Promoting sustainable living in the Arctic

Our task is to explore how the nature responds to the Arctic meltdown, to invent solutions to adapt to climate change, and to reduce the environmental footprint of our presence.

UNIS’ vision is “Arctic education and research for global challenges”. The most serious human challenge of this century is to drastically reduce amount the man-made CO2 released into the atmosphere. Arctic warming is observed to be at a much faster rate than warming elsewhere on the planet. During the past 30 years, the average annual temperature has increased by 50 Celsius on the west coast of Spitsbergen, and 70 Celsius on the east coast. In comparison, the global average temperature has increased about 10 Celsius during the past 100 years. The Arctic warming is drastic. Besides melting of the Pole and sea level rise, there is accumulation of contaminants due to long range transport. The effects of these changes on the ecosystem are unknown. If the Arctic continues to melt, the release of methane into the atmosphere will increase. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2

A prerequisite for “sustainable living in the Arctic” is reducing global warming and limiting its effects. Sustainable development of the Arctic is not possible unless global action to become carbon neutral is successful. Failing is not an option. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute as much as possible, us included.

UNIS is training the next generation Arctic scientific experts. Every year, about 750 students from more than 40 countries take courses at UNIS. The learning outcomes are connected to global and Arctic climate scenarios, where relevant. In this way, UNIS is training “climate ambassadors” to communicate the urgency of actions to prevent Arctic melting.

The focus of the UNIS’ green strategy is to integrate sustainability in all our actions. Sustainable solutions invented and implemented at UNIS will be transferred worldwide via our professional collaboration networks and our highly international student community. Consequently, the sustainability impact of the UNIS’ green strategy may potentially migrate globally with the students.

Main objectives and profile

Combat climate change

UNIS’ operations generate a large CO2 footprint. Consequently, there is great potential for improvement. UNIS will introduce a CO2 calculator to quantify the emissions from all our activities. The total CO2 equivalents averaged over the pre-Covid years 2018 and 2019 will be used as baseline. The aim is to cut total CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030.

The biggest CO2 contributor is heating the buildings. UNIS will become a key partner in research and innovation projects to support a safe and cost-efficient energy transition from coal to green energy solutions. The green energy solutions developed for Longyearbyen will also be applicable elsewhere in remote areas. The UNIS investments in green energy projects aim to have significant global impact.

UNIS will introduce an institutional travel policy to reduce business travel. Furthermore, we will design and advertise semester course packages to increase the attractiveness of full-semester stays for students.

Reducing the CO2 footprint of research vessels, which is another sizable source of CO2 emissions, is another priority. A working group will be established to analyse the “environmental cost-knowledge return” when planning research cruises.

Protect the natural environment and people

Using the surrounding nature as a laboratory and classroom is a major advantage for UNIS, and our research and education will continue to be field based.

By testing and operationalising innovative observation technologies, UNIS will improve its observation networks while reducing the negative environmental impact. Observational data will be documented and made publicly available. This is intended to increase collaboration, avoid duplication of field operations and simultaneously increase the global impact.

To document the negative impact on the natural environment, UNIS will track changes using a defined set of environmental parameters.Field planning tools and protocols will be developed and used for this purpose. UNIS will share protocols and procedures with the local authorities and businesses, including the tourism industry. Collaboration with SIOS (Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System) will increase the international impact.

Research will be targeted at finding solutions needed to tackle “new risk factors” derived from potential climate scenarios. UNIS will be a key partner in the development and testing of technology and safety solutions to reduce existing and future climate-driven safety risks and thereby contribute to climate adaptation.

Minimise the use of Earth’s limited resources

UNIS will thoroughly implement circular thinking in all our long-term planning and decisions: procurement of goods, food and canteen services, equipment and transport services, waste management, reuse and repair, etc.

UNIS wants to achieve:

Objective 1: Integrate management of the environment in all our education


  • The relevance of the existing education to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be made apparent to students
  • UNIS offers SDG profile semester package(s) in collaboration with partner universities
  • Increased proportion of a full-semester students to achieve optimal learning outcome and climate change insights

Objective 2: Strengthen innovative, high-profile research of importance for developing more sustainable solutions for living in the Arctic


  • UNIS must have at least one operational and long-term innovative research programme to address sustainable development, which encompasses all our disciplines
  • UNIS plays a significant role in the energy transition of Longyearbyen towards renewable and environmentally friendly solutions
  • Expand research on climate-related risks to cover risks associated with sustainable transition and climate adaption

Objective 3: Further develop an efficient organisation that enables staff and students to make more sustainable choices


  • Have travel policies that balance the cost-benefit of economy, academic quality and environment
  • Have guidelines for procurements of goods, services and maintenance to stimulate a circular economy and reduce CO2 emissions
  • UNIS’ focus on the environment and climate change are displayed in our business profile and clearly supported by technological solutions

Objective 4: Develop new standards for field operations and certified tools to document minimised environmental footprint


  • The environmental footprint and CO2. emissions for all our activities are continuously recorded
  • Scientifically qualified field protocols and quality assessment tools are operationalised
  • Training programme for staff and students about how to use macro planning, and reporting tools to document educational and scientific goal achievement
  • UNIS has achieved ISO certification for two relevant standards focusing on the natural environment and safety management (by 2025)

Objective 5: Be an international forefront in the operationalisation of innovative observation technology/field campaigns under Arctic conditions


  • Develop and maintain an optimised Earth data observation network with the least possible environmental impact and a qualification plan for publishing data
  • The UNIS Infra 2025 programme contains a road map for the next generation technology solutions to achieve zero emission/low footprint field campaigns