Outi Ala-Honkola

Outi Ala-Honkola: Include sustainability goals in your research plan

3 Feb 2021

For some researchers, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is among the objectives of the research; others see the inclusion of sustainability aspects as additional work when applying for research funding. Be that as it may, unless you follow and pursue the principles of sustainable development, you will not achieve success in international funding competitions.

At the Academy of Finland, we sometimes get negative feedback from funding applicants on our requirement that the research plan must include a description of how they will consider the principles of sustainable development.

“I still wonder about that section on sustainable development: in many research plans it seems completely contrived.”

Why are some scientists so negative about considering sustainability? Should science and scientists not also do everything they can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

Of course, there’s a large number of researchers for whom achieving the sustainable development goals is among the objectives of the research. Nevertheless, I believe that every researcher should consider the wider impact of their project from the perspective of sustainability. Surely nobody believes that equal opportunities for wellbeing, gender equality and the eradication of poverty, for example, are unimportant objectives? Furthermore, in the light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the importance of a lifestyle that respects biodiversity has certainly become clear to everyone.

Based on what I’ve heard from members of the research community, I believe that the objection to examining one’s own research in relation to sustainable development goals stems from something else: researchers are locked in a fierce competition for limited amounts of money, where each new section added to the research plan further increases the workload.

It’s important to consider sustainability in funding applications

We find ourselves globally in a situation where not adhering to the principles of sustainable development in research plans means no success in international funding calls.

The scientific review of applications submitted to the Academy of Finland’s September call does not yet apply to the principles of sustainable development, but sustainability may still be a factor in the research councils’ decision-making. When a research council is comparing highly rated applications, a well-written description of sustainable development goals may be the differentiating factor that sways the funding decision in favour of the application.

Applicants would therefore do well to take the sustainable development section of the application seriously and consider how their research can contribute to achieving the principles of sustainable development and how the research team can take the objectives into account in its daily work. For example, almost all research projects can through their work have a positive impact on gender equality. At any rate, we as a society cannot afford to ignore sustainable development.

You may also be interested to read Laura Raaska’s blog post: Academy of Finland is committed to promoting sustainable development

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