Sustainability at Swiss higher education institutions

Student engagement in sustainability plays an important role in the development of a sustainable society. Two of our core team members, Gaia and Pascal, and Nayeli from the Sustainability Week Zurich, wrote an article for the Swiss academic society for environmental research and ecology. With the Sustainability Week Zurich as a best practice example, they explain from their perspective what role students play in the sustainability discourse and how their initiatives are received. Find the full article (in German) here.

Pascal Schneider, Gaia Di Salvo and Nayeli Paulin are all students in Zurich and very engaged in the Sustainability Week. Zurich’s universities have been lured out of their reserves by the student initiatives for greater sustainability and have been asked to take on a progressive pioneering role in sustainable development. In the article, it is shown how student engagement at higher education institutions leads to greater sustainability.

Annuscha Wassmann, a former student at the University of Zurich, organised the very first Sustainability Week in Switzerland in 2013 with a few but all the more motivated friends. Launched only at the University of Zurich (UZH), the Sustainability Week Zurich expanded to include four other higher education institutions (ETHZ, PHZH, ZHAW, and ZHdK). Since 2013, it has been held annually, each spring, at the five above-mentioned universities.

It consists of the following three pillars:

  1. The public will be offered a varied programme of events free of charge, consisting of workshops on everyday changes, such as a life without waste production, informative panel discussions on alternative economic systems and conferences on the reduction of greenhouse gases.
  2. The internal roundtables actively pursue university policy by discussing improvement potential with leading university members, making demands and developing solution concepts. In this way, Zurich Sustainability Week can not only inform the public but also directly promote institutional sustainable development.
  3. For a few years now, we have been working actively with the operators of the university canteens to inform their guests about forms of nutrition and to communicate more sustainable alternatives.

Today, the Sustainability Week Zurich reaches an annual audience of over 5000 visitors, making it one of the largest student sustainability projects in Switzerland. Over all these years, the Sustainability Week Zurich has remained true to its claim as a student project. The organisation of more than 40 events a year, including marketing, university policy and much more, is always done on a purely voluntary basis. This commitment is even more remarkable when you consider that the participants are also studying full-time and sometimes have to earn money to make a living.

The Sustainability Week Switzerland was launched in mid-2017 on the initiative of the Sustainability Week Zurich. It was founded as a permanent commission and VSN project with the aim of extending the success story to other Swiss higher education institutions and thus inspiring the entire education landscape to become more sustainable. The first event in spring 2018 was a great success with more than 250 participating students in twelve cities and more than 10000 visits. It is gratifying to see that sustainability issues communicated by the local Sustainability Weeks are gaining a foothold not only in Zurich, but throughout Switzerland.

Find the full article (in German) here.

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