Responsible sustainability science: New “KU.Sustainability Research Lab”

For some time now, the KU has been a leader in Germany in the field of sustainability as it understands sustainability as a cross-cutting issue across all areas of the KU. Diverse research on issues connected to sustainable development also makes an important contribution, which is now being given a joint platform in the form of the new "KU.Sustainability Research Lab" (KU.SRL). "We want to bring the various disciplines and fields of study at the KU more closely together with a joint focus on research on sustainable development, stimulate joint projects and make the results visible", emphasizes the board of spokespersons for the new lab. The board is made up of Prof. Dr. Bernd Cyffka (head of the Floodplain Institute Neuburg and holder of the professorship of Applied Physical Geography), Prof. Dr. Anne-Kathrin Lindau (sustainable development coordinator at the KU and professor of Geography Didactics and Education for Sustainable Development) as well as Prof. Dr. Christian Steiner (Chair of Human Geography). Other KU professors were also involved in the establishment of the new KU.SRL.

Prof. Dr. Jens Hogreve, KU Vice President for Research, emphasizes: "The initiative for the KU.Sustainability Research Lab underlines the interdisciplinary nature of research at the KU. The responsible coordinators have taken into account our University’s profile and core values: The freedom of science simultaneously implies a high level of responsibility toward society and the environment." Within the KU Presidium, Prof. Dr. Klaus Stüwe, Vice President for International Affairs and Profile Development, is also the contact person for the topic of sustainability. "The KU takes a pioneering role in higher education when it comes to sustainability. This was made possible thanks to the great commitment from many across all areas of the University. The new Research Lab is also an expression of this commitment, which will certainly provide new impetus for research on sustainability – and not only within the KU", says Stüwe.

Existing research on sustainability issues at the KU already covers a wide spectrum: For example, the KU Floodplain Institute is working to preserve floodplain forests along the Naryn River in Kyrgyzstan and receives funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for this project. The Chair of Applied Physical Geography is leading the work of a total of 14 partner institutions from Germany and Kyrgyzstan. An intensive exchange with the local population and decision makers in the region is part of the project that seeks to promote the protection of the riparian forests and an efficient use of energy. In addition, young local scientists are trained in modern methods of environmental analysis to ensure long-term monitoring of riparian forest development.

With the support of the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment, the Chair of Geography Didactics has designed a training program based on a competence model for university lecturers, among others, which qualifies them as multipliers in the field of Education for Sustainable Development. This has now been carried out several times and its effectiveness evaluated as part of an intervention study with a pre-post design. A comparison of the effectiveness of analog and digital implementation is also planned in this context. With this project, the KU wants to make a contribution to realizing one of the goals of the United Nations' World Action Program on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD for 2030), according to which ESD should also be firmly anchored in university teaching, among other things.

Since 2016, a project team of the KU and the Federation of German Scientists (VDW) has also been intensively studying Pope Francis’ encyclical "Laudato si'", partly in cooperation with the IASS (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam) and the PIK (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research). In the process, central statements and target areas of the encyclical are placed in a critical discourse in exchange with researchers, the industry, politics, churches and civil society organizations, and are linked to the current state of scientific research. The project team analyzes the position and effects of the encyclical. The research activities focus on the basic question: What role can religion or value-based attitudes play in a societal transformation towards more sustainability? This year, these activities will culminate in a joint conference at the Gregorian University in Rome.

"With our KU.SRL, we want to make a contribution to responsible science that addresses the urgent and major questions of a threatened future for humanity. The aim is to generate knowledge that will serve a livable future for humanity", emphasizes the board of spokespersons of the KU.Sustainability Research Lab. In addition to fundamental research, it is therefore also important to pursue approaches of applied and transdisciplinary research that enable a scientifically substantiated transfer of research results into society. To this end, the participants want to explore collaboration potential and thus initiate joint interdisciplinary projects. Amongst others, they plan lecture series and conferences, talks addressing different focus areas and a strong internationalization strategy.

Further information on the “KU.Sustainability Research Lab“ is available at