The president’s view: Setting a good example

Almost three decades ago countries from all over the world agreed for the first time on targets for more sustainable development and climate protection at the United Nations Conference in Rio de Janeiro. It is now considered a milestone in the integration of environmental and development efforts. That was in 1992: I myself had just completed my studies in Food Chemistry and was on my way to TUM in Munich, where I was offered an exciting doctoral project in the Department of Chemistry. I remember that topics related to environmental protection and sustainability as a social concern, increasingly became the focus of chemical research and from playing a marginal role in political events before, developed into a topic that concerned all of society. A lot has changed since then: the buzzword sustainability has now reached the centre of society, and I am convinced that in the future our university will have to be more strongly measured by what we, as a guiding intellectual force in society, do for its sustainable development – on an economic, ecological and social level – and how we contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. As President of TUM, in office since October 2019, it has been important to me from the very beginning to anchor sustainability as a guiding principle in our future development agenda.

Because we have the potential

As one of the best technical universities in Europe, we see it as our social obligation to contribute with our research and innovative technological developments to the health of our planet and the coexistence of people. We have the necessary potential to do so. We employ top scientists from all over the world who, in interdisciplinary teams and with top-class equipment, set true innovations in motion. TUM is the only university to have developed electric cars ready to drive, for varying climatic zones on three continents, and with different concepts for use. At TUM Campus Straubing for Biotechnology and Sustainability we research the efficient use of biogenic raw materials in chemical, material and energy recycling as a contribution to a sustainable supply of resources and energy. We are working on the catalytic conversion of CO2 to methane and chemical valuables, such as speciality chemicals, active ingredients and polymers. At the Munich School of Engineering, architects and civil engineers are cooperating on the topic of sustainable planning and construction, as considerable amounts of carbon can be saved in the construction sector. At Schneefernerhaus on Zugspitze we are investigating the influence of climate change in the Alps. In Berchtesgaden, TUM and the National Park are researching the Alpine ecosystem under the influence of climate change.

We also work in EU-funded Knowledge and Innovation Communities on sustainable food production, developing sustainable mobility concepts and innovative approaches to tackling climate change. And we have just set up a new administrative unit for sustainable development at TUM to centrally embed the topic of sustainability, to critically reflect on our organisational and campus development, and to address potential for development. Since last year, we have been awarding the TUM Sustainability Award to trailblazers in science, who combine technological innovations, social responsibility and entrepreneurial action in an environmentally friendly manner. For the future generations of scientists, these are highly visible role models.

Architects of our future

The future belongs to the young generation – our students! That’s why sustainability is an integral part of all our programmes. These range from sustainable construction, hydraulic engineering, land use, intelligent energy systems, materials research, power plants and energy conversion to health and prevention, as well as political and social sciences. More than 40,000 students were enrolled with us in the winter semester 2019/20, and around 9,000 highly qualified graduates receive their Bachelor’s or Master’s degree every year, contributing their skills and talents to science, business, politics and society. They are the architects of our future. It is therefore our moral mandate to equip this young generation with the necessary skills to allow them to make sustainable decisions for our world and for humanity. They will follow the lead of our foresighted and conscientious alumni, who contribute their technical expertise to the development of environmentally friendly and resource-efficient innovations, establish ‘green’ companies that operate with energy efficiency, get involved in research and political bodies, collect data to calculate sustainability scenarios, and much more. As world citizens, taking responsibility on a global scale, they make a significant contribution to the further development of society. Within the framework of our TUM Network they are role models and advisors for all of us.

Together we can do it

At the heart of the Rio de Janeiro Conference in 1992 was the so-called Agenda 21, based on the idea that sustainable development can only be achieved through cooperation between all players in our society and the world. Looking at TUM today, I am proud of how much we have already put this principle into practice and how readily the entire university community is willing to shape our future together. We are aware that we have numerous tasks ahead of us. But we are tackling them together, because we can.