Press Release 006/2024

The Sustainability Innovation Campus is Kicked off

The 5th Innovation Campus in Baden-Württemberg Aims to Provide Scientific Guidance for the Transformation to a Sustainable Lifestyle
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At the Sustainability Innovation Campus, researchers from KIT and the University of Freiburg will work on sustainability issues in cooperation with politics, industry, and society. (Photo: Markus Breig, KIT)

How can cities cope with the consequences of climate change? How can we ensure that the food offered by university and staff canteens is healthy and resources are used efficiently? And what motivates citizens to live more sustainably? The new Sustainability Innovation Campus (ICN) that is launched today (January 24, 2024) by the University of Freiburg and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) wants to find effective and directly applicable answers to questions like these – together with partners from society, industry, science, and politics. The State of Baden-Württemberg will provide initial funding in the amount of EUR 1 million for the establishment of the Sustainability Innovation Campus and the first three pilot projects.  

“Our new Innovation Campus will turn the Upper Rhine region into an internationally visible beacon of sustainability research. To this end, the University of Freiburg and KIT are pooling their competencies and infrastructures. A network of partners from practice is involved in research and knowledge transfer to ensure that research findings are quickly implemented in practice. Concepts developed and tested by the Sustainability Innovation Campus will be transferred to other urban regions later on,” says State Science Minister Petra Olschowski. 

The already existing four innovation campuses in the areas of artificial intelligence, quantum technology, mobility, and life sciences are boosting research and knowledge transfer in Baden-Württemberg. “The new Sustainability Innovation Campus will continue this success story and transfer findings from this highly relevant research area to society – for a livable future in Baden-Württemberg and beyond,” Petra Olschowski adds. The goals of the ICN are innovative advances that will cause changes in urban planning, the food system, and the use of resources, including renewable energy. In addition, the areas of climate protection, conservation of resources, and well-being will be addressed. 

The research activities of the new Innovation Campus are expected to contribute to the sustainable development of society taking into account economic aspects, the common good, and social justice. Since 2023, the University of Freiburg and KIT as initial partners have been developing a concept for the new Innovation Campus under the heading of “Transformation for Future Urban Regions – Climate Protection, Conservation of Resources, and Well-being.” 

“The University of Freiburg is pleased to see that the Innovation Campus on the Upper Rhine with its thematic focus on sustainability and its transformative and transdisciplinary character is taking shape now. Current and future projects have the potential to help shape the transformation towards a sustainable society,” says the Rector of the University of Freiburg, Professor Kerstin Krieglstein.  

“At KIT, almost all scientific disciplines contribute to sustainability research, because we will only be able to master the challenges of the climate crisis, and the energy and transport transitions by pursuing a holistic approach. We are also taking appropriate measures to encourage our students to develop knowledge, awareness, and a sense of responsibility for sustainable acting,” says Professor Oliver Kraft, Acting President of KIT. “The Sustainability Innovation Campus will pool our expertise and competencies with those of science, industry, politics, and society to develop solutions together, which will help us secure our natural basis of life.”

Pilot Projects of the Sustainability Innovation Campus

At the kick-off event in Freiburg, the first three ICN projects were announced and introduced. Following an evaluation by researchers and their partners in practice, they will now be subjected to a reality check at the Sustainability Innovation Campus. 

Researchers of the “Renature + Stadtgrün” (renature + urban green) project want to find out how green areas and city trees can help adapt urban habitats in the Upper Rhine valley to climate change. Suitable tree species will be identified and ecosystem performances of trees will be analyzed. Together with citizens and urban planners, measures will be developed to preserve urban green spaces. 

Another project will cover the “Transformation des Ernährungssystems” (transformation of the food system). Researchers will study how catering services at university and staff canteens can be organized such that the climate and resources are protected and public health is increased. 

Within the project “Visionen der Nachhaltigkeit” (visions of sustainability), a series of films on sustainability will be presented at the Kommunales Kino Freiburg. The researchers and their partners want to find out whether and how such films can help citizens develop a sustainable way of life.

Apart from these projects, so-called exploratory studies will be funded. 

Pushing Joint Sustainability Research 

“To make our state sustainable and viable, we will quickly need major innovations. At KIT, we are not only developing the corresponding technologies. We are also pushing their transfer to industry and the society,” says Professor Thomas Hirth, KIT Vice President Transfer and International Affairs. “The Sustainability Innovation Campus will help us and our partners to better identify sustainability problems, develop solutions, and impart sustainability-related knowledge. This concept has already proved to be successful for the Future Mobility Innovation Campus that has pooled KIT’s and the University of Stuttgart’s competencies in mobility research and innovation since 2019.” 

“Sustainability in research, academic education, innovation, and transfer and sustainable acting in everyday life and as an institution are declared goals of KIT. With its climate, mobility, information, and environmental research activities and its real-world labs, KIT is making essential contributions to enhancing sustainability,” says Professor Kora Kristof, KIT Vice President Digitalization and Sustainability. “The Sustainability Innovation Campus will enhance the collaboration of partners from research, politics, industry, and society in Southwest Germany and push fundamental and applied sustainability research, the development of innovation ecosystems, and concrete implementation of sustainability.” 

ICN Network 

Apart from the initial partners, the network of the Sustainability Innovation Campus includes other partners from science, namely, Freiburg University Medical Center, the Sustainability Center at the University of Freiburg, the Fraunhofer institutes in Freiburg and Karlsruhe, and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences (Baden-Württemberg Institute for Sustainable Mobility). The network has also been joined by companies located in the Upper Rhine region, organizations, and associations, such as the Chambers of Industry and Commerce for the Southern Upper Rhine region and for Karlsruhe, the Freiburg Chamber of Trades and Crafts, Karlsruhe Technology Region, and Bauverein Breisgau eG. The cities of Freiburg and Karlsruhe and stakeholders from society (including NGOs, such as Ernährungsrat Freiburg & Region e.V.) are other members of the network. 

About the Innovation Campus Models

The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research, and the Arts funds Innovation Campuses in strategically important areas of research. These are areas of structural change in Baden-Württemberg, the values added of which are of crucial importance and which are considered key strategic areas by the State Government. 

The five Innovation Campuses pool the competencies of science (universities, non-university institutions), industry, and society. In this way, new potentials will be opened up and synergies can be used. The State Government thus establishes internationally visible beacons in areas in which Baden-Württemberg already is strong. 

The following Innovation Campuses are being funded:

  • Artificial Intelligence: Cyber Valley Innovation Campus in Stuttgart / Tübingen (since 2016)
  • Mobility and Production: Future Mobility Innovation Campus in Karlsruhe / Stuttgart (since 2019)
  • Health and Life Sciences: Health and Life Science Alliance Innovation Campus in Heidelberg / Mannheim (since 2021)
  • Quantum Technology: QuantumBW (since 2023)

More Information in German:

Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 10,000 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,800 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

swi, 25.01.2024

Margarete Lehné
Chief Press Officer (acting)
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