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University and sustainability – Is the University of Passau on its way to becoming a "green university"?

As part of the "Sustainability Day" 2022 the Sustainability Hub was launched as the central action and organisation unit for all activities related to sustainability at the University of Passau. By Professor Werner Gamerith

Information about the sustainable foundation project for the University of Passau lay hidden away in archives, files, and antique collections for ages – until a team headed by Professor Jörg Trempler from the Chair of Art History and Visual Culture Studies managed to unearth drawings and basic planning materials of the time from various repositories in 2020. Using these, the team was able to infer the ambitious objectives pursued back in the 1970s: energy-efficient, low-resource construction within a special urban and architectural framework. The University of Passau‘s sustainable operation with its low-key buildings that put humans first served as a foundational objective long before the term "sustainability" had crept into everyday use.

Tradition and responsibility for the "green campus"

Architecture and technology in 1978 set milestone standards of remarkable foresight and a sweeping sense of responsibility. It comes as no surprise at all that the University of Passau campus gained recognition in the decades that followed, receiving various prizes and distinctions, and that students ranked "their" campus among Germany's most attractive and most liveable universities. Its, in a manner of speaking, hybrid situation – in that it is situated near the social-commercial city centre, on the one hand, and provides a haven of tranquillity on the banks of the Inn River with its treed, green, park and open areas, on the other – has made it one of the most beautiful in Germany. Even the railway line, which cuts right through the middle of the campus grounds, is no longer felt to be a nuisance today: students gather under the arches of the viaduct; when it rains, they afford suitable shelter. The present fabric of the University of Passau has been fastidiously and thoughtfully developed and transformed over the four decades since, with new buildings that add to the density here and there without compromising the "corporate identity" of the ensemble. This specific accentuation and hallmark of the university's architecture has been preserved even in the extension put up in Passau's new city centre, the "Neue Mitte": light-flooded rooms, short distances, with green spaces always within sight. It is only natural that the close partnership with the state's planning authority has served as a sound basis for organisational task sharing over many decades when it comes to planning, structural quality, and responsibility considerations. The international rankings testify to the quality of this relationship: in a global comparison of nearly 1,000 universities, the University of Passau took 185th place immediately on its first entry in the 2021 list and was named "Rising star of the year".

Sustainability as the University of Passau's strategic profile

Preisverleihung der Universität Passau.

Outstanding, sustainability-related commitment at the University of Passau was honored at the 2022 "Sustainability Day" and the sustainability awards were presented in the categories "Research" and "Activity on Campus".

By establishing "sustainability" as a priority – along with other major social themes like "Europe" and "Digitalisation" – the University of Passau is stepping up to its responsibility in educational policy matters in keeping with the times. Along with the joy of doing academic research comes the shared sense of commitment to addressing fundamental questions regarding the future of humanity in its interaction with the environment from an interdisciplinary perspective. An outraged plant requires the undivided attention of academe as well. Particularly in view of the legacy left behind by its founding generation, the University of Passau feels it has an obligation to partake in the sustainability discourse of research and teaching and to critically but constructively explore ways of ensuring an ecological, social, and economic transformation. The interdisciplinary degree programmes offered in many of the subject areas at the University of Passau provide an expertise that is similarly interdisciplinary in nature and is highly amenable to the complex field of sustainability and the harmonisation of humans and the environment.

Sustainability Day in 2022

On 20 October 2022, the University of Passau officially marked "Sustainability Day" for the first time by holding a festive event consisting of a remarkably thought-provoking lecture held by the doyen of Germany’s environmental movement, Professor Hubert Weiger, a tribute to the outstanding, sustainability-related commitment at the University of Passau, and the presentation of the Sustainability Award in the categories "Research" and "Activities on Campus". This special event in our academic calendar will be held once a year from now on and bring the University's sustainability agenda into the public eye. Another highlight in the 2022 "Sustainability Day" celebration was the inauguration of the Sustainability Hub, a central action and organisation unit for all activities related to sustainability at the University of Passau.

Sustainability hub: Sustainable structures for the future

Nachhaltigkeitshub: Gestaltungs- und Verwaltungsstrukturen.

The efficient planning and administrative structures of the University of Passau will be gradually expanded in the months and years to come.


By launching a "Sustainability Hub" in the form of a centralised organisational unit for the University's sustainability concerns, the University of Passau has provided itself with efficient planning and administrative structures which will be gradually expanded in the months and years to come. The "Hub" and its fields are organised in a threefold format. The Sustainability Office directed by Stefan Schröder serves as the organisational and administrative heart at the centre of the hub to which all the spokes lead. The three subunits are a) the "Research Forum", b) the "Sustainable Operation" section and c) the "Sustainable Campus" division. The Research Forum, which is coordinated by a team of spokespersons headed by Professor Urs Kramer, serves as the port of call for all efforts to initiate and establish research projects, discussion groups or thematic priorities across the different status groups and faculties. Students with at least one degree are invited and encouraged to participate in research as well. The "Sustainable Operation" section, which works closely together with the "Facility Management" department in the University's administration, deals primarily with projects seeking to promote the campus's climate neutrality. They include the development of a sustainability and/or climate protection strategy, for example, as well as the planned EMAS+ certification and the procurement of additional photovoltaic systems for the building complex – the latter, in particular, is no easy undertaking given the disruptions occurring around the world with consequences that reverberate all the way to the regional and local labour market. A third organisational function is performed by the "Sustainable Campus" division and primarily involves the students with their many different initiatives to make the campus and life on the campus more sustainable.

Prize-winning video on sustainable architecture at the University of Passau from a seminar held by Prof. Dr. Trempler:

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Public relations and integration into the grand scheme of things

In the age of a fast-paced (or short-lived) attention economy, image and public relations are becoming ever more important. The University of Passau writes sustainability with a capital, neon-lit S without allowing the critical perspective which is inherent to science and research to be pushed to the sidelines. A university is really the most unsuitable place to promote sustainability news using marketing tactics similar to greenwashing. Quite the contrary: At the University of Passau, such general tendencies are always subjected to a critical assessment and corrected. Regular sustainability reports have been highlighting the outstanding achievements and activities of researchers, students, and colleagues in the administration. Initial experiences in the Research Forum, for example, have highlighted the immense willingness to identify overarching research questions and have shown that cross-fertilisation in the academic discourse is the way to go. The University of Passau is all set to engage in both competition and cooperation with other universities in Bavaria, Germany, Europe, and the World with absolute integrity. The sincere efforts being made by all the stakeholders from research, academic study and administration completely bear this out.

Professor Werner Gamerith is the university management's representative for system accreditation and internal networking with the cross-sectional task of sustainability.

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