People Living sustainability as a principle - being completely climate-neutral by 2045

Yannick Liedholz is research associate for climate justice, sustainability and ESD at ASH Berlin since September 2023

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Yannick Liedholz studied social work at ASH Berlin, was an associate lecturer from 2016 to 2023, and has been a research associate for climate justice, sustainability, and ESD at our university since September 2023. We asked him some questions about his specific task and the concepts behind it.

1. What constitutes a sustainable university in your view?

For me, a sustainable university means that it embodies sustainability as a lived principle. This means that all of its processes - operations, teaching, research, everyday culture and transfer - are infused with sustainability thinking and action. A sustainable university has a building that expresses a partnership-based human-nature relationship through extensive greening and biotope intertwining. It offers its students teaching that is consistently oriented toward issues of social, ecological and economic sustainability. And a sustainable university has an everyday culture that manifests (strong) sustainability as normality in its practices, routines, and decision-making structures.

2. How can SAGE professions contribute to greater climate justice?

In my view, climate justice represents an alternative to technologically oriented concepts of climate protection and climate neutrality. Climate justice deals with the social structures behind climate change. It is about the different responsibilities, affectedness, protection and participation possibilities.

With these aspects, SAGE professions are directly addressed. Social work has always had an eye for structural causes of social problems. It can analyze climate change as a result of an imperial way of life in the Global North that takes place at the expense of other people and nature. For health professionals, for example, it is easy to see that vulnerable populations are particularly affected by more frequent heat waves. Education can create a needed awareness of climate justice and empower people in transformative learning settings to participate in addressing climate change. I see great potential in the SAGE professions to advance climate justice. So far, however, they have only begun to realize it.

3. Since January 2023, ASH Berlin and the state of Berlin have had a climate protection agreement. This commits the university to reduce CO2 emissions associated with energy consumption by 20% by 2032 and to be completely climate neutral by 2045. Can we achieve these goals?

I think it is important to state at the outset that in the reference year 2019, ASH Berlin generated 374 tons of CO2 emissions from its energy consumption alone. If we were to include emissions from purchases and mobility, for example, this figure would be significantly higher. And the new building is not included there yet. As ASH Berlin, we therefore contribute to climate change and have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.

With the climate protection agreement, there is now an official commitment to the state of Berlin. I believe that the goal of reducing our energy-related CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2032 is achievable if we consistently implement the targeted projects. A reduction to zero emissions by 2045 can perhaps be achieved in balance sheet terms if we drastically reduce our energy consumption with all possible structural and behavioral measures and at the same time, in cooperation with the State of Berlin, convert our electricity and heat supply completely to renewable energies. I deliberately say 'on balance' here because, on closer inspection, renewable energies also cause CO2 emissions in their product life cycle. In addition, even after all these measures, so-called 'unavoidable emissions' will still remain. And in the end, a balance sheet only shows what is or is not included in it.

If we as ASH Berlin want to achieve zero emissions not only on paper, but in reality, then in my opinion we would have to place all university processes under a climate proviso. This would raise fundamental structural questions. First, the question of post-growth. That is, we as a university would not follow the idea of linear or even exponential growth, but would try to level off at a level that is ecologically, socially and economically compatible. In view of ASH Berlin's current growth processes, this is explosive. Honestly, however, zero emissions cannot be achieved in any other way.

4 One measure set out in the climate protection agreement is the development of a sustainability strategy. How are you tackling this in concrete terms?

I don't have a precise roadmap yet, but I see a great opportunity in the development of a sustainability strategy. First, because it can help prevent ASH Berlin from being narrowly focused on its carbon footprint. Under the umbrella of (strong) sustainability, other ecological criteria become relevant, for example, ASH Berlin's consumption of resources and water, as well as its contribution to the promotion of biodiversity. Secondly - and this is a concrete idea - we could formulate our sustainability strategy along the 17 sustainability goals of the United Nations. This would give us broad connectivity in terms of sustainability communication. In addition, the 17 sustainability goals contain a number of references to the SAGE profile. As ASH Berlin, we could use this approach to profile our focus areas of education, diversity, gender, health and social work and combine them in a future-oriented manner.

What problem would you like to have solved in the next five years?

For me, it is important that sustainable university development does not stop at the theoretical level, but is realized in concrete changes. One change that I would like to have brought about in the next five years is a sustainable redesign of the inner courtyard. Even when I was a student at ASH Berlin myself, there was talk about beautifying the inner courtyard. Since then, little has happened. To transform the inner courtyard, as the center of the old building, into a sustainable and attractive place, that seems to me a worthwhile task.

Would you like to say something to the people at ASH Berlin about your start?

Yes, with pleasure. On the first few days in my new role, I had a few conversations. It struck me how many people at ASH Berlin care about sustainability and how many ideas already exist. For me, such conversations are helpful because I get an overview of what is already going on and where there are construction sites. Therefore, I would like to ask the people at ASH Berlin to continue to approach me with their sustainability ideas. You can find me in my office in room 304 or feel free to email me at: nachhaltigkeit@

Overall, I would like to invite all people at ASH Berlin to participate in sustainable university development. Sustainable university development is not a one-man-show, but a collective effort.


The interview was conducted by Susann Richert.