In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda which includes 17 global goals for sustainable development. These goals were aimed primarily at governments worldwide, but also at the civil society, the private sector and world of science. The objective is to achieve 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and 169 targets by 2030. They include a political objective for sustainable development of the global community and address, e.g., such issues as ending poverty and hunger, combating inequalities, empowering people, providing access to education for everyone, and making lifestyles sustainable worldwide. You can find additional information on the website of the United Nations(Opens in a new tab) .
Brundtland Report: Our Common Future
The Brundtland Report: Our Common Future was published in 1987 and provides the definition of "sustainable development" that is still valid today. Gro Harlem Brundtland was Prime Minister of Norway and chaired the UN World Commission on Environment and Development established in 1983. The title of the report was "Our Common Future.” The definition of "sustainable development" was:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The report provided the impetus for what is now known as the annual Global Climate Meeting, the "Conference of the Parties" (COP). For more information see "Global Climate Meeting".
Club of Rome
1965 marks the beginning of the history of sustainability in terms of a global debate. The Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei gave a speech at a congress, attracting the interest of Alexander King, the Scottish Director-General for Scientific Affairs at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as both shared a deep concern for the long-term future of humanity and the planet. Peccei and King convened a meeting of European scientists in Rome. A small group of scientists founded the Club of Rome in 1968 and immediately set to work. The club used computer models to examine the effects of rampant exponential growth. Five fundamental factors of growth were the focus of the research:
- Agricultural production
- Depletion of non-renewable resources
- Industrial production
- Environmental pollution
In 1972, the Club of Rome issued its first major report, "Limits to Growth", which sparked a controversial debate worldwide that continues to this day. This report predicted that if exponential growth continues unchanged, we will reach the limits of earth's carrying capacity in 100 years, meaning that finite resources will be depleted and pollution limits will also be exceeded. You can find additional information on the website of the Club of Rome(Opens in a new tab) .
The ecological footprint addresses the biocapacity of our planet and, in addition, the negative ecological effects of consumer behavior.
This involves calculating how many resources are used by the lifestyle of an individual person. It includes everything from the various areas of food, mobility, housing and general consumer behavior. Subsequently, it is calculated how much land area is needed to provide energy and raw materials in regard of the resulting individual resource consumption. This is indicated in gha (global hectares). After that, the land consumption is estimated for the total global population in order to compare this with the actual land available on our planet. The result is the number of earths that would be needed if each person were to have that particular lifestyle.The result of the ecological footprint also includes the total social consumption of a country. This includes public infrastructure such as roads and public services of hospitals and the police.
In addition to the ecological footprint, the carbon footprint is also calculated - depending on the calculator. This type of footprint provides information on how many tons of CO2 emissions are generated within the respective lifestyle.
The goal of the ecological footprint is to raise individual awareness regarding the negative effects of one's own lifestyle. With the calculation of the ecological footprint, suggestions for resource-saving behavior should always be given in order to open up options for action for the individual.
Ecological footprint calculator:
You can find a rather basic test for beginners provided by the globally active development and relief agency “Brot für die Welt” (Bread for the World) at the following link(Opens in a new tab) .
You can find a detailed calculator by Global Footprint Network at the following link(Opens in a new tab) .
In contrast to the ecological footprint, the ecological handprint does not focus on reducing negative impacts but measures the positive sustainability impacts of the personal commitment of an individual.
Therefore, the handprint refers to the personal level of the individual who is committed to changes in structures of e.g., an association, city or company in order to promote sustainable development.
For example, this could involve advocating for more attractive bicycle parking spaces at the workplace in order to make a positive contribution to sustainable mobility. An example from the area of sustainable nutrition can be campaigning for a vegan offer in the dining hall. The ecological handprint thus explicitly means the commitment to sustainable development. In this way, it is also possible to have an impact on society as a whole, for example by becoming actively involved in political activities in clubs, associations, trade unions and political parties.
On an individual level, the ecological handprint means the positive commitment of an individual person with regard to ecologically, socially or economically sustainable changes and developments. The use of the term "handprint" for products and services must be viewed in a critical light, since a product itself can only have a good or bad climate and environmental balance and does not represent a commitment. Thereby, advocating for manufacturing a sustainable product on the individual level represents the ecological handprint.
You can find information on stimuli and guidelines for acting on the following websites:
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
From 2005-2014, the member states of the United Nations made a commitment to integrate the principles of sustainability in their education systems as part of the UN Decade of “Education for Sustainable Development”. ESD forms the core value of Goal 4 ("Quality Education") and is thus also an important key driver for the entire 2030 Agenda. The German ESD process is overseen by the German UNESCO Commission and the Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF). You can find additional information on the website of the Federal Ministry of Education(Opens in a new tab) .
German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE)
In response to the global action program for sustainable development for the 21st century adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the RNE was founded in Germany at national level in 2001. Its mission is to provide objective and independent advice to the Federal Government with regard to its sustainability strategy, to issue statements on current topics and to commission research studies. It consists of a panel of experts from politics, business and science, which holds annual meetings on an ongoing basis. You can find additional information on the website of the RNE(Opens in a new tab) .
German Sustainable Development Strategy (DNS)
In March 2018, the coalition agreement of the Federal Government at the time, adopted the DNS to implement the 2030 Agenda with its 17 global sustainable development goals. A key factor for achieving these is education for sustainable development. In 2017, a National Action Plan "Education for Sustainable Development" was adopted with 130 goals and 349 specific recommendations for action. This action plan is part of the German Sustainable Development Strategy and is being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). You can find additional information on the website of the Federal Government(Opens in a new tab) .
300 years ago, the mining captain Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1645 - 1714) defined the principle of sustainability for forestry at the Saxon Upper Mining Authority in Freiberg, Germany. In 1713, he wrote in his work "Sylvicultura oeconomica, oder haußwirthliche Nachricht und Naturmäßige Anweisung zur wilden Baum-Zucht of 1713” (that can be loosely translated as “Economic news and instructions for the natural growing of wild trees”) on sustainable forest management stating that only as much wood should be felled as can grow back through planned reforestation. Von Carlowitz called it "sustainable use" and was the first to introduce the term sustainability in relation to forestry.
Sustainability Code for Higher Education Institutions (HS-DNK)
At the initiative of several universities, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) decided to adapt the German Sustainability Code to the specific aspects of universities in spring 2015. By the beginning of 2016, a test version had been developed in collaboration with around 50 university representatives and the final HS-DNK was adopted in 2018. This university-specific sustainability code consists of 20 criteria that reflect the development of all sustainability measures at universities in the fields of action governance, teaching, research, operations and transfer and thus represents a standard for sustainability reporting. You can find additional information on the website of the DNK(Opens in a new tab) .
Sustainability is often limited to its ecological dimension. This focus makes sense because we will lose our source of life without an intact environment/nature. However, the concept of three dimensions of sustainability was adopted quite early: ecological, social and economic.
The basic idea in these dimensions is obvious, a purely ecological view would leave many social standards/basic needs unnoticed. For example, without modern agriculture, the supply of food would certainly be difficult and thus a basic right to food would hardly be achievable. The economic sustainability of our actions must also be taken into account, i.e., if ecologically important decisions were always placed before economic concerns, there would also be social consequences, e.g., unemployment. There are different approaches for the presentation of the three dimensions of sustainability, but the integrative presentation approach prevailed, because it explains the interdependencies.
Sustainability management is the management of the economic, environmental and social impacts of a company's business activities. The basis is the development of a sustainability strategy, the implementation of rules and processes as well as the definition of responsibilities and finally the definition of key figures and the collection of comparable data. The holistic approach includes the following fields:
- Environmental and energy management
- Waste management
- Risk management
- Social and environmental working conditions
- Respect for human rights in supply chains
- Corruption control
In most cases, these fields are handled by different units within the organization, so sustainability management has the responsibility of acting as a central point of contact to ensure a holistic view.
Organizations such as companies, public administrations and associations can usually voluntarily (in some cases, reporting obligations already exist) prepare a report that describes the environmental and social impact of their economic and social activities, as well as their sustainable development and objectives. The report shows ecological key figures on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fossil and renewable energy consumption, land use, as well as developments of the organization in the social area. These include, for example, the compatibility of family & career of employees, observing human rights within the supply chains for products used or also the commitment of the organization in the civil society. The objectives of the report are to provide a transparent overview of the sustainable development of the organization, as well as to present the goals that have been set for sustainable development and how they have been achieved. The report only serves as a description - the stipulation is made in a sustainability strategy.
There are various global and national standards for comprehensible and uniform reporting, (e.g., GRI Standards Global Reporting Initiative and DNK German Sustainability Code), which can be used to highlight all essential aspects of sustainability.
Three strategies have been identified for achieving a sustainable society. These are comprehensive strategies for reducing resource consumption and emissions that can be applied to all areas of life and work. These strategies are not to be confused with national or corporate sustainability strategies, which could also be called plans or concepts.
- Strategy for Efficiency
This strategy for reducing resource consumption and emissions focuses on improving technical prerequisites. Two very striking examples can be cited here for illustration purposes, namely the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with LED lamps, which is associated with immense savings potential, and the development of catalytic converters to reduce emissions. Reduced to a formula:
Sustainability Strategy Efficiency means to achieve the best possible results with the least possible use of resources and energy and the lowest possible emissions.
- Strategy for Consistency
This strategy for greater sustainability involves two paths. The first is substitution, i.e., replacing fossil resources with regenerative resources, such as wind turbines instead of coal-fired power plants. The second path is to reduce resource consumption through different production with recyclable materials, such as reusable instead of disposable packaging, compostable bags instead of plastic bags.
Sustainability Strategy Consistency means to produce in a different way using renewable energies or through recyclable materials.
- Strategy for Sufficiency
While the efficiency and consistency strategies deal with technical solutions to achieve sustainable development, the sufficiency strategy examines the behavior of people. It tries to answer the question which resources actually have to be used to satisfy needs in view of a proportionality of resource consumption to the actual benefit. Since this often also involves less consumption and production, this strategy is wrongly often equated with abstinence. However, sufficiency is not abstinence per se. A frequent (somewhat polemical) example is taking the SUV to buy bread rolls at the bakery 500 meters away. Driving a two-ton vehicle for 4 rolls is an enormous consumption of resources. Would it therefore be abstinence to walk or cycle to the bakery? Probably not. So sufficient behavior is e.g., to drive less (and to drive slower) or to use different or less heating at home. Overall, we now know that today's lifestyle in industrialized societies is not feasible for all mankind without exceeding the earth's carrying capacity.
Sustainability Strategy Sufficiency means to reduce resource consumption with the right measure while respecting the planetary load limits through environmentally friendly behavior.
The strategies do not contradict each other but must be understood in conjunction with each other. Only if these three strategies are linked, it is possible to achieve sustainable development that both protects the environment and preserves social prosperity in the sense of satisfying needs.
The German Sustainability Code (GSC)
The GSC is a standard used by companies of all kinds as well as by public institutions, to report on their sustainable development challenges and achievements. By using the twenty GSC criteria, organizations can record, plan and implement their sustainable development. It was adopted as a voluntary standard by the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) in 2011. You can find additional information on the following website(Opens in a new tab) .
The University DNK has been specially developed for institutions of higher education. You will find additional information when looking up the term "University DNK (HS-DNK)".
United Nations Climate Change Conference
The United Nations Climate Change Conference is a conference that brings leaders from every country in the world together in an attempt to reach an agreement on how to increase global action in order to solve the climate crisis. The first gathering of the states took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro under the title “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development” or “Earth Summit”, where the Agenda21 was adopted by 178 states, among other things. It sets out guidelines for sustainable development in the 21st century.
The obligations of the convention were further developed and enhanced in Berlin in 1995 during the first United Nations Climate Change Conference, the First Conference of the Parties (COP1), which is referred to as the follow-up conference to Rio 1992. At the third United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP3, in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, the "Kyoto Protocol" was ratified by 191 countries. For the first time, legally binding emission ceiling directives for industrialized countries were set at international level. The sates committed to reduce their GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in sub-stages. This commitment was only moderately successful; to date, states have left the protocol (e.g., Canada in 2013) or did not participate in partial reductions (e.g., New Zealand, Japan, Russia). The reduction goals were in fact achieved by the participating countries. In the global overall perspective, emissions increased by 29 percent through 2010 and by more than 50 percent through 2020. One main reason was the industrial development of newly industrialized countries (e.g., China, Brazil).
Here is a list of previous United Nations Climate Change Conferences
- 1992 Rio de Janeiro (Earth Summit)
- 1995: Berlin (COP 1)
- 1996: Geneva (COP 2)
- 1997: Kyoto (COP 3)
- 1998: Buenos Aires (COP 4)
- 1999: Bonn (COP 5)
- 2000/2001: The Hague (COP 6) and Bonn (COP 6-2)
- 2001: Marrakesh (COP 7)
- 2002: New Delhi
- 2003: Milan (COP 9)
- 2004: Buenos Aires (COP 10)
- 2005: Montreal (COP 11/CMP 1)
- 2006: Nairobi (COP 12/CMP 2)
- 2007: Bali (COP 13/CMP 3)
- 2008: Poznan (COP 14/CMP 4)
- 2009: Copenhagen (COP 15/CMP 5)
- 2010: Cancún (COP 16/CMP 6)
- 2011: Durban (COP 17/CMP 7)
- 2012: Doha (COP 18/CMP 8)
- 2013: Warsaw (COP 19/CMP 9)
- 2014: Lima (COP 20/CMP 10)
- 2015: Paris (COP 21/CMP 11)
- 2016: Marrakesh (COP 22/CMP 12/CMA 1-1)
- 2017: Bonn (COP 23/CMP 13/CMA 1-2)
- 2018: Katowice (COP 24/CMP 14/CMA 1-3)
- 2019: Madrid (COP 25/CMP 15/CMA 2)
- 2021: Glasgow (COP 26/CMP 16/CMA 3)
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltigkeit an Hochschulen e.V. or German Society for Sustainability at Universities (DG HochN) is a network for universities and universities of applied sciences working together to shape their sustainable development. In doing so, the network offers a wide range of activities:
- Further & advanced training
- Promotion of networking
- Innovative teaching-learning concepts
- Educational policy activities
- Public relations
- Audit systems for sustainability
DG HochN's purpose is to support the realization of the UNESCO program "Education for Sustainable Development for 2030" in the German higher education system.
The overall goal of the UNESCO program is that by 2030, all German institutions of higher education will have made sustainability and education for sustainable development, as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals, a visible and effective reflection of their work in research, teaching, operations, governance and transfer. All students in the German higher education system should be able to acquire a recognizable proportion of Education for Sustainable Development in their respective study programs by 2030 at the latest.
Since Fachhochschule Dortmund - University of Applied Sciences is a full member of DG HochN, those affiliated with the university can become individual members free of charge and thus have access to further education & training offers and the networking activities.
If you are interested, please contact the CSR Office or visit the website of DG HochN(Opens in a new tab) .
Higher Education Alliance Ruhrvalley (HAR) – Consortium of Universities of Applied Sciences in the Ruhr Area
The Consortium of Universities of Applied Sciences in the Ruhr Area consists of Bochum University of Applied Sciences, Fachhochschule Dortmund - University of Applied Sciences and Arts and Westfälische Hochschule - Westphalian University of Applied Sciences.
With the Higher Education Alliance Ruhrvalley (HAR), funded by the foundation Stiftung Mercator, the three universities strengthen their cooperation in the fields of study, research and transfer and pursue the goal of promoting the Ruhr area as a science region through joint scientific and economic impulses as well as impulses and initiatives in regard of educational policy.
HN NRW Hochschulnetzwerk
Angewandte Forschung – Hochschulnetzwerk NRW (HN NRW) is a network of the 21 state and state-refinanced universities of applied sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia. The HN NRW was founded as a project in 2004 under the name “Lebendige Forschung an Fachhochschulen in NRW” (Living Research at Universities of Applied Sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia), with the goal of increasing political awareness for research at universities of applied sciences.
In 2017, the name was changed to “Angewandte Forschung – Hochschulnetzwerk NRW” (Applied Research - University Network North Rhine-Westphalia). Since its foundation, the HN NRW has received funding from the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia (MKW NRW). The HN NRW has the responsibility of making the research strengths of its member universities visible and thereby providing impetus, initiating political processes, creating synergies and strengthening the exchange between science, politics, business and society.
- Giving impulses
- Leading dialogues
- Initiating processes
- Promoting collaborations
- Communicating research topics
You can find additional information on the website of the HN NRW Hochschulnetzwerk(Opens in a new tab) .
netzwerk n e. V.
The association netzwerk n e. V. is a network of mostly students, initiatives, doctoral candidates and young professionals at universities and is committed to support an overall institutional change at institutions of higher education in terms of sustainable development in the areas of operations, teaching, research, governance and transfer. A part of its self-conception is that active members also align their own actions with the principles of sustainable development.
First and foremost, netzwerk n offers a platform (similar to Facebook) for university groups in the field of sustainability. By using this platform, the groups have the possibility to network, access a cloud for easy data storage, use pads for joint document editing, set appointments, communicate with each other and access other features. In addition, the groups have the opportunity to get in touch with currently more than 180 other university groups in Germany.
Other activities have been established in the meantime. The association offers freely accessible working and educational materials and coaching trips for new university groups. It is worth looking at the website of netzwerk n(Opens in a new tab) .
Fachhochschule Dortmund accommodates the collective “Kollektiv | sozial-ökologische Transformation“ from the Master’s program “Soziale Nachhaltigkeit und demografischer Wandel” (Social Sustainability & Demographic Change) on the platform.