Freie Universität Berlin publish Sustainability Report 2022

The third Sustainability Report summarizes the status of achievements in the area of sustainability and climate protection at Freie Universität Berlin. The university is presenting the report for the third time since 2018. The publication focuses in particular on the years 2020 and 2021 and reviews activities in the fields of governance, teaching and research, campus, dialogue, and networks. In addition, the report provides an outlook on the university’s future sustainability priorities.

In 2020 and 2021, Freie Universität reached important milestones: in September 2021, it was validated by an external environmental auditor according to the European environmental management system EMAS. EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) is the European Union’s environmental management certification and is one of the most demanding management standards worldwide. Freie Universität is one of a small group of currently 24 EMAS-validated universities in Germany. It thus has an essential prerequisite for developing its environmental management transparently and continuously. The validation was only possible through the intensive participation of large parts of the university.

Another milestone in the past two years was the launch of a new ideas and innovation management program aimed at implementing the commitments defined in the 2019 Climate Emergency Declaration. It had a promising start with the first call for proposals – FUturist – in November 2021 and 28 proposals submitted.

“We now have the opportunity here for new initiatives, narratives and communities to emerge, which in the best case will inspire each other and spark ideas for new living labs,” says Andreas Wanke, head of the Sustainability and Energy Unit.

A sustainability-oriented business travel policy with CO2 pricing and a dedicated climate protection budget was also launched. The 2020 and 2021 mission statement for studying and teaching highlights sustainability as one of eight guiding dimensions. The Blooming Campus initiative has brought about changes in the university’s green space management. Meadows and green spaces on campus have been mowed significantly less since 2020. Mowing has ceased during the early bloom phase in April. Species diversity on campus has increased significantly since then.

Freie Universität began systematically implementing climate protection more than 20 years ago. With a bundle of different measures and incentives, the university has succeeded in reducing campus-related electricity and heat consumption by a total of almost 27 percent between 2001 and 2019. Adjusted for the increase in space, the reduction is as much as 29 percent. In the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, energy use decreased by another 4.7 percent (2021), for an overall decrease of 30 percent since 2001. Adjusted for area, it is even a reduction of 34 percent.

Andreas Wanke notes: “The decline in energy consumption and emissions due to the increased use of home offices during the pandemic years fell short of expectations. This was due in particular to the fact that many heating systems, ventilation systems and devices had to remain in operation despite largely virtual semester operation. In addition, the increased need for ventilation during the pandemic also resulted in increased energy consumption.”

In 2019, Freie Universität became the first German university to declare a climate emergency, with a commitment to consider climate impacts in all decisions and planning and to become climate neutral by 2025. For the next few years, the focus will be on measures to implement the climate emergency declaration. These include, for example, the addition of photovoltaic systems and the further reduction of energy consumption through energy efficiency measures. These processes will decisively shape sustainability management at Freie Universität over the next three years.