Towards a Sustainable and Transparent Future

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With research and teaching on sustainability UZH has the greatest potential to m

With research and teaching on sustainability UZH has the greatest potential to make an impact from a long-term perspective. (Image: University of Zurich, Frank Brüderli)

The University of Zurich is committed to promoting and raising awareness of sustainable development, both within its own ranks and in society as a whole. UZH has approved a Sustainability Policy and is now publishing its first Sustainability Report. Furthermore, the University is publishing a new transparency list of third-party funding sources.

The current and future well-being of all people: This is the goal of sustainable development. This can only be achieved on a foundation of careful use of natural resources, protection of human rights, and upholding of social justice. The University of Zurich codified its commitment to sustainability in its Sustainability Policy at the beginning of the year and has now published its first Sustainability Report. The report, which is based on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined by the United Nations, offers a comprehensive analysis of the current status of sustainability at the University and points out areas for action. “As a public education and research institution, we have a particular responsibility when it comes to advancing the dialogue on sustainability, both across disciplines and with society at large,” says UZH Vice President Gabriele Siegert on the occasion of the annual media conference.

Great potential in research and teaching

The new report, which is scheduled to be published every two years, takes a look at how UZH is making a contribution to sustainable development - not only in governance, administration and operations, but also in research and teaching. “When UZH generates new academic findings relevant to sustainability and then spreads the word, this has the greatest potential to make an impact from a long-term perspective,” explains Lorenz Hilty, UZH Sustainability Delegate. Significant contributions are made in particular by University Research Priority Programs on topics such as global change and biodiversity and University Centers of Competence such as the Center for Ethics and the Citizen Science Center Zurich. The University’s diverse course offerings also address the issue of sustainable development. Examples include study programs in Earth System Science and Environmental Sciences, courses on the fundamentals of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, and continuing education programs on Sustainable Finance and Applied Ethics.

Renewable energy sources and vegetarian meals on the rise

The University of Zurich has over 9,000 employees and 26,000 students, which means that its organizational structure and operations also have a considerable role to play in meeting sustainability goals. When it comes to energy consumption, UZH used 120 gigawatt hours in 2018, 78 percent of which came from renewable sources. This is 10 percent more than the proportion of renewable energy that was used in 2008. “Energy efficiency at UZH has reached a high level,” explains Hilty. “We will be able to continue improving this in the future with our long-term policy of concentrating the University’s activities on two campuses.”

The sustainability situation is also developing positively in the UZH cafeteria. Meat-based meals have experienced a drop in popularity alongside a rising demand for vegan and vegetarian meals. This trend helped the cafeteria reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 tons from 2017 to 2018. Travel is one area that is particularly ripe for effective measures to bring about high-impact change. Most of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by flights taken by its members. UZH is currently working on two corporate strategies to define its direction and priorities for sustainable development. The strategies, which are set to be passed this year, focus on two areas: Research and teaching, and governance, administration and operations.

New transparency list shines light on external funding

“Transparency when it comes to vested interests and financial relationships is also a key contributor to sustainable development in research and teaching,” explains President Michael Hengartner. UZH has therefore been publishing a list of its endowed professorships and the outside professional activities and interests of its professors since 2017. “Given the increasing importance of third-party funds, we are also aiming to create more transparency in this area,” says Hengartner. The University’s new transparency list publishes all external funding in excess of 100,000 Swiss francs. In 2018 this amounted to 315 million francs, once again representing a slight increase (+4.8%) on the previous year. This growth trend was also reflected in the revenue of the University as a whole: In 2018 UZH had revenues of 1.42 billion francs - 40 million (+2.9%) more than in 2017.

Interest in STEM subjects continues to grow, also among women

In the fall semester of 2018, there were 25,827 students enrolled at UZH, 58 percent of whom were women. This high level of enrollment has remained stable. Similar to previous years, the biggest increase has come in the STEM subjects with a total enrollment of 4,407 students (+145) and medicine with a total enrollment of 3,613 students (+197). “We are happy to report high levels of interest from women in these subjects too,” states Stefan Schnyder, Director of Finances and Human Resources. However, enrollment in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was slightly down at 9,898 students (-121). The same was the case for the Faculty of Law with a total enrollment of 3,375 students (-113).

Nearly 20 percent of students in Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs had foreign nationality. For doctoral candidates and professors, this figure was 43 percent and 56 percent, respectively. According to Schnyder, this is a sign that the University of Zurich fares well on the international stage as an attractive research and teaching institution for experienced academics.