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Sustainability Report

Toward A Cleaner Future

The University of Zurich is committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030. The recently published Sustainability Report shows where UZH currently stands when it comes to achieving this goal.
Nathalie Huber; English translation by Philip Isler
UZH has been able to reduce energy consumption in the last three years; among other things, this has been achieved through the installation of photovoltaic systems, the conversion of lighting to LED, and energy efficiency measures in the heat supply.

Until 2019, air travel accounted for the largest portion of UZH’s carbon footprint. As a result of the pandemic, these emissions decreased significantly by more than three-quarters, from 7,587 in 2019 to 1,670 tonnes in 2020. Air travel has thus been surpassed by electricity and heat consumption (5,380 tonnes) at the top of UZH’s emissions ranking. Commuter traffic also declined in 2020 due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, it still caused more greenhouse gas emissions than the production and disposal of IT equipment and food provision in UZH’s cafeterias. 

These and other key facts and figures on the environment can be found in the University of Zurich’s new Sustainability Report for 2019/20. It is the second such report published by UZH, and focuses on sustainability aspects in the University’s operations and its contributions to achieving sustainable development.

Taking advantage of recent changes

According to Lorenz Hilty, UZH’s sustainability delegate, the University’s recent activities to promote sustainable development have been very encouraging. “In terms of energy consumption, our operations have been on track for some time now, and we will continue down this path.” Lorenz Hilty sees the lockdown-related changes in our actions as an opportunity for us to start using less energy and fewer materials.

UZH also contributes to the goals of sustainable development through its research. To illustrate this point, the sustainability expert refers to the University Research Priority Programs, which explore areas such as global change and biodiversity or the conversion of solar light to chemical energy. As a comprehensive university, UZH also covers sustainability topics outside of the natural sciences – human rights or sustainable finance, for example.

When it comes to teaching, the newly established School for Transdisciplinary Studies (see below) was an important step forward. Given the complex nature of sustainability issues, it is crucial that we look beyond the confines of individual disciplines. Such transdisciplinary programs and courses have a very promising future. “We’re still in the early stages of integrating sustainability topics and skills into our regular courses,” Hilty notes.

Twenty-three sustainability goals

Last year, the Executive Board of the University approved the 2030 Implementation Strategy for the Sustainability Policy – a major milestone. This document defines 23 goals that will help UZH become more sustainable, and this includes the long-term goal of becoming a carbon-neutral institution by 2030. To achieve this, firstly UZH aims to cut its emissions by at least half. And secondly, UZH wants to help counter climate change through its research. The plan is for research efforts to create a positive climate impact, or carbon handprint, that offsets at least half of the University’s own emissions.


Declining fuel consumption in 2020: Shown is the consumption of the vehicle fleet of the UZH operational services, the animal hospital, the botanical garden and the institute of plant and microbiology, the department of material and logistics and the department of safety and environment.

Since 2019, UZH has introduced several new measures to promote sustainable development. The following (incomplete) list provides an overview of these measures in a variety of fields:

Research and teaching

  • Launched in 2020, the Center of Competence for Sustainable Finance explores the fundamental questions in sustainable finance and the links between the natural sciences and finance. It develops policy solutions to advance sustainability matters with the help of the financial sector.
  • The School for Transdisciplinary Studies promotes inter- and transdisciplinary courses in the field of sustainability. Current examples include the public lecture series Sustainability Now! or the course focused on the 3Rs and ethics in animal research.
  • UZH launched the Zurich Knowledge Center for Sustainable Development. This research-based platform aims to strengthen cooperation among Zurich higher education institutions on matters of sustainability.  

Environment and resources

  • For 2018 to 2020, for the first time UZH gathered data on overall air travel that was paid for at least in half by UZH, and calculated the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, UZH wants to roll out a university-wide process to reduce emissions related to air travel.
  • Energy generated by UZH’s own photovoltaic systems increased from 1 MWh to 152 MWh over the past 10 years.
  • Thanks to software licensing, virtual forms of collaboration surged. Several departments now use newly equipped meeting rooms to hold virtual conferences. The Event Management team in President’s Services offers support and advice on online tools and formats that can be used to organize virtual events.
  • Members of UZH, ETH Zurich and the UniversityHospital Zurich founded the Green Labs working group. Their goal is to find out how lab waste and energy consumption can be reduced, developing guidelines for eco-friendly lab practices in the process.
  • The new meal sustainability index in the cafeterias of UZH provides details on the environmental impact and nutritional quality of meals. 
  • UZH’s central ordering platform P4U rates suppliers based on aspects of sustainability. Products declared as sustainable by suppliers are labeled as such. 

UZH and society

  • Several UZH researchers are involved in the Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  • UZH joined the newly established International University Climate Alliance, which counts around 50 higher education institutions. This network aims to enable greater collaboration between climate change researchers, share knowledge and best practices in climate education, and promote innovation in climate research and its application.  
  • Ties with the Right Livelihood Foundation were strengthened in 2020 with the establishment of the UZH Right Livelihood Center.

All activities and data concerning UZH’s contribution to sustainable development can be found in the newly published Sustainability Report for 2019/20 (in German).