The University of Zurich aims to become carbon-neutral by 2030. It contributes to sustainable development through a wide range of measures in its research, teaching and general operations, as well as in cooperation with wider society. Specific examples include the University Research Priority Programs in the areas of global change, ecosystems and biodiversity; the new biodiversity course program which integrates sustainability skills into the regular curriculum; the transdisciplinary Sustainable Development and Transformation study week; the Sustainability Now! public lecture series; and the faculties' action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by air travel.
UZH is now boosting its existing sustainability efforts with a new funding instrument. At the beginning of this year, UZH members were asked to submit ideas for “real-world laboratory” projects to research how UZH can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. “Our members can use UZH as a real-world laboratory for our members to test innovative measures for sustainable operations. In this way, we are supporting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research approaches in the field of sustainability,” says Elisabeth Stark, Vice President Research.
This concept means UZH itself becomes an object of research. One crucial aspect is that researchers need to work together with technical or administrative staff. For many, this is a new idea. “To achieve UZH’s carbon-neutral target, we need to rethink existing processes and habits. The real-world laboratory projects combine research and practice and thus help us understand which measures actually contribute to a reduction in climate-damaging emissions,” explains Gabriele Siegert, Deputy President and Vice President Education and Student Affairs.
UZH Sustainability Delegate Lorenz Hilty also welcomes this forward-looking approach of linking research and operational processes: “This way, we will learn to apply scientific findings within the university and at the same time gain knowledge about our institution’s structures and processes.”
A jury consisting of representatives from the faculties and Central Services reviewed the submissions. Of the eight projects submitted, six were selected for best meeting the criteria because, among other things, they are expected to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are based on transdisciplinary research, and could potentially be adopted by other UZH organizational units or external institutions.
UZH is supporting these five real-world laboratory projects to the tune of around CHF 228,000. The amount of funding varies depending on the project: “In addition to pioneering projects that directly reduce emissions, we also wanted to support smaller projects that make it easier to monitor developments or make decisions,” explains Lorenz Hilty. The funded projects will last for between six and 24 months. Initial results are expected by the middle of next year. For a detailed description of the real-world laboratory projects and the involved parties, visit the website.