Sustainable Development and TAMK | Topias Lehtimäki, Trung Dang Viet, Alessandro Zocca and Eija Syrjämäki

TAMKjournal | When people are thinking about sustainable development, conventionally it is regarded as environmental matters, e.g. waste treatment, recycling, energy or water efficiency. However, it is a more complicated topic because there are also a social and an economic aspect of sustainability that are often shunned. In addition, sustainability in university can be a deceptive term as university can be seen as an organization with input-output type of process. However, the definition is not transparent and need clarifications. This article aims to discuss about TAMK’s vision of sustainability and introduce solutions to evaluate the sustainable development carried out by TAMK.

Challenges of Unprecedented Magnitude

Sustainable development is about taking environmental, economic and social aspects into consideration in all actions and decision making. In the 21st century, sustainability has become one of the most concerned and discussed matter as the global community faces challenges of unprecedented magnitude due to rapidly increasing volumes of poorly managed waste, pollution and global warming.

Environmental sustainability is a state where resource use is lower than the yield; e.g. the waste generation is lower than the environmental capacity. Economic sustainability is, in a business context, the efficient use of a company’s assorted assets so that it functions profitably over time (Economic Sustainability, 2017), and socially sustainable community people have the feeling they can influence the decision making and their well-being is secured.

To achieve sustainable development, the three parts is to be in balance and harmony; social inclusion, economic growth and environmental protection (Picture 1). These elements are interconnected and crucial for well-being of each individual and society.

Sustainable Development as a core value of TAMK

Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) is one of the top UAS in the country being a study place for more than 10 000 degree students, offering them the possibility to choose between almost 40 different degree programs taught in Finnish and English, divided in 7 faculties. TAMK is obviously a working place too, in fact over 420 teachers and about 300 staff members are daily working here (TAMK 2016).

Picture 1 Sustainability Venn diagram

One of TAMK’s aims is to achieve sustainable development (TAMK 2016). The core values of TAMK is to integrate sustainable thinking and skills in education as part of ethical competence. TAMK aims to apply sustainable thinking and manners in all practices within the university and has high regard of sustainable development principle in research, development and innovation (RDI) activities, as well.  (TAMK 2017).

Every year about 1 800 students are graduating from TAMK prepared with the skills that will be required in the future. TAMK is also very active internationally, participating actively to different kind of exchange programs. In 2016 almost 400 students coming from one of the 355 partner universities spent at least one semester at TAMK and so did 220 teachers. The number of student going abroad to reach one of these 355 destinations were numbered to 744 last year, while the people spending their teacher-expert exchange away from Tampere were almost 500 (TAMK 2016). Therefore, it can be stated that TAMK is an international university of applied sciences and TAMK has a possibility to influence the surrounding world in a wider scale.

TAMK has a great possibility to prepare the graduates, as well as the staff, to value and implement sustainability in their everyday life and work. Thus, the sustainability should always be considered in everyday life; in teaching, in all decision-making processes and management as well as in research, development and innovation (RDI).

Evaluating Sustainability

When it comes to sustainable development, it is far easier to evaluate it in a traditional business environment where the businesses create products from various resources and raw materials. The metrics and indicators are all very clear in the business cases. The resources used in the processes before the product is finished, can be measured easily, and as such any implementations that aim to develop the business towards an environmentally and economically sustainable course can be measured by monitoring the changes in the input-process-output model (IPO model, Picture 2). This includes the evaluation of the product life-cycle and how the product can be disposed of once it is used. However, when sustainable development is put in context with an organization such as a University of Applied Sciences, the matter becomes more abstract. What is the product, and what is the life-cycle of it? What about the impact on the environment? How can the impact be measured?

Picture 2  The Input-Process-Output -model

From Systems Thinking to the Emergence of an Idea

The IPO model is a functional diagram that is usually explained with industrial examples, since it is the easiest way to explain what the process is all about. Taking TAMK as an example, the inputs are people that got a place of study here at the University of Applied Sciences; and through the study process these students will become experts in a specific field, and so the expertise could be considered as an output. A crucial part of the IPO-model at TAMK should naturally be the various campuses and the buildings the school uses for its processes. Nowadays, these buildings consume energy and water not only to make them socially pleasant environment but also because these resources are required by the staff and the students in their work. The annual consumption of these resources is monitored by the facility management at TAMK, which allows them to analyze the effects of investments and enhancements aiming to optimize the water or electricity consumption in the buildings. In the case of TAMK the production line of the IPO-model are the campuses and the buildings, which does not sound complicated. It gets complicated after the question “what are the main products and services of TAMK and how sustainable they are?” is asked.

TAMK’s main services could be perceived to be its degree programs and the vast catalogue of courses it must offer for its students. There are many ways these courses are held, ranging from more traditional classroom teaching to research and development done in the various laboratories present at the campuses, as well as online courses. No matter how different these courses are from each other, they all consume some energy and resources while they are operational, and while it has not been attempted at TAMK, it is possible to measure the amounts of resources used in the process. If the courses were monitored like this, it might provide an opportunity for the teacher to optimize the consumption of various inputs, if only by making them to think about the topic. Yet the resources consumed by TAMKs processes are only a small part of the schools’ impact on the environment.

Picture 3 Student’s dual role: the customer and the product

Moving Away from the Linear System

The students themselves play a double role here as they are the clients who use the services, but it can be said that they are also the main product of TAMK. As anticipated before; the people who begin their studies are an input in the IPO-model, the degree programs are the process, and the output are the graduated students, who are now a certified expert of their own chosen fields. Everything they learned (or did not learn) during their studies will have an impact on how they perform in their working life, through decision making with or without environmental, social or economic sustainability in consideration. Therefore, it is important that as long as TAMK regards sustainable development as one of its values, the school should develop ways to evaluate the performance. This could be done by studying the sustainability of the courses as well as by collecting feedback from the alumni. Has there ever been asked if the alumni learned about sustainability while they were studying, and how applicable the received knowledge has been? That could be a way for TAMK to collect data on their “product life-cycle” and to develop the course agendas further.

Everything they learned (or did not learn) during their studies will have an impact on how they perform in their working life, through decision making with or without environmental, social or economic sustainability in consideration.

Sustainability as a Theme of Development – SCIL Student Project

Smart Campus Innovation Lab (SCIL) is a Tampere3 open development community. At SCIL, students from various fields and university professionals collaboratively carry out development projects that benefit the higher education consortium on a wide scale. During summer2017, TAMK Floworks as a SCIL network member provided the coaching of the nine different development projects.

One of the project teams concentrated on sustainable development from the management perspective. The team developed a tool that could be used to monitor the way sustainability is understood and applied by the employees of TAMK. This EcoTool (TAMK EcoTool prototype, 2017) will help the staff members to think about how they are operating in their daily life at work, and also will help to understand if some improvement should take place. This article is written as a part of the development project. Learn more about SCIL and the projects on SCIL web site (SCIL).


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TAMK. 2017. Strategic Management and Performance Planning: strategy. N.d. Intranet memo. Retrieved 8.8.2017.

TAMK EcoTool prototype, 2017. N.d. EcoTool. Available at:

United Nations. 2010. Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Distributed 31 March 2010. United Nations General Assembly. A/RES/64/236. Retrieved 8.8.2017.

Wynhoven, U. Social Sustainability. United Nations Global Compact. N.d. Web page. Retrieved 8.8.2017. s-gc/our-work/social


Topias Lehtimäki, TAMK IB student

Trung Dang Viet, TAMK ENVE student

Alessandro Zocca, TAMK IB student

Eija Syrjämäki, TAMK Floworks coach

Photo by Trung Dang Viet