Engagement, discussion and serious play: A student’s review on the HSDS
18 December 2017, by Tobias Wegener
More than 200 university members from over 22 countries came together in Hamburg between the 26th to 29th September in order to reflect on sustainability in teaching, research and the organization of Higher Education Institutions, to exchange ideas and to work on concrete challenges.
By Daniela Friedrich & Michaela Haase
(Student reporters at the HSDS)
How can Higher Education Institutions cope with their social responsibility and become role models in promoting sustainable development? This question represented the focal point of the first Hamburg Sustainable Development Summit (HSDS) at the University of Hamburg. During the first three days, the participants were given a lot of difficult choices: After the keynotes they could pick one out of five parallel workshops. Would they rather learn about Social Entrepreneurship and the UN-Sustainable Development Goals? Study the innovation potential of networks or how to steer cities towards sustainability? Work on envisioning the research, teaching and governance of the future or exchange ideas about how the curriculum should include sustainable development?
Exploring new approaches to sustainability issues
Despite the many difficult choices, one of the most popular workshops turned out to be the LEGO® Serious Play® workshop where the participants could build their vision of a sustainable university of the future with colorful bricks. The module concept was widely appreciated by the participants: “What I generally like about this conference is that there is a lot of variety and a lot of choice for the participants”, said the Austrian Mario Diethart (RCE Graz-Styria and COPERNICUS Alliance) about this concept.
In the east wing of the university's main building, it never became quiet: the flexible program structure allowed a constant exchange between the participants. The internationality of the participants was a special enrichment for many guests, since sustainable development is a global task: At the coffee buffet, one could not only meet with professors from Brazil or students from South Africa and Eastern Europe, but could also network with people who are committed to sustainability at the same university without having met in person yet. This also happened to Sandra Fohlmeister from TU München: “It was worth it to come here! I had a great exchange even with colleges from Munich I never met before in Munich.”
Photo: Daniela Friedrich
Photo: Markus Scholz / scholzfoto.de
A variety of perspectives
The debates and workshops quickly showed how varied and diverse the perspectives on socio-ecological challenges in the academic field are: “For example, when it comes to making a university campus more energy-efficient ‒ we still have places where we don't even have electricity – not to mention universities", explained Calatina Amigo, scientist at the Energy Poverty Network project in Chile. In Chile, sustainability programs would usually be linked to the prevention of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods and the fight against climate change. For this reason, it is particularly interesting for her to experience another perspective and to think about how the developed solutions could be transferred to her reality: “We cannot simply "copy-paste" ideas because we have a different context, a different culture, and other problems, such as the great inequality [between rich and poor] in our country." Exchanging ideas, taking a different perspective and transferring best practice solutions from the outside to their own country or organization ‒ that was a process all participants found very inspiring. “At first, I was a little skeptical because the organization of the National Union of Students in the UK is very different from ours”, admitted Janek Heß from the Free Union of Student Bodies, Germany, “but now I am convinced that some aspects can be transferred. For example, their hash day campaign, in which they collected ideas from students on how sustainability could be integrated into their curriculum. I'm sure we could do something like this."
At the end of the conference on the forth day, the guests went on an excursion to discover sustainability in Hamburg. At the German Climate Computing Centre of the University of Hamburg, visitors were informed about the contribution of the high-performance computer to climate research. A second group visited the International Building Exhibition (IBA) and the energy bunker in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. The guided tour through the district south of the Elbe showed the guests sustainable urban development projects that aim to combine social, technical and cultural aspects in practice. On the “Green Shore Tour”, participants learned how standards for sustainable construction in HafenCity are being complied.
Involved networks and outlook
In addition to the diverse program, the conference participants were particularly enthusiastic about the familiar atmosphere and the feeling of joining forces. Various national and international initiatives had come together for the HSDS: The Center for a Sustainable University (KNU, University of Hamburg)/ HOCHN, the COPERNICUS Alliance and the European Postgraduate Sustainable Development Symposium (SDS). “To be a part of this network and the people who belong to it is a great feeling!", emphasized Dr. Claudia Schmitt, initiator of the HSDS and managing director and scientific director of the KNU.
The HSDS was an immediate success for the development of the HOCH-N network. Numerous participants could be won over as new "partners for a sustainable university landscape" in order to participate in the BMBF-funded Germany-wide network. The goal of the first Hamburg Sustainable Development Summit (HSDS), to bring together activists for sustainable development to initiate joint projects and promote international exchange, has been achieved. Even more, at the end of the conference, many participants felt impatience to get started after all the discussions and put the ideas and impulses into practice.
More information on projects and upcoming events can be found at: www.hoch-n.org