In the newest version of the German Sustainable Development Strategy, the Federal Government recognises its responsibility with regard to the 2030 Agenda and the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Higher education institutions are given a role of particular significance with respect to implementing these goals. It is their spaces where ideas receive critical reflection, are discarded, old ones reinvigorated and new ones created; they are the places where people research, teach and learn. Future decision makers are trained and given the necessary skills for the challenges they will face. Higher education institutions create societal competence through transference to individuals and thus help shape societal discourse and dialogue.
Higher education institutions clear the way for change processes and contribute to developing potential solutions to current crises by opening up various possible paths towards sustainable development. This happens with both inward directionality, e.g. through specific teaching content on sustainability and in research or through the coordination and management of sustainable operations, and outward directionality, e.g. through the transference of insights from sustainability research to other areas of society.
Higher education institutions are increasingly using sustainability reporting in order to present transparently their contribution to research and teaching as well as the operation of the institution in respect of sustainable development and to sharpen their institution’s sustainability profile in the long term. Sustainability reports are a suitable instrument for communicating recognition of responsibility for society and describing how the challenges presented by sustainable development are being actively confronted. Through mid 2016, 40 sustainability reports from 21 higher education institutions were published in Germany (Azizi et al., 2018).
Against this backdrop, the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) came together in 2015 with around 50 representatives of higher education institutions to begin adjusting the overall German Sustainability Code to the needs of such institutions. The development comprised an intensive discussion and exchange process over three quarters of a year, resulting in a beta version of the Sustainability Code for Higher Education Institutions. From late 2016 to early 2018 the beta version was then tested by a total of 12 pilot higher education institutions as part of the joint project “Sustainability at Higher Education Institutions: develop – network – report” (HOCH-N) supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The higher education institutions participating in the pilot project are:
- Freie Universität Berlin
- Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
- Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences
- Trier University of Applied Sciences
- Zittau/Görlitz University of Applied Sciences
- Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
- Leuphana University of Lüneburg
- Technical University Darmstadt
- Technical University Dresden
- University of Duisburg-Essen
- University of Hamburg
- University of Tübingen
Following conclusion of this application phase in early 2018 a final version of the Sustainability Code for Higher Education Institutions was prepared via a participatory process together with the pilot higher education institutions as part of the HOCH-N project. The final version was subsequently approved by the German Council for Sustainable Development in spring and presented to the public in mid-May 2018. In October 2018 HOCH-N published a beta version of guideline for applying the Sustainability Code for Higher Education Institutions.
For questions regarding the content or development process of the Sustainability Code for Higher Education Institutions, please contact:
PD Dr Remmer Sassen
University of Hamburg
Tel.: +49 40 42838 7966
For technical questions regarding the preparation of a declaration of conformity with the Sustainability Code for Higher Education Institutions, please contact:
Sustainability Code Office
Tel.: +49 30 700186 974