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Setting mile markers for environmental protection

Student initiatives bring together their activities in a sustainability office

Freiburg, Aug 20, 2019

Setting mile markers for environmental protection

Photo: Prostock-studio/

The “Green Office” student initiative is the name under which Freiburg students and institutions at the University of Freiburg have come together. They are pooling their activities in order to raise awareness about ways to manage the environment in a gentle fashion. The club focuses in particular on environmental education. The group’s idea is to create a “Studium Oecologicum”.

The initiative aims to shed light on the various aspects of sustainability -- for example with an interdisciplinary “Studium Oecologicum.”
Photo: Prostock-studio/

In everyday life, they take care to treat the environment as gently as possible such as shopping at zero waste shops, not traveling by air and eating vegetarian food. Laila Heising and Benjamin Thober are convinced that all private efforts in a global context are inadequate. “Lifestyle changes alone cannot replace politics. Living sustainably is difficult when the structures for socio-ecological transformation are lacking,” say the 24-year-old environmental sciences student and the 28-year-old interdisciplinary anthropology student. Who, if not their university, would be better suited to promote social change with research, teaching and practical implementation within its own operational processes.

As a result, the students joined forces with other agents at the University of Freiburg to form the “Green Office” in May 2018. They were inspired to do so by similar initiatives that already exist at other universities. In the best-case scenario, the idea would result in a real office run by student assistants who coordinate all sustainability efforts at the University. There are already socio-ecologically oriented university groups participating in the project such as “Weitblick,” “Campusgrün,” the student network for business ethics “sneep” and the AStA environmental department. The University itself is committed to sustainable development in its environmental guidelines, has a staff unit for environmental protection and uses, among other things, green electricity and recycled paper.

Collecting points

In order to provide an institutional anchor for the Green Office, the team recently registered the initiative as a non-profit association with Thober as co-chairman. Cooperation has also been initiated, for example with the Center for Key Qualifications (ZfS). In the “Service Learning” module offered by ZfS, a mix of workshops and voluntary work, participants can also opt for voluntary work in the Green Office and receive ECTS points for it.

The association also cooperates with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resource. At the Green Office’s suggestion, student assistants are carrying out a pilot project using travel expense reports to record and evaluate all emissions caused by business trips to the faculty by car, train or plane -- if possible including student excursions and trips abroad in the Erasmus program. “We need comprehensive environmental reporting from our operations, administration, teaching and research,” says Thober.

The association pays special attention to teaching. So far, events with a sustainability focus have been limited to the Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources. Heising believes that there should be more, and that they should be open to all students. A “Studium Oecologicum” is conceived by the agents as an interdisciplinary offer that bundles events on the subject and rewards those who take advantage of it with a certificate. The Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Tübingen have shown how it works. Initial discussions had already taken place with the Rectorate, and the response had been positive.

Identifying blind spots

The group’s first mile marker toward that goal started in the summer semester 2019 with a lecture series. In the series “Identifying the blind spots,” internal and external speakers have identified blind spots in the problematic area of sustainability from different technical perspectives. Up to 160 students attended the lectures. “Because the subject of sustainability is so complex, interdisciplinarity is important,” says Heising. The lecture series had already opened up new networking perspectives in the research community. The lecture series is to be continued next semester, in a different format and in cooperation with ZfS, which awards ECTS points for it.

The agents are also one step further in terms of the coordination unit for sustainability: the Department for Environmental Protection has recently hired a sustainability manager. Thober is pleased with the developments. “We definitely feel welcome to cooperate.”


Anita Rüffer


The Green Office student initiative