Newsportal - Ruhr-Universität Bochum
This is how Ruhr University Bochum plans to become more sustainable
Sustainability is a complex, but not at all an easy undertaking for a university that has the energy consumption of a small town. Rector Professor Martin Paul and the University’s Sustainability Officer Professor Andreas Löschel head the Ruhr University's Sustainability Task Force. In an interview with student Mascha Buck, they explain which changes are planned in the coming years.
After preparing the ground for roughly six months, the Ruhr University Bochum has now adopted its Mission Statement – Sustainable RUB 2030. Professor Paul, what does this mean for the university?
Paul: First of all, a Mission Statement is an augmented vision statement, a reflection on why sustainability is important for our university and why Ruhr University is important for sustainable development. We deliberately prioritise the core issues of the future. This should also be a kick-off and shouldn’t just stop at the Mission Statement; rather, it should become the foundation on which we build a strategy and an implementation plan. We’ve only been active with the Sustainability Task Force since the summer semester, but a solid groundwork had already been laid by the “Sustainability Think Tank”. The fact that so many people have already dealt with these issues has made it easier for us to put it all down on paper in a structured manner, in consultation with everyone.
You’ve just mentioned a strategy and an implementation plan. Over what period of time and in which committees are they to be developed?
Paul: We’re scheduling the strategy development process, which is being driven to a large extent by the Sustainability Task Force, and the relevant discussion in the committees for the next year. Such discussions always have to be held with the whole university, and of course the RUB sustainability strategy will also be discussed in the Senate and the University Council. But we also want everyone who is interested to attend the meetings with the “Sustainability Think Tank”. As university management, we can’t simply order such things from above. Rather, it’s a discussion process that has to be actively conducted and of which the committees ultimately take note and provide input. After all, the aim is to ensure that it’s not a Mission Statement by the Rectorate, but by the university in all its facets.
In the introduction to the Mission Statement, you write that the university community will embrace the holistic approach to sustainability. Professor Löschel, how do you intend to ensure that this is the case?
Löschel: We want to create opportunities for people to get involved – and that includes our students. We’ve already initiated this with our current energy-saving campaign. Everyone can send in their suggestions via a central portal and by writing to email@example.com. So: submit your ideas on how the Ruhr University can become more sustainable! We will take them seriously and try to implement as many as possible – that’s very important. Institutional participation is also necessary, because the Mission Statement should be embraced by everyone as a shared value and should also serve as a guiding principle and point of reference for the day-to-day activities of all people involved at Ruhr University.
Andreas Löschel, born in 1971, studied economics at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and received his PhD in 2003 from the University of Mannheim on the economic effects of the Kyoto Protocol. Since September 2021, he has held the Chair of Environmental/Resource Economics and Sustainability at the Faculty of Economics at Ruhr University Bochum.
Since 2011, Löschel has been chairman of the expert commission for the German government's "Energy of the Future" monitoring process. He is lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth and Sixth Assessment Reports. The report of his Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Mitigation working group was published in April 2022. He has also headed the Smart Energy Virtual Institute in North Rhine-Westphalia since 2017. Andreas Löschel is a member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech. In the FAZ Economists Ranking, he has been among the 50 most influential economists in Germany several times.
To what extent is the Mission Statement obligatory for Ruhr University?
Paul: Obligation is something that doesn’t work at all well at universities. It should be done through incentives, good ideas should be rewarded – in my experience it works better that way. But we also want to see how the measures are monitored. How effective are we?
First of all, we will promote the understanding of personal initiative, and I am quite optimistic when I see how many good suggestions are being made. We will of course evaluate the effectiveness of the measures, but we won’t control our staff or students.
Löschel: Ultimately, we want to set ourselves very concrete goals – in the short term and the long term – and we will of course monitor whether these goals have been achieved.
Professor Paul, you’ve just said: “Good ideas should be rewarded”. The Mission Statement also states that sustainable start-up projects and social commitment by students in initiative projects should be promoted. Which criteria must be met for funding?
Paul: There must be a short, medium and long-term perspective, and a certain realistic horizon must be recognisable. The watchword is “action research”, i.e. effects should be visible right away. Actually, we’ve already received many ideas on how this can be done, for example by setting up crowd-funding platforms. On these platforms, students can post their ideas, which are perhaps currently going through the review process, and then raise money for them or find a match. We are currently talking to various foundations that want to fund this kind of thing. The main thing is to create a reservoir where you can get support for your ideas to be realised.
Let’s get a little more specific: which measures to improve sustainability, for example to reduce CO2 emissions, will be implemented in 2023?
Löschel: First of all, the issue of saving energy on campus will be at the forefront, simply because of the current economic tensions and the high energy prices. Many aspects have already been addressed in the current energy campaign, such as changes to all our habits that are possible in the short term. In the longer term, the focus will also be on how energy efficiency can be increased further and how more renewable energies can be used. This, of course, will also contribute to climate protection.
Or: what can be done in the short term regarding the topic of sustainability in teaching? One such example would be micro-credentials or certificates. We have many courses at the university that deal with different aspects of sustainability, and we now want to look at how we can better document when students take modules that deal with sustainability. Our students are extremely interested in this subject matter. In the longer term, we want to introduce new degree programmes that deal with sustainability issues, for example Sustainable Engineering or Sustainable Economics.
We believe that this will help our students even now – both in their further studies and in their careers.
Paul: Degree programmes have to be accredited, of course. This takes a few years, and by then the students of today won’t be around anymore. This is why micro-credentials are so interesting for us at this point: are there any options for students who are now committed to the issue of sustainability to get a certificate in addition to completing their exams certifying their participation in Sustainable Related Education? We believe that this will help our students even now – both in their further studies and in their careers.
Martin Paul, born in Saarland in 1958, has been Rector of Ruhr University Bochum since November 2021. Previously, he was president of Maastricht University in the Netherlands for ten years. Since 2016, he has been a member of the expert committee of the German Excellence Strategy. From 1997 to 2008, he was Professor and Institute Director of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Freie Universität Berlin, University Hospital Benjamin Franklin, and from 2003 at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin. In 2008, he accepted an appointment to the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences at Maastricht University. Before being elected president there, he was, among other things, dean of his faculty and vice president of the university.
Martin Paul studied human medicine in Heidelberg from 1978 to 1985, where he received his doctorate and habilitation. He is also a specialist in clinical pharmacology and a hypertensiologist (expert in high blood pressure).
The Mission Statement says: “Blended learning and hybrid formats contribute to the sustainability of studies and teaching”. What exactly does that mean? To what extent is the university planning to switch back to online teaching in order to save emissions?
Paul: We are a university with in-person courses, a campus university – we’re not going to become an online university now. But we can consider combining the useful and positive elements of digitalisation. Is it possible to digitise certain elements of the curriculum? For example, we have experience with “peer-based learning”, where lecturers can be contacted by students in the chatroom even before a course takes place. This is rather what we mean by that – and of course it will affect the footprint, too. But we’ll always remain a campus university, we’ve learned that through the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it had on students.
If in-person classes are to be maintained: which measures are planned to make Ruhr University's buildings more sustainable?
Löschel: First of all, it’s important to stress that there is an institutional framework that we have to observe. The buildings are the property of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and we only rent them. That limits many possibilities. And so we must explore our room for manoeuvre. After all, we’ve by no means exhausted the possibilities. The starting point is, of course, often a difficult one – the problem is mainly the older buildings. The advantage of our Mission Statement is that we must consistently commit to sustainability and then ask the question: what can be done? Energy-efficient renovations can only be in the interest of the State. To what extent can the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia provide financial support?
Paul: The State has decided that its own buildings must be energy-efficient and climate-neutral. That’s a positive development, because it means that all new buildings will have to be designed with that goal in mind. Some of the new research buildings we already have, for example, have huge computing facilities that generate a lot of heat – and this heat is fed back into the system. That’s the kind of thing we want to continue to do in collaboration with the Federal State.
Incidentally, we are collaborating closely with the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Geothermal Systems. We are working out to what extent we can use the water-filled mine shafts underneath the campus to use this energy through heat pumps and other innovative technologies. With the old buildings, this is of course quite a challenge. But we are looking into whether we can use photovoltaics or green roofs to accomplish something – and there are already some projects where we can do just that.
You also refer to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations and write that you are primarily focusing on the SDGs in which Ruhr University already has excellent research. Which SDGs are these?
Paul: All 17 SDGs are relevant, of course, but we should focus on areas where we already have something to show in research or teaching. We already have a research department called “Closed Carbon Cycle Economy”, which deals with interdisciplinary topics on the path to a closed carbon cycle. Or, for example, the issue of geothermal energy: while this is a Fraunhofer Institution, one of its scientific directors is a Ruhr University professor. In this respect, these are issues in which we are already very much involved; and in the future we can consider whether we might expand our programme range by new, dedicated degree courses. Since we are a university with 21 faculties, it’s important to first pick out the peaks where we can hit the ground running – that will speed up the whole process.
We want to implement, we want to show that sustainable projects are beneficial – for our students and for our university.
The Mission Statement also says that dialogue and transparency play an elementary role. How do you intend to ensure this transparency?
Löschel: A crucial element will be the sustainability report. We’ve set ourselves the goal of producing a sustainability report that documents the progress of our sustainability efforts on an annual basis, that shows how we’re putting the ideas outlined in our Mission Statement into practice – and that then provides a regular review of the current situation. Monitoring will be a vital part of this. We will define our objectives in such a way that we can show how we are progressing in the various areas. All people involved in the Sustainability Task Force are united by the fact that we want to get things done. We want to implement, we want to show that sustainable projects are beneficial – for our students and for our university.
Which monitoring mechanisms are in place for the sustainability report?
Paul: A Mission Statement is always somewhat “cloudy”, because you are describing the big picture. But if you have a sustainability report, based on a strategy and an implementation plan, it discloses the attainment of defined milestones using adequate criteria. So far, only 5 per cent of all German universities publish such a sustainability report. We also want to use reporting to measure our own success
Löschel: We also want to ensure accountability and work with concrete figures. Besides, we also want to involve the entire university in this process. There are very good bachelor’s theses, master’s theses or doctoral dissertations in many areas that deal with various facets of sustainability. Many professors are doing research on this issue. The idea is that we channel all this. If we manage to involve our students and researchers in this process, it will help us to fill the sustainability report with evidence.
It is definitely not meant to be a top-down process, but rather a deliberate invitation to the entire university community.
Paul: It is definitely not meant to be a top-down process, but rather a deliberate invitation to the entire university community. We’ve already met with Students for Future, for example, and they had a lot of great ideas that actually matched ours quite well. We take inspiration from such groups and let them take us along. Essentially, our task is to first create a platform to bring together all these ideas and to channel them by asking: which ones can we implement? What is realistic? What are our goals? What do we want to do? And: what are our ambitions as a university? That, in a nutshell, is the process we have now initiated. In a first step, the Mission Statement that has now been published bundles our understanding of sustainability and its identity, the drive and the environment of the university, in order to take the path towards a Sustainable RUB 2030 as a university community.
16 November 2022