University of Zurich: Toward A Cleaner Future

UZH has been able to reduce energy consumption in the last three years; among other things, this has been achieved through the installation of photovoltaic systems, the conversion of lighting to LED, and energy efficiency measures in the heat supply. (Image: UZH)

Until 2019, air travel accounted for the largest portion of UZH’s carbon footprint. As a result of the pandemic, these emissions decreased significantly by more than three-quarters, from 7,587 in 2019 to 1,670 tonnes in 2020. Air travel has thus been surpassed by electricity and heat consumption (5,380 tonnes) at the top of UZH’s emissions ranking. Commuter traffic also declined in 2020 due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, it still caused more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and disposal of IT equipment and food provision in UZH’s cafeterias.

These and other key facts and figures on the environment can be found in the University of Zurich’s new Sustainability Report for 2019/20. It is the second such report published by UZH, and focuses on sustainability aspects in the University’s operations and its contributions to achieving sustainable development.

Taking advantage of recent changes
According to Lorenz Hilty, UZH’s sustainability delegate, the University’s recent activities to promote sustainable development have been very encouraging. “In terms of energy consumption, our operations have been on track for some time now, and we will continue down this path.” Lorenz Hilty sees the lockdown-related changes in our actions as an opportunity for us to start using less energy and fewer materials.

UZH also contributes to the goals of sustainable development through its research. To illustrate this point, the sustainability expert refers to the University Research Priority Programs, which explore areas such as global change and biodiversity or the conversion of solar light to chemical energy. As a comprehensive university, UZH also covers sustainability topics outside of the natural sciences – human rights or sustainable finance, for example.

When it comes to teaching, the newly established School for Transdisciplinary Studies (see below) was an important step forward. Given the complex nature of sustainability issues, it is crucial that we look beyond the confines of individual disciplines. Such transdisciplinary programs and courses have a very promising future. “We’re still in the early stages of integrating sustainability topics and skills into our regular courses,” Hilty notes.

Twenty-three sustainability goals
Last year, the Executive Board of the University approved the 2030 Implementation Strategy for the Sustainability Policy – a major milestone. This document defines 23 goals that will help UZH become more sustainable, and this includes the long-term goal of becoming a carbon-neutral institution by 2030. To achieve this, firstly UZH aims to cut its emissions by at least half. And secondly, UZH wants to help counter climate change through its research. The plan is for research efforts to create a positive climate impact, or carbon handprint, that offsets at least half of the University’s own emissions.

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