Sustainability Mission Statement

  Two men holding documents in front of RWTH University main building © Peter Winandy  

In its Sustainability Mission Statement, RWTH Aachen University intends to provide answers to the following questions, showing it is committed to sustainable action on behalf of the entire campus community:

  • What does sustainability mean to us at RWTH?
  • What are our common sustainability goals?

The aim of this mission statement is to promote a clear understanding of sustainability across all areas at RWTH, encourage all of its members to commit to sustainable action, and foster University-wide dialog on the topic of sustainability. At the same time, our mission statement helps RWTH to actively position itself and can be used when communicating with external (research) partners.

Based on the open consultations from March 9 to April 5, and May 12 to May 31, 2021, the draft mission statement was revised. The mission statement was finally approved by the Senate and all the University groups on July 22, 2021.

(...) Through our individual and collective actions – whether in research, teaching, operations, or governance – we can all take responsibility and contribute to a more sustainable RWTH. Only together can we make the best possible contribution to shaping science and society for the future in a lasting and reliable way. We are fully committed to reaching this goal.

 

 

Executive Summary

We, the members of RWTH Aachen University, are committed to acting in a sustainable manner, both in terms of our responsibility toward society and the associated educational mandate, and in economic terms.

Our goal is to

  • develop a vision for a sustainable RWTH through a participatory process, to create and implement a road map with concrete goals for RWTH, and to continuously review and develop these goals. In order to establish RWTH as a driving force for sustainable development in society, we have aligned our development goals with national as well as international frameworks that are based on the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • make our research more sustainable, establishing sustainability as a core topic in all faculties, Profile Areas, and research projects, and providing solutions for a sustainable transformation of our society.
  • make our teaching more sustainable, to anchor the topic of sustainability in all courses of study and to focus more strongly on empowering our learners and instructors to use innovative ideas to drive the development of solutions.
  • make campus operations at RWTH Aachen University more sustainable, reducing our environmental footprint in the spirit of climate neutrality, and to actively foster a culture of responsible and inclusive cooperation.

Sustainability is a clear priority for us. It is firmly established as an important cross-cutting issue in all areas of the University, in the same manner to gender and diversity, transfer, and internationalization. The Sustainability and University Governance Staff Unit has the special task of driving forward the continued development process towards a more sustainable RWTH. However, this does not only require conducive institutional structures: It is up to all of us, the members of RWTH. Through our individual and collective actions – whether in research, teaching, operations, or governance – we can all take responsibility and contribute to a more sustainable RWTH. Only together can we make the best possible contribution to shaping science and society for the future in a lasting and reliable way. We are fully committed to reaching this goal.

Preamble

In this mission statement, we – the members of RWTH – formulate our common understanding of sustainability at RWTH. It serves as an orientation framework and basis for developing a strategy and defining goals and measures for our transformation towards a sustainable university.

In formulating this statement, we are guided by our awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis and the relevance of the coming decade, and are committed to limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius. As a technical university, a research institution, an educator of future generations, an employer, part of the city of Aachen, and a partner in economic and everyday life, we are aware of our responsibility and role model function for shaping the future. We see it as our responsibility to use education, science, and innovation as dynamic forces of sustainable development. In this way, we provide solutions for today's and tomorrow's challenges – with and for society. The university campus also offers the opportunity to test and evaluate new concepts of contemporary living and working as well as ideas from research in living laboratories. By implementing new models, we encourage people to question our society, to break new ground with critical thinking, and to promote innovation.

Building on the understanding of the United Nations Brundtland Commission, we understand sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In doing so, we recognize – in the spirit of the German sustainability strategy – “the planetary boundaries along with the orientation towards a life in dignity for all” as external constraints on our development. Following this comprehensive understanding, we work on the three dimensions of sustainability – ecology, economy, and social issues – in the areas of research, teaching, operations, and governance, supplemented by other cross-cutting issues such as transfer, internationalization, and gender and diversity. Following the concept of “Universities for Sustainable Development” of the German Rectors’ Conference and the German Commission for UNESCO, sustainability in a global context includes for us not only “intergenerational justice,” but also the goal of “global justice.”

Research – Science and Technology for the Benefit of Society

Our ambition is to be a pioneer for scientific progress – both in Germany and abroad, and a leader in developing and implementing sustainable solutions for today's and tomorrow's challenges. To do this, we are creating the right framework conditions to contribute to sustainable development through RWTH’s own integrated and interdisciplinary approach. Through a holistic, equal opportunity approach that is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, of the United Nations, we are contributing to a more globally balanced science system. We are pursuing transparent, networked approaches to increase the direct impact of research on society and combine it with future-oriented teaching, as we are in the Center for Circular Economy, or CCE, and many other projects. Supporting our early-career researchers in gaining their qualifications and promoting their professional development is a top priority for us.

We aim to promote sustainable development even beyond the immediate sphere of our University. This also includes actively shaping the University campus. It is, after all, our immediate living, learning, and working environment and, being a part of the city of Aachen, it is closely linked to the Rhenish lignite mining region, which we are helping to transform through our scientific expertise. We seek to harness the valuable potential offered by a diverse society whose members must join forces to create such a transformation. We aim to use our strengths in interdisciplinary and international work to bring together people from different disciplines and nations, thus combining teaching and research with practice. We strive to promote the transfer of knowledge and technology and form strategic alliances with companies, universities, and non-university research institutions. Close partnerships at regional level, such as the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance, or JARA for short, through to the European, international level, such as the network of the IDEA League, are an important part of our identity.

Teaching and Learning – Holistically Educating the Decision-Makers of the Future

We see a key element for our society’s sustainable development in our ability to both transfer knowledge to our students and teach them the critical thinking skills to allow them to act responsibly. Students need to be provided with knowledge and skills, but also inspired with motivation and creativity to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. We are responsible for preparing them for real-life situations and for turning graduates into facilitators for sustainability processes. In addition to providing our students with a broad range of subjects with a technical focus, it is also essential to us that we interlink the different disciplines at RWTH, for instance by offering cross-disciplinary courses. Education can even lead the way in a broader sense, because inter- and transdisciplinary approaches are crucial for the transformation of our society. Education for future sustainable development must be internationally oriented and organized in a way that is appropriate to the problem. It is, therefore, part of our culture of internationalization, which we have established as a cross-cutting task in all our spheres of action. Besides the subject-related training, we also focus on developing and promoting the social and personal skills of our students in all courses of study at RWTH. From the outset and across all courses of study, we aim to address environmental, economic, social, ethical, political, inter-cultural, and gender and diversity issues, and raise our students’ awareness of the impact their personal actions have, as illustrated by the “Leonardo” project, for example. In doing so, we seek to strengthen the openness and inclusivity of our teaching by continuously developing and expanding our English-language, digital, and project-oriented course offerings, and make available research results that turn students into knowledge multipliers who carry what they have learned into the world beyond the University, applying and expanding this in research, society, and the economy in a sustainable manner.

Operations – Fostering a Sustainable Organization

We consider sustainability to be an integral part of our actions, and to this end we use our resources responsibly and efficiently in the construction, refurbishment, and management of our buildings and infrastructure, as well as in procurement and mobility issues, and in all other areas of our work. It is fundamental for us that our outdoor areas are used and maintained in an environmentally friendly way as is the planning of our use of land. Through coordinated joint action, we want to reduce the consumption of resources and energy and – where possible – rely on fair and sustainable alternatives. This is what we – the students, instructors, researchers, and technical and administrative employees of RWTH – aim to work on together, as a university. In order to foster this process within the University, we will continuously expand our information and training offerings so that we can become ever more qualified and competent when it comes to acting in a sustainable manner.

Governance – Supporting Continuous Sustainable Development

We are committed to making our university more sustainable and to creating the necessary framework conditions for this – both within RWTH and with regional, national, and international partners.

As an institution of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, we are dependent on the support of the state government in order to achieve our sustainability goals, particularly when it comes to realizing a campus that is resource-efficient and barrier-free for all members of the University. NRW funds are also needed for the refurbishment, new construction, and long-term maintenance of energy-efficient buildings. That is why we – and especially the RWTH Rectorate – are committed to ensuring that policymakers create the necessary prerequisites and framework conditions that enable, demand, and foster our journey to becoming a more sustainable university.

For us, sustainability also means that we, as a public employer, actively recognize and embrace our special obligation for inclusion, i.e. by recruiting, training, and employing staff with chronic illnesses and/or (severe) disabilities. Promoting an open and tolerant organizational culture where differences are appreciated and respected is also a feature of sustainable development. We understand gender equity and diversity, the acceptance of all lifestyles, diversity, and equal opportunities to be fundamental to our staff policy and we consistently act according to these guidelines. We value diversity in the RWTH community and see it as an opportunity and potential for both individual members and the University as a whole. In addition, we strive to create health-oriented processes and structures and strengthen our health literacy with a prevention-oriented approach.

As the central point of contact, the Sustainability and University Governance Staff Unit strives to link all University groups in an open culture of engagement and allow all University members to participate. A sustainability report to be published regularly in the future will create transparency with regard to the status quo in all spheres of action so that we can use the results to derive further measures to achieve our objectives.

We, the members of RWTH, resolve to take responsibility and contribute to a more sustainable RWTH through our individual and collective actions. Only together can we make the best possible contribution to shaping science and society for the future in a lasting and reliable way. We are fully committed to reaching this goal.