Teaching and Learning

A Holistic Education for the Decision-Makers of the Future

As a university, RWTH is a place where knowledge is not only generated but also imparted to others. In light of the global challenges of our time, universities have a duty to provide a holistic education for their students to help prepare them for their role as future decision-makers in the transformation toward sustainability. Including sustainability references in curricula is just as important as the creation of incentives for commitment to sustainability – not only for students but also for educators.

In the following chapter, you will find out more about developments with regard to sustainability in teaching and learning at RWTH. These include practical approaches, such as the SDG Campus project and the summer schools, teaching awards for sustainability, and student commitment to sustainability.

An overview of basic structures in the area of teaching and learning with reference to sustainability can be found in RWTH’s first Sustainability Report.

AStA Sustainability & Student Engagement Officer Florian Winkler stands in front of a glass wall. He is wearing a gray suit and a white shirt. He smiles into the camera.
AStA RWTH Aachen

Three Questions for...

Florian Winkler, AStA Officer for Sustainability & Student Engagement (until 2023)

Sustainability at RWTH is directly linked to the people who learn, teach, research, and work at the University. They all bring different perspectives on a sustainable university. With a view to the area of teaching and learning, we have brought along three questions for AStA officer Florian Winkler. We are looking forward to the answers!

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At a Glance

Many processes have already been initiated at RWTH to make teaching and learning more sustainable.

Good to Know! RWTH Is Guided by a Sustainability Mission Statement.

The sustainability efforts at RWTH Aachen University are based on the Sustainability Mission Statement adopted in July 2021. In our mission statement, we have come together as a community to dedicate ourselves to creating a sustainable university. It also addresses aspects of teaching and learning as a guideline.

Learn more about the mission statement here


Our Path Toward a Sustainable Future

Developments in Teaching and Learning

A lot has happened in 2021 and 2022 in the area of teaching and learning. University members have been actively involved in the GreenTeams, which have been held every six months since 2021. AStA organized the Sustainability Days, which took place twice in 2021. In mid-2022, the topic of sustainability found its way into Talk Lehre with the presentation of the Micro-Bachelor for Sustainability as part of the SDG Campus project.

The SDG Campus project officially started at the end of 2022. As the timeline shows, the inclusion of sustainability in the “Teaching and Learning Mission Statement” and the “Teaching Guidelines” in 2023 represent further milestones in terms of sustainability in teaching and learning.

Sustainability in Teaching and Learning

Recognizing and Evaluating Sustainability References

The results of a survey on “Sustainability-Related Degree programs” that was conducted in spring 2021 were already presented in RWTH’s first Sustainability Report. The question of the number of degree programs in the respective faculty that consider sustainability was aimed in particular at making us reflect on the topic of including sustainability in teaching and learning in all faculties. The aim was to gain an initial impression of how many degree programs are dealing with the topic according to a self-assessment. In this respect, the survey is not representative, but it does provide an indication of how much sustainability there is in teaching and learning at RWTH.

The survey made it clear that the degree programs at RWTH Aachen University primarily address the ecological sustainability perspective, particularly with topics such as clean energy and climate protection measures.

An overview of the sustainability-related degree programs included in the survey can be found on the sustainability webpages. Since then, further entries with self-assessments by the faculties have been added. As of November 2023, self-assessments are available for 50 degree programs with a total of 232 SDG references.

Sustainability issues included in programs of study at RWTH. Self-assessment of the faculties. Shown: SDGs that have been named more than ten times. Total number of mentions: 232 I Source: Survey on “Sustainability degree programs” from spring 2021 incl. updated entries until November 2023.

The ecological dimension of sustainability continues to be clearly addressed. For example, 15% of mentions relate to SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy and 14% to SDG 13 – Climate Action. SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure comes in third place. SDG 15 (9%), SDG 12 (8%), SDG 11 (7%), SDG 6 (6%), SDG 3 (6%), and SDG 5 (5%) follow with more than 10 mentions.

It is important to emphasize that these are self-assessments by the faculties. The distribution of mentions of SDGs is limited to the programs of study under consideration. These lists may not be totally complete. You can find out more about the future systematic recording of sustainability content in degree programs below.

Integrating Sustainability Into the Curricula

A lot has happened in terms of sustainability in teaching and learning since the last Sustainability Report. In 2023, the topic of sustainability was included in the “Teaching and Learning Mission Statement” and the “Teaching Guidelines.” Last but not least, the area of teaching and learning is a key component of the sustainability roadmap process that was launched at the beginning of 2022. The integration of sustainability into the curricula plays an important role here.

For the degree programs that will be accredited from the winter semester 2023/24, the inclusion or presence of sustainability in the content of the curricula will be reviewed as part of the degree program evaluation. The quality objectives in the area of teaching and learning include “social responsibility and sustainability.” From the winter semester 2023/24, every degree program must therefore answer the question of whether references to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and issues of ecological, economic, and social sustainability are integrated into the degree program.

As this review is carried out successively due to the large number of degree programs, complete proof of having integrated sustainability skills into all degree programs will be delivered eight years after the start of the process.

Creating Incentives – Recognizing Commitment

Presentation of the (Special) Sustainability Teaching Award

RWTH has been presenting a teaching award for more than ten years in recognition of outstanding and exemplary achievements in the field of teaching. In 2021, a special “Sustainability” teaching award was presented once. From the five proposals received, the Rectorate Commission for Quality Management in Education selected Professor Carmen Leicht-Scholten from the Gender and Diversity in Engineering Research Group and the Geography/Economic Geography Student Council for the special teaching award. The prize money amounted to 12,000 euros.

Special teaching award for Prof. Dr. Carmen Leicht-Scholten

Prof. Leicht-Scholten was honored for her many years of commitment to teaching students skills for sustainable technology design across faculty boundaries. She offers several courses both in undergraduate education and functioning as part of Institute-specific curricula as well as several “Leonardo” courses per semester that have a special focus on sustainability (“Technology and Society” and “Sustainable Development Goals”).

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Special Teaching Award for the Geography Student Council

In recent years, the “Geofachschaft” has regularly organized film evenings that address political, social, and environmental issues and offer space for discussion in addition to conveying knowledge. In a relaxed atmosphere away from the daily lecture routine, various experts are also involved in the specialist discussion. The student council was awarded the Special Teaching Award for Sustainability for these film evenings in 2021. Find out more about what the prize money was used for here.

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In order to reinforce the aspect of sustainability, the list of criteria for awarding the teaching prize was expanded accordingly for the following years. The consideration of ecological, social, and economic sustainability aspects is now an integral part of the criteria catalog – in line with the Sustainability Mission Statement.

Good to Know! The Sustainability Strategy.

A process to develop and adopt a Sustainability Strategy and associated roadmap by engaging all members of the University community has been underway at RWTH since the beginning of 2022. The Strategy includes targets, indicators, and specific measures to realize the vision of a climate-neutral and more sustainable RWTH by 2030.

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The picture shows seven people on a train. Three people are sitting at a table. Four people are standing. They are all smiling at the camera.
Lea Hagen
The picture shows seven people on a train. Three people are sitting at a table. Four people are standing. They are all smiling at the camera.
Lea Hagen

In Conversation – On the Road During the Erasmus Semester

Climate-friendly travel on your way to a semester abroad? Read here what Lea Hagen has to say about her stay at Luleå Tekniska Universitet in Sweden.

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Student Engagement

for Sustainability

As the largest university group, students are important stakeholders and are also an indispensable source of inspiration for the topic: Whether it’s dealing with sustainability issues in teaching and learning or the sustainable operation of the University. Their commitment has had a significant impact on the University and the city of Aachen in this area.

Student sustainability initiatives (selection)

The activities of the sustainability initiatives at RWTH are diverse and deal with all three dimensions of sustainability. Topics include the founding of non-profit startups, children’s rights, equal opportunities and educational equity, diversity and inclusion, renewable energies, health, climate-friendly mobility, waste prevention and disposal as well as the networking of initiatives in the field of sustainability.

Read more about what has happened in student engagement and in the AStA since the first Sustainability Report and what really moves students.

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More Exciting Insights

Here you will find further articles on sustainability with regard to studying and teaching. Find out more about the development and testing of a self-assembly kit for the joint placing of greenery on university buildings. Read exciting articles about the UNESCO Chair for Cultural Heritage and Urban Development and the “Leonardo” project.

SDG-Campus – Micro-Bachelor in Sustainability

The SDG Campus project is an inter-university and interdisciplinary online course offering in which students can learn about and jointly develop technological solutions for achieving the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through self-study.

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The picture shows a kneeling person planting textile plant bags from the BauGrünKit.
Marina Kremer (ITA)

The BauGrünKit

In a course at the Institutes of Landscape Architecture and Textile Technology, students developed the BauGrünKit and implemented it as a prototype at the RWTH Language Center. With the kit, employees and students can take the initiative to make their working environment more attractive, improve the urban climate, and promote biodiversity.

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Heike Lachmann

UNESCO Chair for Cultural Heritage and Urbanism

Cities and regions around the world are facing the challenges of structural change and climate change. The UNESCO Chair for Cultural Heritage and Urbanism is driving the implementation of the global sustainability agenda with interdisciplinary research and teaching in order to be able to meet these challenges in a sustainable manner. The focus here is on urban design, building culture, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

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The picture shows a bird's eye view. Participants of Summer School 2022 set up art installations on a large, round red carpet and are filmed doing so.
Ceren Sezer

IDEA League Summer Schools – Bringing Sustainability to Life

The IDEA League is an association of leading universities of technology in Europe, including RWTH. Networking and exchange are already reflected in the IDEA League’s motto “Connect. Exchange. Innovate.” With this in mind, joint events in the field of sustainability are held under the umbrella of the IDEA League – including on the Aachen campus. Find out more about the Summer Schools here.

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A photo of a crowded lecture hall, several people come forward. The photo is blurred in the background.
Mario Irrmischer

Project “Leonardo”

Future shapers and thought leaders of our time need teaching that looks beyond the confines of their own department and that provides strong impetus. The Human Technology Center’s “Leonardo” project has dedicated itself to this goal – with interdisciplinary topics that are constantly being developed further as well as innovative teaching formats.

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