PhD networks

PhD Networks delves deeper into “how to make our research more sustainable”.

One of the major guiding goals of the Working Group Sustainability of the Leibniz PhD and PostDoc Networks is to create a sustainable community within and outside of the Leibniz Association.

In order to start a discussion, the working group held a panel discussion entitled Sustainable Research – What can WE do and where do WE start? on the 2nd of June 2021 in which we discussed what role sustainability should play in research in general and in the Leibniz Association in particular.

Four experts from different fields were invited:

  • Diana Born, Business Development Manager at atmosfair gGmbH
  • Andreas Otto, Deputy Director of the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) and Speaker of the Leibniz Arbeitskreis Sustainability Management
  • Falk Schmidt, Head of Office German Science Platform Sustainability 2030
  • Juliane Schumacher, Researcher at the Leibniz Institute Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

The panel discusion centered around the following major topics. They have been briefly summarised as follows:

What impact do individuals have on sustainability?

Greta Thunberg demonstrated very clearly what an individual can do. She became the face of a movement that motivated a whole generation. Her example shows that the main responsibility of an individual is to raise awareness and integrate the topic of global warming into our everyday life. Making conscious decisions about sustainable consumerism on a collective level can steer the money flow away from big corporate emitters. However, it cannot be denied that in a complex system like our society, structural changes like international regulations to enforce sustainable procedures in corporations would have the largest impact. Therefore, political actions are needed, meaning that the main responsibility of individuals is not to change their personal lifestyle but rather to advocate for political and structural changes.

How to do research sustainably?

In order to make research sustainable, fundamental restructuring in institutes and research culture (currently fast paced and economically limited) is necessary. Researchers should not be left alone with the big task of sustainability management in addition to their already high workload. Instead, institutes should allocate capacities for sustainability management and get experts to help researchers work more sustainably. Researchers should look for a connection to sustainability in their respective field of research rather than limiting it to research on sustainability.

The Leibniz Association has already initiated the first steps towards more sustainable research: Leibniz worked together with Fraunhofer and Helmholtz on the LeNa project, which serves as an orientation framework for sustainability management in the non-university field containing 8 criteria in doing research sustainably. Additionally, a Sustainability Management working group and the Leibniz research network Knowledge for Sustainable Development have been implemented. 

What can early-stage scientists do to create a culture of sustainability?

Early-stage researchers should push for change, get involved in political work inside and outside of research and most importantly communicate. Their qualities as early-stage researchers like critical thinking, looking for different solutions and open mindedness can help to create the necessary innovation to make society and research sustainable. In their individual research projects, every early-stage researcher can look for their personal link to sustainability and reflect on their work with the LeNa criteria in mind.

Take home message: 

The most efficient way to improve sustainable measures is by advocating for political and structural changes. Researchers should communicate their wishes for a sustainable research culture openly inside, with their institutes or research associations, and outside of academia.

To integrate sustainability in our “research life”, the working group Sustainability plans to organize further seminars on this topic as well as a science communication workshop for Leibniz members.