ZHdK’s concept of sustainability

Claire E. Schnyder takes a break in the Toni Campus’ roof-top garden. Photograph: Regula Bearth

Zurich University of the Arts wishes to be measured by its sustainability in the future. This factor plays a key role in the university’s new strategy. Claire E. Schnyder, Director of Administration, discusses air travel and recycling at an arts university, applauds the Toni Campus for its sustainability and explains what makes studying at ZHdK socially sustainable.


Caroline Süess: How large is ZHdK’s ecological footprint?
Claire E. Schnyder: We don’t know at the moment. We are currently selecting a company that will prepare our first eco-balance assessment. The 2019 Sustainability Report will present our environmental impact points for the first time.

ZHdK orients itself towards the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Can these be applied to a university?
Yes, even though this is not possible to the same extent. Not all these goals are equally relevant to an arts university. We are in the process of anchoring the 17 SDGs in everyday ZHdK life. Various initiatives are addressing the issue in teaching and research, for example, the pilot project ”Ecology/Sustainability” and the “Sustainability Centre” project. Among others, we are planning to thematically match courses and lectures with these objectives and to mark them accordingly in the course directory.

Air travel by ZHdK staff and students has been reduced faster than expected. How was this goal achieved?
Each department set its own goals and increasingly used digital communication. To further reduce our air travel, it will be important to improve coordinating trips because ideally several tasks will be accomplished on one and the same journey. Air travel should — whenever sensible — be replaced by rail travel and CO2 emissions offset as standard practice.

Shared Campus, our new, key strategic project, won’t cause fewer flights.
First and foremost, Shared Campus is a virtual campus. ZHdK and its international partner universities are pooling their competencies and resources to jointly pursue teaching and research. International activities are indispensable for an arts university — and a climate-sensitive approach is possible.

When is studying socially sustainable?
If our students have developed the competencies enabling them to later make a living from their professional work. And if they are prepared to actively shape change.

How sustainable is the Toni Campus?
Quite sustainable, because it meets extremely low energy consumption standards. Size per se is not climate-unfriendly. On the contrary: Turning a screw here and there quickly has a positive impact on the greater whole. Many smaller operational measures save electricity, such as setting the screensaver to black-and-white or progressively centralising data storage. And let’s not forget: Thanks to the Toni Campus, ZHdK consumes fewer resources than when the university was spread across 39 locations.

Except for PET bottles, ZHdK’s recycling performance is poor. How come?
Exhibition and workshop materials are often used only once. However, usable material should not simply be disposed of, only for the same material to be purchased again shortly afterwards. This is currently mainly due to the lack of storage facilities. We are therefore in the process of optimising our storage areas.

What does sustainability mean for materials procurement?
Our procurement managers review companies in terms of ecological and social sustainability criteria. In IT, we now follow the recommendations of Electronics Watch, which observes fair working conditions at manufacturers. Our annual procurement volume of CHF 8 million allows exerting a certain influence on the market.

Does sustainability create new freedoms?
The question of freedom is a personal one. For me, living more sustainably means informing myself and thinking about how much I want to consume. From this point of view, sustainability frees me from unreflected consumption. As for me, I would like to think that facts and figures are also important for ZHdK because they help us to steer our efforts to enhance sustainability.

What is currently your favourite idea for sustainable living?
Using beeswax cloths instead of cling film.

How can we work sustainably?
By using our personal energy as consciously as possible. By taking breaks and stopping working when it is time. It is important to switch off in our free time. The corresponding SDG is called “Health and Welfare.”

Sustainability is one of ten areas for which ZHdK has set goals in its new strategy through 2023. The strategy states that the university embraces a culture of sustainability against the background of the UN’s 17 SDGs. It specifically advocates sustainability in teaching and research and provides an environment that promotes developing solutions for sustainable ecological, social and economic transformation.
Claire E. Schnyder (claire.schnyder@zhdk.ch) ) is Director of Admin-istration and a member of the University Board. She has spent 51% of her adult life with a home abroad.
Caroline Süess is head of PR and Media at ZHdK University Communications. She uses bentoboxes as a means of transport and communication.
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