develop plans to show how the SDGs will be realized at the local level 3. Mobilise and support citizens, businesses, organisations and academia that contribute to sustainable development 4. Measure and evaluate the impact of the efforts

But why here?

It became clear that there was something special about Mid-Norway, the chosen place for their offices, though the Centre works with partners across the globe. As an example, Kristian and Samah point to some of the world’s most impressive energy solutions as coming from Norway, which have connections to startups in Trondheim.

The Sustainability Centre hosts an annual global internship program at Campus Kristiansund, where 10 young people from around the world can immerse themselves in sustainability.

The Centre also works with sustainable development hubs in Oppdal, simulation communities at NTNU in Ålesund, and prototyping data in sustainable development from Møre and Romsdal. “Understanding how advanced we are in this part of Norway is one of the things I see as an opportunity for the Norwegian Sustainability Centre,” Kristian said. They see Trondheim as important too, being home to NTNU, SINTEF, and communities like DIGS.

Everyone seems to agree that reaching these SDGs in the next few years is paramount, but the Norwegian Sustainability Centre takes it a step further: it’s good business sense.

The Centre is partially focused on partner matchmaking: “How does the best technology from Trondheim find a market in Egypt? Whether mobility or buildings. It’s not like a company from Trondheim can just show up in Cairo, right? These solutions need to be integrated as part of a whole.”

Kristian Mjøen presenting innovative solutions for funding sustainable development at the UN Habitat World Urban Forum in Poland (2022).

They are also focused on educating folks on how to implement the right strategies based on data. “There are ten thousand locations which can be defined as cities according to the UN that need facilitating change. How can SDGs be incorporated into their budgets and priorities? Filling the knowledge gap is also a huge opportunity.”

The Centre wants to move away from problem-oriented aims to solutions-oriented: “How do you make sustainable development worthwhile, for companies as well as municipalities? We are moving away from sustainable development, which is problem-oriented, to sustainable value creation. How do you make it possible for people who want to be part of the solutions – individuals as well as companies – to actually be able to contribute to the solutions?”

This article originally appeared in The List Summer issue 2023 and was written in partnership with the Norwegian Sustainability Centre.


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