#YEEInterview: Advancing Sustainable Solutions – IIIEE Podcast

The popularity of podcasts is booming and we’ve found another podcast that you can´t miss. Whether you’re after motivation, inspiration, goal setting, or wanting to learn something about sustainability, the “Advancing Sustainable Solutions” podcast is here to get you bingeing. In today’s interview, we talked to the team behind the podcast “Advancing Sustainable Solutions”, Steven, Karolina, and Frans.  They provided us with more insights on how exciting, challenging and fun at the same time, it is to communicate sustainability research outside academia, making it accessible to public audiences. 

Who is the team behind the podcast? Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

The podcast ‘Advancing Sustainable Solutions’ is produced by the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) at Lund University in Sweden. The IIIEE Podcast was launched in 2018 by PhD students Sofie Sandin and Steven Curtis, who both served as co-hosts for two years. Now in our third season, we have recruited new amazing talents, Karolina Södergren , to act as co-host together with Steven, and Frans Libertson , who is our new production assistant.  

Steven is in his final year of his PhD programme, where he researches business models that support sustainable consumption in the sharing and circular economies. Karolina is a PhD student, researching multi-actor collaboration in the circular economy through the application of industrial symbiosis. Her research focuses on the role of different organizations in achieving circular energy and resource flows. Frans is a PhD student, researching sustainable energy systems in general and smart grids in particular. His research aims at exploring the integration of smart grids into the Swedish energy system, as well as other flexible solutions for avoiding energy peaks, and to find productive strategies for facilitating transitions into sustainable energy systems. 






How did you come up with the idea of “Advancing Sustainable Solutions” – the IIIEE Podcast? 

With the IIIEE Podcast, we seek to make sustainability research interesting and relevant for our listeners. Today, much academic research is published behind paywalls, and written for an expert audience, making it inaccessible to everyday people that would benefit from the knowledge produced in academia. The podcast is an initiative of PhD students at the IIIEE, and – as early career researchers – we want to challenge this structure. With the podcast we communicate sustainability research more broadly while also addressing some of the limitations within academia at present.

More effort is needed to communicate sustainability research to people who can act on the efforts of academia, such as managers working with procurement or intellectual property, policymakers balancing the economy and the environment, and everyday citizens making decisions about their energy consumption or shopping habits. Our ambition is to produce a new episode each month, and you can listen on any of your favourite podcast platforms. We also have an active listener’s community newsletter, for those interested in receiving updates on new episodes and additional resources associated with each episode.

How do you choose the topics you’re going to discuss in the episodes?

Every month, we cover a new topic or theme, usually relating to ongoing research, events, or education at the IIIEE. This means we are always collaborating with our research staff or Master’s students. Curating new topics is always exciting – trying to find topics that are relevant for our listeners as we try to connect each episode with ongoing societal discussion on sustainability and major happenings taking place in the world. 

To arrive at an episode idea, we normally start with a brainstorming session between the podcast team and a collaborator. After discussing a few ideas, we choose one topic and start looking for an entry point. We want to have a compelling angle to make the episode interesting and engaging for the audience, but also balance scientific rigour and depth. To give you an idea, our most recent episode was on mission-oriented innovation, which was the topic of a recent event we hosted – the City Futures Summit. We have also covered intellectual property rights, experimentation in cities, climate change negotiations, and the impacts of aviation among other topics. In addition, we produced a miniseries on the circular economy, which explored circularity in business, consumption, and government.

Looking at statistics, who are the listeners of your podcast? Who is your target audience? 

We celebrate 18,500+ downloads of our podcast over approx. 2 years. We produce the podcast for a general audience interested in sustainability, and students and young professionals make up a large share of our listeners. We hope the podcast is insightful for those looking to start a career in sustainability, or looking for inspiration in their own lives and workplaces. We know the podcast has helped attract great students to our Master’s programmes. And, we also see the podcast helps nurture our collaborations with international project partners and funding agencies.

Here are some interesting statistics about our listeners, as of 15 November 2020. 

Total listens: 18,500+

Average monthly listens (last 12 months): 1,100+

Most listened-to episode: 3,400+

Countries w/ largest number of listeners: Sweden, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada 

Top 5 Podcast Platforms: AppleMedia, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher Radio, CastBox

In terms of making sustainability more accessible through your podcast, how do you feel about issues of marginalization due to lack of access to internet connection and the tools to get connected?

Already, academic research is not very accessible, requiring subscriptions with major publishers and an internet connection. Likely, only students, academics, and those working in a large multinational corporation have limited access to journal articles (although this is changing slowly with open access publications). Our podcast is working to overcome some of these barriers, as well as disseminating research more widely and starting a dialogue with our listeners about relevant topics to address our sustainability challenges.

Digital discrimination and marginalization are legitimate issues in our society; it is unfortunate that we cannot reach and support those that may lack access to the internet or tools to listen. We support the efforts of other organizations working on these issues, and welcome any feedback or suggestions on how we can improve access to our podcast. 

Which is the biggest challenge you’ve faced (or you are facing) since setting up the podcast?

A very practical issue is the balance between accessible language and oversimplification. Our goal is to make sustainability research accessible and easy to understand while maintaining scientific rigour. However, this is not always easy to do because of the format. The topics we discuss are sometimes complex and require time to elaborate. In our fast-paced and digital world, we have to compete for people’s attention and attention spans – the podcast needs to be succinct, yet provide a sufficient overview of a topic, the depth needed to understand nuance, and a call-to-action based on the research presented. It is an art to convey this complexity and still make the episode interesting. 

Another challenge for any content creator is engagement – how do you build an audience and get people to listen to your product? While we feel the podcast has significance to support listeners in understanding and acting on sustainability, the significance is only realized when people listen. Our current goals are to produce high quality and relevant episodes and grow our listener base. We hope that people like what we do and share the podcast in their networks and leave reviews on their favourite podcast platforms. We are only able to continue to produce new episodes if we can justify the effort. 

What kind of feedback has the IIIEE Podcast received?

The feedback has been fantastic! We think people understand the need to communicate more widely about sustainability research, and we have received only encouragement from our listeners, students, project partners, and funding agencies. We also have received support from our department and colleagues. We are encouraged by this feedback to keep growing and improving with each new episode. 

In your opinion, which role does youth play in raising awareness about environmental and social issues, both at the individual and community level?

Youth, young people, students, young professionals, we all have a role in raising awareness about the environmental and social challenges we face as a society. Maybe more than anything, that role is finding and using your voice. Greta Thunberg is an excellent example of a young person using her voice to create significant global impacts. The podcast gives us a platform to use our voice to share relevant sustainability research with a wider audience. Given our privilege and position in academia, we feel we have a responsibility to use our voice. But, finding one’s voice can be hard. What are you good at? What do you feel passionately about? You may leverage your strengths and interests to find your voice, just as we have with the podcast.

Looking back at when you started, is there something you would do differently?

With the podcast, like so many other aspects of our lives, we should remember to celebrate our successes. We are a small institute – with limited resources – and we have managed to produce a high-quality podcast listened to by thousands of people. As PhD students, with no experience, we took the initiative to do something bold, and it worked! 

Looking back, we should remember to ask for help – with technology, with communication, with developing our skills. In the future, maybe we seek to find a mentor or critical friend to provide meaningful feedback and support. There certainly are numerous times we second-guess ourselves and our decisions, and having the right person to provide critical and supportive feedback may improve the podcast and help us to support each other. 

What’s next for you and your podcast?

For the coming season, we will focus on producing high-quality episodes and engaging with and growing our listener-base even further. We have an amazing audience with people from all over the world. However, we want to expand our reach even further. We hope to achieve this by producing interesting and engaging episodes in collaboration with other actors both inside and outside of academia. We also hope to have a greater outreach by aligning our episodes with the overall communication plan of our Institute. 

Which advice would you give to the young people like you who want to be more active and aware in their journey towards sustainability?

Sustainability is a very broad topic that literally concerns every aspect of society and life. An attempt to focus on everything may be very stressful and ultimately not very productive. Instead, it may be easier to find an issue that you find engaging and focus on that. Look for local issues if you have trouble deciding. What kind of sustainability challenges are your city or region struggling with? It is often easier to take action if the issue you are interested in has some form of local connection. Once you select an area to be more active, ask for help and find resources to give you the confidence to speak on these issues. And, if we have learned anything from the podcast – take the initiative and use your voice, because people will listen! 

It is inspiring to see young people engaging in new exciting projects such as the IIIEE Podcast. Thanks for taking part in the interview and sharing your ideas about sustainability research with us. The story of Steven, Karolina and Frans teaches us that being brave pays off, so don’t be afraid to take the initiative and speak up!


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