More commitment to the SDGs!

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The 17 Sustainability Goals of the 2030 Agenda. (Image: un.org)

The 17 Sustainability Goals of the 2030 Agenda. (Image: un.org)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out the way to a more sustainable world. But the 17 goals are not yet firmly anchored in everyday university life. Christine Bratrich feels this has to change.

In Australia, bush fires are raging. An unprecedented plague of locusts is afflicting Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. And in Switzerland, local communities are shaken because drinking water in some local communities is so contaminated by pesticides that fountains are being closed.

What these examples show is that sustainability is far more than just an abstract, normative concept. It concerns us all, very specifically, here and now. For millions of people, it’s a question of survival.

Universities must play their part

In order to set a universally valid target and time frame for sustainability, the United Nations adopted Agenda 2030. All 193 UN member states unanimously committed to implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1. These comprise 169 sub-goals and balance the economic, social and ecological dimensions of sustainable development. The topics range from climate protection and biodiversity to education, health and equality, economic growth, peace and justice.

When it comes to implementing these goals, universities bear a particular responsibility, for we train the decision-makers of tomorrow. Our researchers come up with facts in a world blinded by fake news. Technical and social innovations often find their beginning in the academic environment. It’s our task to bring scientific findings to bear in a dialogue with society and to drive innovative solutions. And it’s our mission and mandate to act in an exemplary manner on our campus, and to make our operations sustainable.

True, many individual players at ETH Zurich, such as competence centres, departments and operational units, are already committed to greater sustainability and implementing the SDGs (see also this blog post ). But unfortunately, we don’t yet have a common understanding as a university of what contribution we can and want to make together.

I feel we need to catch up. Many of our students are not yet familiar with the principle of SDGs. Of the almost 4,000 courses in autumn 2019 and spring 2020, only 100 mention sustainability in the course outline or learning objectives. Less than 30 include the topic in their title, and only one explicitly mentions SDGs.

Now we must talk - and act

There’s a need for even more researchers and teachers to work actively across disciplines on the SDGs. We want to make a tangible contribution here in the upcoming spring semester. We kick off by launching an ETH-wide lecture series on Agenda 2030, where students and researchers can openly and critically discuss our contribution to the SDGs with those working in the field.

Things are looking promising: on board for the programme are 16 ETH lecturers and 22 guests from business, society, NGOs and politics. Among them are individuals from north and south of the globe, young leaders and old hands, established companies and newly founded start-ups - all committed to working for a sustainable future.

We invite you to join us to discuss our responsibility for implementing the SDGs!

The "Sustainable Development Goals in Context" lecture series is open to the public and will be held this spring semester every Wednesday from 5.15 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the ETH Zurich main building (room HG E7). You can find more information and the complete programme here: https://ethz.ch/sdg

Dr. Christine Bratrich