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Advancing Sustainable Solutions — Using a podcast to inform, engage, and discuss

For some years now, the IIIEE has built a reputation as “a university department that podcasts.” With this, co-founder Steven Curtis has—together with his studio colleagues—created a channel that educates and inspires thousands of listeners with different backgrounds from around the world.

“This is our quiet riot,” says Dr Steven Curtis, who was a postdoctoral fellow at the IIIEE and who is now a project manager at the Sustainability Forum at Lund University. “We see this podcast as a way to challenge the institutions of science. For years, we’ve felt that academia is not doing enough to reach out to people. Today, research results are often hidden behind paywalls, and the language of science is, in itself, too technical for a general audience.”

This wall of alienation between science and the public is something that Steven Curtis noted already when he was a bachelor's student at Penn State University, back in the United States. The drive to understand human and nature interactions inspired him to study meteorology. However, during his education, he experienced that many research professionals were not very good at being concrete. It was not until he changed track to environmental science and started his Ph.D. studies at Lund University in 2016 that he found a way to challenge the more traditional modes of communication within academia – together with a colleague, he started a podcast.

”In 2018, Sofie Sandin Lompar—a fellow Ph.D. student at IIIEE—and I had the approval from the department to start a podcast,” says Steven Curtis. “Sofie was a great co-host as she already had solid radio experience from the biggest local student radio channel — Radio AF.”

Through the years, the podcast has supported the training of early career researchers wishing to try this new medium for communicating science, including Karolina Södergren, Katherine Shabb, and Frans Libertson. Nonetheless, the aim of the podcast remains the same – to share ongoing research and activities through engaging conversation that is relatable and applicable to our daily lives. In essence, “we wish to support listeners in their journey towards sustainability.”

“With Advancing Sustainable Solutions, we have tried to make sustainability more accessible and tangible by showcasing ongoing research, events, and activities at the IIIEE. In each episode, we discuss a specific sustainability-related issue and present it in a way that is meaningful for our listeners, always specifying specific solutions for individuals, businesses, cities, and societies.”

Since its premier in September 2018, almost 30 episodes have been developed and broadcasted through the podcast aggregators on the Internet. “The episode with the most listeners (so far) is ‘It's not just a tree: a story about nature-based solutions’ where our IIIEE colleagues Kes McCormick and Björn Wickenberg talked about urban nature and how to invite nature into our cities. My own favourite, though, is ‘Storytelling for Sustainability’ where we reflect on our own journey together with storytellers Per Grankvist and Ludwig Bengtsson Sonesson, in order to inspire and encourage others to share their own sustainability stories.”

In recent news, the IIIEE just launched a new podcast collection called 'Talking Transformations' featuring thought leaders from government, industry, and academia. Our mission is to discuss current trends in science, technology, governance, and behaviours to transform our society and economy towards sustainability. We will release a mini-series several times a year, consisting of a bundle of episodes around a common theme. Our inaugural mini-series focuses on cities, climate, and change. This new podcast is a complement to our longform podcast 'Advancing Sustainable Solutions'.

The impacts – on a team, organisational, participant and societal levels

On a team level

  • The broadcast experience sharpens the communication skills of the podcast team.

  • The pedagogical challenge also makes team members more effective as teachers.

On an organizational level

  • The podcast helps the IIIEE attract students and staff with a shared understanding of the challenges we face and a drive to advance sustainable solutions.

  • It also helps building the reputation of the IIIEE, making it easier for the staff to initiate cooperation with colleagues and reach the funding organisations in this area.

On a participant level

  • The podcast has attracted over 50,000 listens, representing a large and broad audience

  • The podcast supports the exploration of new knowledge and ideas packaged in the format of a lively discussion with diverse voices – that has attracted significant positive feedback.

On a societal level

  • It is hard to measure, but in the long run, the podcast most likely makes things happen by disseminating knowledge, connecting people, and inspiring action.

  • Finally, the podcast connects the educational offerings of the IIIEE with research activities, and it has achieved recognition through being in the top 10% of all podcasts globally.

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Steven Curtis

Steven is a problem-solver, finding solutions to make the world work better. He loves teaching and believes in the power of the whiteboard to brainstorm, and he thinks that any meaningful change is brought about by working together! Steven was named among the 33 influencers under 33 by the Swedish Journal "Aktuell Hållbarhet", for making an impact in the area of sustainability in Sweden. Steven now works at the Sustainability Forum at Lund University as a project manager.

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Creating impact and lifelong learning

Challenge: There is a need to improve the effectiveness with which academic research enters the public discourse, and becomes available for use by professional stakeholders and citizens as well as across a diversity of organisations and sectors.

Approach: A podcast is a popular, cost-effective communication channel that fits well into the daily schedule of the target group (for example, during workouts or commuting). In addition, this medium is known to motivate its audience and create a strong ethos by offering emotional engagement and human connection. 

Outcome: Since 2018, the podcast Advancing Sustainable Solutions has published around 30 episodes, which are between 30-50 minutes in length, and regularly receive more than 2,000 listeners per episode. The podcast is recognised in the top 10% of all podcasts globally.  

Audience: Listeners represent a general and global audience interested in sustainability-related issues, including students, alumni, peers, professionals, policy-makers, and the general public—especially those interested in contributing to and implementing sustainable solutions in their own businesses, activities or lifestyles. 

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Advancing Sustainable Solutions