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).