When Lone is off work, you can run into her in the woods or by the beach. Eyeing the soil or the nearest vegetation, with a knapsack to carry the day’s harvest. She's gathering. Nettles, ground elder, mushrooms, and also small shoots perhaps from spruce and larch.
− You can’t imagine what you can find in nature. Quite ordinary stuff. And then I like
that’s it’s something you can do with other people. Going out and collecting things, then going back and cooking with the ingredients you've gathered; it’s just so nice, she says.
Epiphany on Bornholm
That nature – and collaboration – would become important aspects of Lone's work life became clear in high school when she was on a study trip on Bornholm with her biology class.
− We visited a self-sustaining farm producing fish, plants and other basic goods, and I was completely fascinated that they could create a small community in balance with nature. I knew then that I had to do something with ecology and the environment, she says.
She considered studying biology in Aarhus, but decided on an engineering degree at Aalborg University.
− I chose Aalborg University (AAU) because of the group work. It was a very conscious choice in that things are better when I do it with others. And more fun. I couldn't imagine just going to lectures and then going home, Lone says.
Fifteen minutes with the professor
Today Lone is a professor at AAU. She highlights the university's pedagogical approach with problem-based learning (PBL) that provides particularly close interaction between teachers and students. Students who like to drop by your office if there is anything they want to discuss.
At the universities of Oxford, Stanford and Beijing, which her career led her to, she experienced a completely different type of interaction.
− I remember when I was at Oxford during my PhD and wanted to meet with the professor. He had a schedule hanging on his door where you could sign up for 15-minute slots. I didn't quite understand it, so I just marked four slots. Then when I came in to the professor, he said I was excused since I was a Dane, but "you get 15 minutes with me." I also attended seminars where afterwards I asked the other PhD students "Where were you?" and they replied "We’re not allowed in; it's just for staff". I really appreciate the flat structure we have at AAU between staff and students; it’s very valuable, she stresses.
Avoiding unintended consequences
Lone’s research is on environmental assessment and sustainability. She heads the university's Danish Centre for Environmental Assessment (DCEA) which deals with environmental assessments in decision-making processes and works closely with the business community, public sector authorities and private consultancy firms (consulting engineers, surveyors, architects, etc.). As she puts it, she is concerned with getting sustainability on the agenda where most important decisions are made and focusing on the whole rather than the individual parts.
− We must help ensure that the solutions we find do not simply create a problem elsewhere, moving it to another place on the map, or that solving a climate problem instead creates a biodiversity problem, she says.
In order to ensure cohesion, DCEA consciously applies a strategy where the research group consists of both women and men, Danish and international researchers, junior and senior researchers as well as different areas of expertise. In addition to a number of engineers, a colleague from computer science, a biologist, and several colleagues from social science are currently employed.
Cross-cutting collaboration on the green agenda
DCEA provides continuing education for professionals, and Lone is thrilled with the knowledge she and colleagues take with them from meeting what she calls the practice.
- It’s a gift. In addition to sharing our research and helping to influence practice, it gives us so much. What are the trends, what are the issues, what are the needs? What is difficult, what is not difficult? There are people with up to 20 years of practical experience who have so much knowledge. I don't even know what I’d do if I didn't have that dialogue, she says.
Something Lone would like to highlight is the network she and her colleagues started where they organise an annual environmental assessment day that brings together hundreds of professionals from all over the country. The participants propose topics – it can be climate, human health, public involvement, renewable energy – usually issues that are current in society.
− It’s quite unique, because although they represent very different interests and some of them are competitors, they come to share. It's one of the things I'm proud of. That as a university we’ve been able to build this strong bridge between research and practice, she says.
Real problems and cosmic accounting
Also, Lone finds that cooperation works well internally at the university. She gives much of the credit to the problem-based approach to the work.
− The fact that there is something bigger than our individual research, that these are real problems we’re working on, it’s very important. And it’s nothing to say "I help you, and you help me." The culture I-help-you culture is very much part of my experience, and I don’t doubt there will be someone else helping me at some point. In other words, it’s all being recorded in some big cosmic account ledger, she explains.
On the management side, too, she finds she has received the support she has needed in her career.
− Few people are confident when they are very young, and it's good to have someone who sees you and can say I believe in you. Take a stand and I'll support you on it. And as you get older, it's a different support, and I experience that both at the department and at the faculty, she says.
Cohesion between work and family life
Although Lone is buried in a wide range of research projects and collaborations in her day-to-day life, she also finds time to work with sustainability in areas that are almost in the interface of work and leisure. She has had several collaborative projects with artists, such as at the Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg where she, a colleague and an artist developed a ball track to give children and young people a greater understanding of the consumption of planet resources.
− It’s really fun and rewarding to work with artists. They have a completely different way of thinking and different methods. They operate on a more emotional level and get us to form images in a different way than research can, says Lone.
She sees it as a huge privilege to have the time and energy for gathering tours, art and all the other things she’s interested in. And of course be with her family.
− There is such mutual respect at AAU that we don’t function as a workplace unless we function in our personal lives. I have also heard from international colleagues that they think it’s great to be here because there is a culture of going home and being with your family. At one point I was in the United States for six months and I could see that it was a completely different way of working. It was perfectly normal for meetings to take place at six and seven in the evening. Maybe I take it very much for granted, I think, but we are privileged, no question.
On Lone’s desk right now:
- The DREAMS project
Heading a consortium working to digitalise environmental assessments in order to reuse data and better assess the impact of projects on the SDGs. The consortium is wide-ranging with participation from universities, consultancies, builders and authorities. www.dreamsproject.dk
- Continuing education
Conducting continuing education for a wide range of environmental assessment professionals. The participants come mainly from municipalities, regions and ministries as well as from private companies such as consulting engineers, architects and surveyors.
- Capacity building in Asia
Working on building up environmental assessment in Laos, Bagladesh and Vietnam, where AAU's experience with PBL is also central.