Sustained periods of drought, extensive forest fires, floods and tornadoes – we are being confronted with the dramatic effects of climate change every day. The war in Ukraine has also brought the need for an independent energy supply with renewable energy into focus. It is up to the worlds of science, business and politics as well as every individual to rise to the global challenges of sustainability. The “Sustainability Forum” which took place on Thursday evening at Landshut University of Applied Sciences also looked at this topic. Prof. Dr. Diana Hehenberger-Risse and Prof. Dr. Petra Denk were the evening’s hosts.
The event lasted for roughly four hours, and featured both top-class speakers from the university and business sectors as well as short pitches which presented research projects, final year theses and project work surrounding the topic of sustainability. The presentations were held by the professors, academic staff and the students themselves.
Important research and transfer work at the university
For University President Prof. Dr. Fritz Pörnbacher, the positive resonance surrounding the event was proof that the topic of sustainability is becoming increasingly important to people – and that the university is doing important "research and transfer work" to further advance developments in this area. “I’m very pleased that more than 300 people registered to take place in this event,” explained Pörnbacher. A good third of those who registered were on campus. The “Sustainability Forum” was organised as a hybrid event. This meant that the participants were also able to follow what was happening at home via Zoom. For this purpose, a technical team from the university had installed several cameras featuring Audimax panning.
The University President expressed his particular thanks to the Friends of Landshut and the Sparkasse Landshut, who made organising the event possible in the first place with a donation of 5000 euros, and to Deputy Minister President of Bavaria Hubert Aiwanger, who opened the event after arriving at the University straight from the airport.
Aiwanger praised Landshut University of Applied Sciences for its work in the area of sustainability and for the implementation of the specialist forum: “Thank you for making this important topic accessible to the general public and for supporting it on a scientifically sound basis. It is necessary to raise the profile of sustainability with a sense of understanding: focusing exclusively on short-term gain will ultimately cost us very dearly. Just look at the privatisation and maximisation of profits in the area of healthcare, the railways, telecoms and energy.” The Bavarian Minister for Economic Affairs emphasised the complexity of the work for achieving sustainability and advocated thinking in terms of future generations. “You plant a tree, build a house or set up a company for the future generations. This kind of approach should be given more support from the government instead of being made more difficult, which also applies to taxes. In this respect, the estates tax serves as a symbol. Another symbol is that the wider economic conditions for pumped-storage power plants in Germany are so poor that none are being built, which means that excess renewable energy goes to waste. Working towards greater sustainability is therefore an ongoing task.”
Sustainability experts share their ideas
After the presentations by the Deputy Minister President, the speakers took to the stage. Prof. Dr. Markus Schmitt from Landshut University of Applied Sciences started the presentations, and introduced the audience to the field of sustainability sciences and discussed the model of ecological sustainability, economic performance and social justice. According to Schmitt, it is necessary for all three factors be in harmony to successfully establish a sustainable way of life. To a great extent, this is yet to work, though, and above all else, it is not working to a comprehensive extent. Referring to the problem of unsustainable economic growth, Schmitt illustrated the complex nature of sustainable development. He presented four solutions that are being discussed in the world of science and which differ in terms of their consequences, opportunities, risks and transformation requirements: green growth, de-growth, post-growth and the common good. Schmitt also suggested launching a masters degree in “Sustainable Development” which is accessible to graduates from all bachelor’s degrees and has a trans-disciplinary approach.
The second speaker, Antje von Dewitz, managing director of the outdoor clothing company “VAUDE” since 2009, discussed the active implementation of sustainability ideas at the practical level. As part of the textile industry, von Dewitz emphasized that VAUDE has considerable responsibility in the area of sustainability: “We therefore consider the discussion to be our corporate responsibility. As we are part of the problem, we must also be part of the solution.” In her presentation, the managing director discussed examples of how the company is committed to sustainability. Among other initiatives, an e-bike pool for employees has been purchased, bus links improved, former parking spaces returned to nature and an organic canteen launched. On the production side, VAUDE has established its own seal of quality which is based on five principles: sustainable design, environmentally-friendly materials, responsible production, product durability, recycling and disposal. Von Dewitz has already set another ambitious goal: “We want all of our manufacturers to switch to renewable energy.”
The end of the series of presentations was marked by Prof. Dr. Christian Berg from Clausthal University of Technology, who has been an expert on sustainability and member of the executive board in the Club of Rome for over 20 years, which is a leading non-profit organisation that works for a sustainable future for humanity worldwide. Like Schmitt, Berg asked the question of how we can achieve good living conditions while taking damage to the environment into account. He also explained why sustainability is so difficult to achieve: “We are constantly in crisis mode,” explained Berg. “We had a good run in 2019/2020. But the pandemic has slowed our progress again.”
Overcoming barriers as a key approach for a solution
Barriers to sustainability such as conflicting goals as well as moral limitations such as selfishness and cognitive limitations are also a major problem. For a path towards more sustainability, it is necessary for people’s actions and mentality to change. Berg pointed out that general approaches and assumptions are not universally valid, and cited shopping as an example. “Buying local products is often encouraged as being sustainable and good, but that only makes sense if, for example, transport is of importance for their production,” explained Berg. “Apples from Bavaria can actually have a greater environmental impact than apples from South Africa – depending on the season.” The goal that the sustainability expert called for is known as “Futeranity” (Future of Terra and Humanity). This requires complex analyses of problems, especially of barriers, and specific support for the stakeholders and their work.
The final major component of the Sustainability Forum consisted of the presentations by members of the university on their own projects. After the one-minute pitches, the audience members had an opportunity to discuss things with the speakers and to have the posters explained to them in greater detail. The topics ranged from research into lightweight materials to save resources, the impact of green marketing on purchasing intentions with the example of the cosmetics industry, through to the digital use of energy and energy efficiency through interactive networking.
Photos: Landshut University of Applied Sciences
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