Updated: Mar 31, 2020
The University of the Students Building Sustainable Communities
Written by Narasimha
Kiel is a leader in sustainability in terms of German cities. For example, the city is home to the first ‘Unverpackt’ (unpackaged) store in Germany, the first city to have a Zero Waste association, and the first Germaan municipality to commit to going zero waste. Kiel is a home to a growing number of sustainability focused start-ups and the city places a high degree of emphasis on regional products. However, the CAU lags behind universities such as Leuphana Universität Lüneburg and Hochschule Eberswalde sustainability efforts.
The university lacks a green office (an office for all things sustainability), edible seedbeds, and internal foodsharing/ foodsaving initiatives among other things. As a student of sustainability who chose the CAU over the Hochschule Eberswalde, it was personally quite disappointing to see a relatively low emphasis on sustainability-related efforts in comparison to a place such as the Alte Mu Impuls – Werk e.V. The university speaks a lot about sustainability, but however for me personally, and the participants in the seminar, it is barely doing enough. The seminar organised by Wellenschlagen could be a historic moment in terms of student-led responsibility for sustainability at the CAU. The seminar basically gave us the platform to critically brainstorm concrete ideas on how we could start real projects at the university. The first half of the seminar exposed us to how sustainable communities have been created in other universities across the world, and we began to get a picture of what was possible. We also had a couple of guest speakers from Perle and Leuphana who allowed us to dream about what could be done at the CAU. The Leuphana semester with its focus on interdisciplinarity and sustainability is something that most seminar participants now believe is necessary for the CAU, but we also understand that due to administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, it is unlikely to become a reality here anytime soon. In addition, we had informative Skype calls with students and professors involved in sustainability related ventures in countries such as India, Sweden, and Scotland. This allowed us to gain a global perspective while simultaneously pondering how change could be created in a local setting. Talking with a professor from an Indian university was particularly crucial as otherwise we would have been exposed to only perspectives from the global North. The latter half of the seminar was marked by a period where our ideas actually turned into frameworks that could be realised, and the weekend workshop took place during this time period.
The weekend seminar organized by the Netzwerk N was a real highlight as it allowed the seminar participants to turn our ideas into concrete proposals. For example, the proposal by Wellenschlagen to set up a green office at the CAU was critically discussed, debated, and improved at the weekend workshop. Questions such as why do we need the office, how could we set up the office, what kind of stakeholders could help us, and what kind of bureaucratic framework we would deal with were discussed in this setting. A green office, in short, is a
university approved office that promotes student-led participation and sustainability in a university setting. The office would exist to serve as a hub of ideas and initiatives on how sustainable development could be integrated into the existing fabric of the university. At CAU, the proposed green office would be the starting point for any student-led sustainability initiative, and it would exist to provide knowledge, resources, and a safe space to experiment.
The workshop was conducted over three days from 7th to 9th June. The two coaches, Nele and Lilith, from Netzwerk N were professionally trained and capable of converting possible ideas in our heads to proposals that could now turn into concrete solutions in the coming years. The workshop was attended mostly by seminar participants so it provided us with a space to put theories and ideas we had already been discussing all semester long to test. The community aspect of the workshop was enhanced and strengthened by the possibility to share all our meals in this time period together. In addition, 100% of all the food consumed was sourced in a sustainable manner. The weekend succeeded in fostering a sense of community among its participants. It was also enjoyable on a personal level to help organise the workshop and be responsible organising the food with another participant.
The energy, motivation, and determination of the two students who led the seminar rubbed off on the rest of us, and as the semester went along, I along with the other participants, took a bigger role. Now we have created a working group outside the confines of the seminar and we are working hard to meet our milestones for the coming winter semester and realising our proposal of starting a green office at the CAU.