Supporting Continual, Sustainable Development

As one of the largest technical educational and research institutions in Germany, RWTH has a social responsibility when it comes to teaching and research. This is inextricably linked to our task of driving forward sustainable development and setting a good example.

That is why RWTH considers it its duty to ensure that the University, in all its diversity and its wide range of different organizational units – from its teaching and research institutions to administration – is structured to accommodate and facilitate sustainable development. It aims to guarantee and encourage this by embedding tools, processes, and measures in all of the University’s everyday activities – research, teaching, operations, and governance. In RWTH’s Sustainability Mission Statement, university members have developed a joint understanding of sustainability as a basis for their conduct, and have familiarized themselves with these values as a university community:

We, the members of RWTH, are committed to acting in a sustainable manner, both in terms of our responsibility toward society and the associated educational mandate, and in economic terms. (…)

Sustainability is a clear priority for us. It is firmly established as an important cross-cutting task in all areas of the University, in the same manner to gender and diversity, transfer, and internationali-zation (…)

We are committed to making our University more sustainable and to creating the necessary frame-work conditions for this – both within RWTH and with regional, national, and international partners. (…)

We, the members of RWTH, resolve to take responsibility and contribute to a more sustainable RWTH through our individual and collective actions. Only together can we make the best possible contribution to shaping science and society for the future in a lasting and reliable way. We are fully committed to reaching this goal.

RWTH Sustainability Mission Statement

This section provides an insight into the ways in which sustainability is embedded in the University’s overall strategy, with an explanation of the established sustainability structures and an outline of the bottom-up movement for sustainable development.

Timeline with selected data on sustainable development at RWTH. A narrow bar in two alternating shades of blue is shown in the center. The entries are each anchored above or below with a line.  The first year on the left is 2005, labeled First Energy Report. It is followed by: 2007 Integration Team, People Policy 2008 Project House HumTec 2009 family-friendly university, Diversity Charter  2010 Leonardo project 2017 TOTAL E-QUALITY 2019 Sustainability resolutions university plenary meeting 2020 Sustainability in the university contract & structure and development plan of the ZHV; Establishment: Sustainability working group, AStA department for sustainability and student enga-gement, sustainability office, website, IDEA League working group, sustainability round table, sustainability office hours 2021 Special teaching award for sustainability, workshop "Sustainability at RWTH", Rectorate Delegates for Sustainability, sustainability mission statement, GreenTeams
Timeline of Sustainable Development at RWTH

RWTH has not had an explicit sustainability strategy until now. This initially seems rather surprising. But, given the fact that sustainability will, of course, always be a focus of any technical university looking at “global challenges”, sustainability in research and teaching has already been a feature of our overall strategy for many years now. The topic’s relevance is demonstrated by its inclusion in strategic documents such as the University Contract, the University Agreement, the University Development Plan, and the structure and development plans for the individual faculties:

In its research, RWTH deals with the major research questions of our time (global challenges) with the aim of contributing to the sustainable development of our society. The topic of sustainability is an important and established feature of our research and teaching. Specifically, it is apparent from the way in which corresponding topics and projects are handled, as well as in the relevant structures. Activities relating to this topic range from handling interdisciplinary projects in cross-faculty networks and reallocating professors right through to structures that promote and support the transfer of research results to their real-world application. And in the potential Clusters of Excellence funded by the Excellence Strategy, researchers deal with topics relating to sustainability and topics in the energy sector in particular, such as renewable energy, localized energy networks, and storage systems. When it comes to teaching, sustainability aspects play a vital and increasing role in a whole range of study programs.

Closing report, University Contract (2016) § 17 University Sustainability Strategy

Established in 2008, the Human Technology Center (HumTec) serves as a platform to promote different types of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research as well as joint technological development. Its job is to look at issues pertaining to sustainability from a transdisciplinary problem-solving perspective. Achieving global sustainability targets is a knowledge-rich process – not just a wealth of knowledge, but an extremely wide variety of knowledge needs to be mobilized, structured, and integrated. There is a lot of collaboration between knowledge actors when it comes to sustainable knowledge production and the transfer of knowledge, which is why HumTec is operated based on an integrated and interdisciplinary culture. They are seeking to develop tailor-made interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies with the aim of understanding concrete socio-technical problems on a cross-faculty basis and to develop socially compatible solutions through transdisciplinary discourse. In order to achieve global sustainability targets, universities of the future need to accept their new role as socially responsible organizations and put this into practice – a process that HumTec helps to promote.

 This integrated approach is also clearly formulated in the Universities of Excellence Proposal from 2019, expressed as a desire to achieve the “seamless integration” of research, teaching, and transfer. Students should be given the tools to look at or handle questions relating to sustainability whether they continue to pursue an academic career path or choose to switch to industry.

In order to ensure that the University continues to live up to its commitment and meet its responsibility in the future and to guarantee the development of the sustainability strategy, the topic of sustainability has had an ever greater focus and been pursued with an institution-wide approach since 2020.

RWTH sees sustainability as a cross-cutting task that is, or that needs to be, embedded in all areas of the University, and that is closely interlinked with other cross-cutting tasks. The Gender and Diversity and Internationalization cross-cutting tasks are particularly crucial to sustainable development.

The area of transfer also plays a special role here: RWTH engages in transfer in an extremely multi-faceted manner, with a wide range of partners. The methods of transfer are equally varied and include, for example, technology and knowledge transfer, ongoing training, consultancy, participation in social and cultural life, participation in policy development, scientific communication, contracts with companies, public organizations and municipalities, and many more.

This report primarily looks at the different aspects of transfer over two areas: The Research section examines research and technology transfer as well as the process of translating the University’s research findings into transformative innovations with market value. The section titled Society – International Affairs, on the other hand, considers the non-material exploitation of research findings, the significance of the University in the region, and its role in society as its main focus points.

These spheres of activity can also be found in the Sustainability Mission Statement, which was developed in a participative process. The mission statement stipulates the joint understanding of sustainability at RWTH. This has been agreed upon as a joint commitment to sustainability following its approval by the Senate in July 2021. The Sustainability Mission Statement helps RWTH to actively position itself and can be used when communicating with external (research) partners.

Shown in the center is a large, circular icon. It shows the stylized main building of the RWTH. Around it are 7 other, smaller, circular icons and connected to the large icon. The graphic is shown in RWTH blue and white.   Starting at the top right: icon with house symbol, in it a pen and a filled Erlenmeyer flask. Labeled "9 faculties". Clockwise further: Icon with hierarchical organization chart, "12 departments", Icon with doctoral hat "more than 180 study programs", Icon with 5 interconnected circles "8 profile areas", Icon of a person with book "more than 47000 students". Icon with per-son with inscription "Staff", "more than 9500 employees". As well as top left icon with stylized hills and a location pin "more than 600000 square meters area".
Facts About the University

Long-term structures have been established in order to implement the University’s own commitment to continual sustainable development.

The Sustainability and University Governance Staff Unit has the special task of driving forward the continued development process towards a more sustainable RWTH. Its task is to pool existing sustainability structures, projects, and initiatives and to coordinate and promote their implementation. This also includes providing support to university management when they are preparing to make decisions. As a central contact partner, the staff unit works in close collaboration with all University groups, in particular with students, to coordinate initiatives and strategic targets regarding sustainability. Many other bodies in the Central University Administration support this process in their specific areas. Some of these are prescribed by law (Waste Management Officer, Staff Unit for Occupational Safety, Equal Opportunities Office), while some have been set up to strengthen RWTH’s profile (Energy Management, Staff Development, Family Services Center).

The Rectorate appoints RWTH professors to take on individual tasks of strategic importance for the university and carry out representative functions in specific areas.
In 2021, the Rectorate appointed rector's delegates for sustainability for the first time in order to help guide the operational sustainability process with strategic planning support. In addition to advising the Rectorate and leading the GreenTeams (see ), these individuals also promote collaboration between RWTH and other universities and networks.
Tasks relating to sustainability in teaching, research, and development are undertaken by the nine faculties and the relevant supporting administrative bodies. Additional organizational units, such as the Clusters of Excellence, some cross-faculty research centers, and departments for research and science promotion and for teaching and learning are also involved in these tasks.

The AStA Department for Sustainability & Student Engagement promotes awareness of, and commitment to, sustainability among students and all other members of the university. The committee is involved in the strategy process in close collaboration with the Sustainability and University Governance Staff Unit.


Shown is the stylized campus plan of the RWTH with the large areas Mitte, Hörn and Mela-ten. Spo-radic markers have been placed. These are in the form of location pins and each have different icons.  All icons are made up of two open hands at the bottom and a symbol. There are five different icons:  A light bulb - it stands for the "research" field of action. A person with a doctoral hat - it stands for the field of action "study and teaching". A flower, where the blossom represents a cogwheel, stands for the field of action "Operation".  A symbol of two intersecting speech bubbles stands for area "Governance".  The symbol of two shaking hands forming a heart shape symbolizes the field of action "International - Social - Society".   Each pin stands for a project, a contact person, an initiative or similar, which deals with a specific sustainability topic. The pins are located at deposited addresses.
Digitale Nachhaltigkeitslandschaft

One of the key sustainability ideas is a bottom-up participatory approach. It is therefore an essential task within the sustainability process to network, to develop participation structures, and to provide ongoing support within these structures. Expertise and commitment from the university should be utilized and synergies created.

Sustainable development does not only require conducive institutional structures: It is up to all of us, the members of RWTH. Through our individual and collective actions – whether in research, teaching, operations, or governance – we can all take responsibility and contribute to a more sustainable RWTH. Only together can we make the best possible contribution to shaping science and society for the future in a lasting and reliable way. We are fully committed to reaching this goal.

RWTH Sustainability Mission Statement

In order to visualize this understanding that all university members are responsible for a sustainable RWTH, a virtual Sustainability Map has been developed. This map includes the different initiatives, projects, and bodies that are contributing to promoting sustainability at RWTH in all of its dimensions. This map can be used to get an overview of the numerous activities and to find out more information about them.

Alongside the newsletter, the Instagram channel of the Staff Unit, the Sustainability web page, and the GreenTeams that are open to all university members, the Sustainability Map plays an important role in promoting transparent, open, and active communication. It particularly focuses on projects, information, and initiatives from the university that are intended to encourage members to participate or follow their lead with their own activities (further information on implemented participation structures can be found under ).

Committed members of the University frequently contact the Sustainability and University Governance Staff Unit with ideas, which are then jointly implemented where possible. Student initiatives pooled by the AStA Department for Sustainability and Student Engagement are particularly frequent contributors, but active regional groups or sustainability working groups within individual institutions or administrative divisions also contribute to a heterogeneous and varied RWTH Sustainability Map.