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  • Sustainability Report 2023

    Campus Bielefeld University
    Bielefeld University


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Eleonora Rohland
Eleonora Rohland, rectorate representative in the participation process for the creation of the sustainability mission statement

Placing a new focus on sustainable research conditions.

Eleonora Rohland

Bielefeld University sees itself as a research university. Research and research-based teaching (see below) are therefore among the central tasks and main pillars of the university. In the context of sustainability, this means placing a new focus on sustainable research conditions. We had largely delegated this function from the Research Working Group to Campus Life and Operations in the participation process in order to avoid too much overlap and to be able to concentrate more on the other side, the research content on the topic of sustainability. At the same time, it was clear that this focus must not affect or restrict the freedom of research.

Our first step was to take stock of research projects at Bielefeld University that deal with sustainability issues in the broadest sense. In other words, we agreed in the working group that sustainability should also include research on climate change and the Anthropocene. To this end, we asked all Deans to forward our enquiry to their Faculties. The response was pleasingly intensive, so that we were able to compile a detailed list of current research projects, some of which are currently being applied for. In a next step, this list served as the basis for a bundling and visualisation of topics, which at the same time became the basis for the development of Bielefeld University's own concept of sustainability. This preliminary work showed the working group - and the work of the Sustainability Office - how intensive, diverse and interdisciplinary research on sustainability topics is being conducted at Bielefeld University. However, from the point of view of the working group, what has been missing so far is a platform or institutional infrastructure that could also make this research visible within the university. As a result, substantial innovation potential has been and is being wasted, especially at a university for which interdisciplinarity is part of its DNA. Therefore, one of the central concerns of the working group for the sustainability mission statement was the creation of a platform to bundle and visualise research on sustainability topics, as well as the networking of researchers as incubation moments for new, interdisciplinary project ideas in the field of sustainability.

I would like to thank the Vice-Rector for Science and Society, my co-Rectorate representatives, the members of the Research Working Group, students and staff for their dedicated collaboration. The process was always accompanied by controversy and sometimes heated discussions, which ultimately always led to a better understanding and getting to know each other.

Strengthening sustainability in research

Bielefeld University endeavours to promote excellent researchers in an attractive research environment. We transcend boundaries - between disciplines, between people and between science and society. This principle of Transcending Boundaries is the driving force behind basic research at an international level. Sustainability issues are playing an increasingly important role. This applies to the content orientation of research projects as well as to a more sustainable organisation of research operations (e.g. less consumption of resources or energy).

Building on the goals formulated in the sustainability mission statement , Bielefeld University aims to strengthen and expand research in the field of sustainability. The focus here is on both basic and applied research. Interdisciplinarity plays an important role here, especially joint research between the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The process of profile building is also central, through which sustainability can be anchored in the university's focus of research. Bielefeld University would like to:

  • Create institutional structures to promote research in the field of sustainability.
  • Conduct research in a resource-efficient and sustainable manner.
  • Qualify researchers to design sustainable research projects by imparting sustainability knowledge.
  • Establish transdisciplinary networks that enable exchange across disciplines and status groups, global and local research references and the integration of relevant stakeholders.

Research on sustainability at Bielefeld University

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Research information system

The University's Research Information System (FIS) provides an overview of research projects and publications. Projects and publications can be entered here using any keyword and searched for. External interested parties have access to this database via the FIS portal. Example search in the FIS portal for the keyword "Nachhaltigkeit" or "sustainability".

The topics covered range from climate and energy, society, education for sustainable development, housing and urban development to agriculture and food, bioeconomy and the circular economy. The following illustration depicts this diversity of topics in the inner circle. The outer circle shows sub-topics from which the overarching topics could be condensed. Due to frequent topic overlaps, however, the sub-topics are not clearly assigned to the overarching topics. The area "Development of new subject areas" symbolises the continuous striving for further development and the opening up of new research areas at the university.
The figure shows the variety of topics in research projects in the inner circle. The outer circle shows sub-topics from which the overarching topics can be condensed. Due to frequent topic overlaps, however, the sub-topics are not clearly assigned to the overarching topics. The area "Development of new subject areas" symbolises the continuous striving for further development and the opening up of new research areas at the university. Bielefeld University

At Bielefeld University, sustainability issues are central to or included in an increasing number of research projects and projects ending dates. In addition, efforts to make research more sustainable can be seen in many areas.

This is displayed in surveys from 2020 and 2022, in which planned, current and completed sustainability-related research projects at Faculties were surveyed. The main topics covered range from climate and energy to society, education for sustainable development, housing & urban development, agriculture & nutrition, bioeconomy & circular economy.

Environmental working group

Logo Bielefeld 2000plus

With the initiative "Bielefeld 2000plus - research projects on the region", which is equally funded by the city and Bielefeld University, Bielefeld has succeeded in making an important contribution in this respect: the expertise of the university's researchers is increasingly being used to deal with problems relating to the region, approval is being facilitated for university employees to gain experience in local departments and an attempt is being made to promote dialogue between the university and the social groups that shape the city and, above all, to provide suggestions for the discussion of long-term effective political decisions.

Since 1997, Bielefeld University, the University of Applied Sciences and the City of Bielefeld have been working closely together under the umbrella of "Bielefeld 2000plus - research projects for the region" in order to utilise the locational advantage of the "university" aspect for Bielefeld and the region to an even greater extent. The aim is to intensify the networking of science, the city and the region and to promote the cross-institutional exchange of expert knowledge.

Bielefeld 2000plus organises working groups and projects in which science, city administration, citizens, cultural, educational and urban development stakeholders cooperate on content, create synergies and generate new ideas with a view to jointly overcoming future challenges.

The Environmental Working Group has been in existence for around 20 years. This inter- and transdisciplinary working group deals with challenges in the areas of the environment, climate change, mobility and sustainability at a regional level. Numerous research projects - always with a regional focus - have been launched since then. A selection of research projects is published online.

The Environmental Working Group is made up of representatives from the Bielefeld Environmental Agency, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, the Bielefeld Food Council, the Teutoburger Wald-Verein Bielefeld e.V. and researchers from the Faculties of Biology, Health Sciences, Economics and the Medical School OWL, among others.

Sustainable research projects

Assigned to the three dimensions of sustainability, "social", "ecological" and "economic", you will find below an exemplary selection of various research projects related to sustainability:

Social affairs



Promotion of sustainability research at Bielefeld University

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Inter-university networks help to provide new impetus and generate synergies for the further development of sustainable research at Bielefeld University. One example of this is membership of the DG HochN network, which not only offers researchers the opportunity to exchange ideas in so-called topic hubs, for example on sustainable laboratory operations, but also provides programmes in the areas of operations and education for sustainable development. All university members (explicitly including students) can participate in the hubs free of charge.

Sustainability-oriented research is encouraged and supported at Bielefeld University in the following formats. Since 2023, for example, the Sustainability Prize has been awarded for final theses. The award honours outstanding research theses whose topics deal either theoretically or practically with research into sustainable development and/or climate impact (adaptation). This is particularly aimed at sustainability-orientated research at an early stage of qualification.

  • The personnel development programme for researchers and teaching staff (PEP) is continuously introducing additional sustainability-related courses.
  • Regular disciplinary and interdisciplinary colloquia, presentations and symposia provide information on and discuss sustainability research.
  • The Sustainable Science Café, which was introduced during the 2023 summer semester as part of the Sustainable Semester, offers space for networking with keynote speeches and discussions. It not only opens up perspectives for new research topics, but also for potential joint teaching projects.
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