First Strategy dialog on sustainability

From bicycle lockers to “warming stripes”: Undergraduate and doctoral students of the University of Stuttgart present their ideas.

What is the strategy for the university’s future development? At the strategy dialog, a new format of internal communication about future developments, undergraduate and doctoral students as well as members of the Rectorate and other experts from the fields of mobility, energy, and environmental sociology are giving thought to this issue.

Rector Wolfram Ressel speaks to the students.
Rector Wolfram Ressel is pleased about the personal dialog with undergraduate and doctoral students.

Rector Prof. Wolfram Ressel is enthusiastic about the first meeting, which takes place in late January: “The discussions we have there, across the hierarchies and also across academic disciplines, are really very enriching.” Therefore, the dialogs on varying topics, with different target groups and in different formats, are scheduled to take place once or twice a year in the future. The strategy dialogs build on the positive experiences in the university-wide SWOT workshops prior to the application for funding as a University of Excellence, and are one of the “Excellence Flat Rate” measures of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The topic of the 1st strategy dialog is: How do you imagine the (ecologically) sustainable University of Stuttgart? Important areas of action are mobility, energy, health, and nutrition. Dr. Eric Heintze, who supports start-up projects in the Office of the Rectorate, gives a definition of sustainability: “Covering your own needs without restricting the needs of the future generation.” He emphasizes: “That means sustainability has to be lived.” For this reason, the university management invited 25 undergraduate and doctoral students to the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart at the Rosenstein residence to develop their own ideas and present them in teams.

Restricting business air travel

Jakob Dürrwächter, a doctoral student of aerospace engineering, and his team thought about what employees can do with regard to business trips to protect the climate. He says it is a requirement of the university that the scientists conduct international research and therefore have to network internationally. In doing so, however, a lot of CO2 is emitted. Dürrwächter points out: “At ETH Zurich, more than half of the university’s emissions are caused by business trips, and most of these trips are air travel.” That is a huge problem and therefore it is a burning issue to the researchers to do something about it. Dürrwächter and his team have come up with concrete solutions: “We see two main ways of tackling the whole thing. For one thing, we want to avoid air travel as far as possible. And where that is not possible, CO2 offsetting is the best way.” The basis for this is good information, the doctoral student explains. In order to be able to set goals, there must be transparent data on how much CO2 is emitted through business trips. He suggests that, to reduce emissions, one should refrain from air travel under 1,000 km. In addition, alternatives such as video conferencing should be created. To do this, the university would have to provide more software and hardware equipment. To Jakob Dürrwächter it is important that, when offsetting CO2, the supported projects actually save CO2 and that there are no tricks with calculations. “It would be safest if we created at least some projects here locally,” he says.

Jakob Dürrwächter presents his ideas.
Jakob Dürrwächter (left) shows how emissions can be reduced with regard to business trips.

Bicycle lockers on the campus

Claudio Schmaus from the Infinity university group has drawn up a detailed proposal for an emission-free campus. “Perhaps you know the problem when you go somewhere by bike and you want to park it in a central, busy place, but you’re always wondering if and in what condition you will see it again,” he explains pictorially. To solve the problem, he and his team want to install bicycle boxes on the campus, in which people can lock away their bicycles. Schmaus explains that you can choose between different locker designs, so that there will be enough space for many bikes in a small room. You could also green the lockers up on top, for example. Another advantage would be that you could also put a bicycle helmet or a bag inside. The electromobility student underlines that the lockers are easy to use: “Reservations can be made digitally via an app. But mechanical alternatives are also possible.”

Achim Johann and Claudio Schmaus
Achim Johann (left) and Claudio Schmaus would like to install bicycle lockers on the campus, so that students and university staff can park their bicycles in a theft-proof way.

Sustainability in teaching

Bruno Wipfler from stuvus wants to implement sustainability in the university’s teaching activities. His reason for the project is the fact that teaching is a core task of the university and that sustainability is one of the important issues of our time. His idea is based on reconsidering the concepts and methods used in the individual study programs. Furthermore, Wipfler urges: “We also need to reflect on the responsibility we have towards society and on the consequences of our actions.” A compulsory module for the purpose of reflection should be implemented into every study program. The second stage would be to make students aware of the challenges faced by our society. This could be realized in key-competencies courses. As a third stage, Bruno Wipfler proposes that students should develop skills to meet the challenges faced by society today. For example, a suitable means to acquire these skills would be projects in the study program.

Rektor Wolfram Ressel and Bruno Wipfler from stuvus
Rector Wolfram Ressel evaluates the idea of creating more sustainable teaching at the university.

The campus as a meeting place

The campus as a meeting place is a concept that focuses on connecting people. “In general, we are completely networked globally,” explains Evelyn Klooz, who presents the topic. “We live in a digital world. We network with companies, between cities, and between countries. As a result, we have acquired a vast pool of knowledge.” At the university, too, there is a lot of knowledge, a fact in which the student sees great potential. But how does networking and communication take place at the university? How is knowledge transferred beyond the boundaries of study programs? One solution could be, according to Klooz and her team partner Jerome Hildebrandt, that the university management creates spaces of encounter on campus. This means physical spaces, but also events and seminars where people can meet and exchange ideas. “There are really great places for such purposes at the uni, like the Freiraum [de], the Stadtmitte park, or, in summer, the Campus Beach [de],“ Klooz commends. “But we need more of that. This is exactly where we have to continue together.” Hildebrandt explains that the networking of university staff and students also contributes to sustainability. For example, machines could be shared between multiple users on a larger scale and thus resources could be saved. In addition, carpooling with people from different faculties could be arranged. “If you don’t just consider your own institute or study program, but rather see yourself in the overall university context, you will identify yourself with the university much more,” says Hildebrandt. Klooz adds: “We don’t just want to create a space, but an entire culture. A culture of exchange and cooperation.”

Evelyn Klooz
Evelyn Klooz explains how networking among students contributes to sustainability.

How will the university become climate-neutral?

David Kopp draws particular attention to the climate crisis. He begins his presentation with a “warming stripes” diagram for Stuttgart. The diagram shows the years 1941 to 2018 in colored stripes and indicates a drastic increase in the average temperature: At the beginning, the annual average temperatures were below 8 °C, now they rise almost annually and are above 11 °C. “If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, we will have used up the remaining global CO2 budget for the 1.5-degree target in seven years. We should prevent that from happening,” urges Kopp. His goal is, therefore, a climate-neutral campus. The student proposes to create a real-time laboratory on the Vaihingen Campus. He wants to make the research campus the subject of his own research. “We already have a lot of expertise at the university, for example the institutes for modeling hydraulic and environmental systems, power transmission, and building energetics,” he says. In order to network all players, one has to work in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary manner. David Kopp, who is also committed to the climate protection alliance “Campus for Future”, names travel, heat, electricity, material usage, and food as fields of action.

David Kopp presents his ideas.
David Kopp (right) would like the campus to become carbon neutral in the future. To achieve this, he suggests creating a real-time laboratory.

Sustainability of buildings

The construction and renovation of buildings is an important issue for the University of Stuttgart. Unfortunately, the university cannot implement sustainable projects on its own. Torben Rathje explains: “The buildings belong to the Ministry of Finance of the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg, but they are managed by the University Building Authority and used by the university. And these three parties have to reach an agreement. Because of this structure, it is difficult to make decisions.” His team partner Elisa Ehrlicher adds: “It has just been decided to break down this structure to some extent, so that the university has more influence on an upcoming new construction and three renovation projects, and can decide independently.” The university management is planning a new research building, which is also supposed to operate as a real-time laboratory. First and foremost, energy monitoring plays an important role in this new building, says Ehrlicher. The aim is to monitor the building's CO2 demand and to pass the results on to the federal state, so that it can legally make it easier to construct energy-efficient buildings. Elisa Ehrlicher explains that, currently, the biggest hurdle is to act beyond statutory regulations. “The buildings that are now being planned meet the standards. But they are not passive houses or energy-plus houses. These would be more expensive and wouldn’t be financed.” Personally, it is also important to her that there is a sustainable material cycle. “There's a lot of concrete building at the university,” says the student, suggesting that only recycled concrete should be used.

Elisa Ehrlicher
Elisa Ehrlicher (left) explains, how to construct energy-efficient buildings.

University management supports substantiation of the ideas

The presentations by the students receive a lot of applause and are extensively discussed by all participants. Prof. Peter Middendorf, who heads the Institute of Aircraft Design and is the Vice Rector for Knowledge and Technology Transfer, points out that the University of Stuttgart is a research university: “We have very important research results, with which we hope to achieve a high impact in sustainability.” To publicize the research results internationally, however, one has to take part in conferences. “This also works through an exchange in person. Of course you can reduce this by using video conferencing more often. But you can’t do without an exchange in person entirely,” he says. Therefore, one has to handle the topic of air travel sensibly. You can't do without it entirely, but he supports the suggestion that you only travel by plane when the distance is longer than 1000 km.

Chancellor Jan Gerken
Chancellor Jan Gerken discusses with the students their ideas for sustainability at the University of Stuttgart.
Jerome Hildebrandt
Jerome Hildebrandt explains how networking among students contributes to sustainability.
The 1st strategy dialog takes place at the Rosenstein residence.

Chancellor Jan Gerken is enthusiastic about the concepts presented. For the campus as a meeting place, he, too, has many ideas, which he wants to implement in the near future. He emphasizes: “We need a better quality of stay. For example, we are planning a kind of food truck concept for the Vaihingen Campus, so that people can also eat outside the cafeteria. Or you could set up an ice cream truck in summer. These are small steps, but they can be taken quickly. So I think the feasibility is very high here.”

To Prof. Wolfram Ressel, too, it is important that the projects can be implemented. First and foremost, he wants to work for climate neutrality. “As for the real-time laboratories, there is a specific call for tender from the Ministry of Science. We want to participate in it,” he says, and encourages the students in their commitment to sustainability: “Also, you are our voice to the outside world. When you say something, politicians will listen carefully.” On the whole, the university management would like to place the topic of sustainability prominently in the university. The teams were therefore offered the opportunity to further develop and substantiate their ideas in the “internal accelerator” Let US elevate! [de] in the Office of the Rectorate. In the process, each project will be supported with EUR 5000. At the same time, the ideas will be linked up with existing university projects, e.g. with the mentioned application for the real-time laboratory for climate neutrality, or with the MobiLab project (mobility on campus).

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