Sustainability Day 2024 wows University of Bonn students and staff

Visitors to the Botanic Garden’s stall were able to pick seedlings and tak
Visitors to the Botanic Garden’s stall were able to pick seedlings and take them home © Volker Lannert / University of Bonn
Less waste generated by the trauma surgery team at the University Hospital, more vegetarian and vegan food in the canteens, research into ultra-resource-efficient products-the Sustainability Day 2024 showcased everything that the University of Bonn is doing to aid the environmental transformation. Students and staff had taken up Team N’s invitation in their droves and came to find out more about sustainability-related initiatives. Besides a wealth of information on the topic, the over 20 stalls set out on the Poppelsdorf Campus also provided a range of hands-on activities that made one thing clear above all’else: sustainability is fun!

A swarm of bees buzz behind a pane of glass in their hive while, right next door, two visitors enjoy a deep-red shot of strawberry and Barbados cherry smoothie. Meanwhile, staff from the Botanic Garden hand out bright green, freshly grown seedlings and a colorful "wheel of fortune" at the University Hospital Bonn’s stall invites passersby to try their luck. The commitment to sustainability shown by members of the University of Bonn is matched in its diversity only by the extensive range of exhibitors and program elements for this year’s Sustainability Day on May 7.

A great many departments, units, degree programs and other initiatives share the aim of making the University more sustainable, and the Sustainability Day gave them an opportunity to present their work on the Poppelsdorf Campus. Exhibitors ranged from the University Hospital Bonn, which is committed to reducing waste from its orthopedics and trauma surgery teams and cutting the use of environmentally harmful substances in anesthesiology, to the Studierendenwerk Bonn, which is serving more and more vegetarian and vegan food in its canteens, and the CampusAckerdemie ("Campus in the Field") project, which is giving trainee teachers highly practical training to teach in-school gardening classes. Administrative and technical staff as well as researchers and students were all represented at the Sustainability Day, both as exhibitors and as visitors.

All down to the diversity

"It’s this diversity that makes the event so incredibly appealing," explains Professor Annette Scheersoi, Vice Rector for Sustainability at the University of Bonn. She believes it is important not merely to display information in a dull and dry way: "Sustainability is fun! You can see that from the many varied stalls with things people can get involved in-a quiz, a planting drive or sporting activities."

The Sustainability Day, which this year was being held for the third time, is organized by Team N: the Vice Rectorate for Sustainability plus the Sustainability Unit and the student-run Green Office. "Everyone in Team N is aiming to bring about a sustainable transformation of the whole University, supported by various working groups," explains Leonie Kornel from the Sustainability Unit. "In our campaign months-Mighty May is on at the moment-we try to provide all members of the University with some easily accessible opportunities to get involved in sustainability."

Sustainable paper made from fast-growing grass

Besides being able to find out what the University of Bonn is doing to shrink its own carbon footprint, visitors to this year’s Sustainability Day were also able to discover some exciting research projects geared toward developing more sustainable products and thus accelerating the sustainable transformation of the whole of society, such as that under way on the Klein-Altendorf Campus. Among other things, this off-site laboratory run by the Faculty of Agriculture is studying the use of miscanthus. This grass possesses two properties that make it particularly interesting from an environmental and economic perspective: it absorbs a particularly large amount of the greenhouse gas CO2--30 metric tons per hectare per year-and grows extremely fast, shooting up as much as five centimeters a day. "You can virtually see it grow before your eyes," says operations manager Christian Brünker. Miscanthus can be shredded and turned into paper and building materials, for instance. The Klein-Altendorf Campus’s stall, for example, displayed a pack of toilet paper made from the grass, which looked exactly the same as any other you would find in the supermarket. 

As well as research, teaching and operations, there were also a number of student initiatives on show during the Sustainability Day. At its stall, the Environmental Department of the General Students’ Committee (AStA) demonstrated how easy it is to make your own oat milk: simply blend rolled oats with water and strain, and your homemade alternative to cow’s milk is ready to drink. Besides being able to try the oat milk ("delicious" was the general consensus), visitors also learned about the environmental impact of various kinds of plant-based milk compared to its dairy equivalent. In fact, the AStA’s oat milk was especially sustainable because the mixer used to make it ran on solar power from a portable solar panel positioned right next to the stall. 

Teaching sustainability knowledge in a fun way

The Green Office’s stall was one of several good examples of how knowledge about sustainability can also be presented in a fun way. It gave visitors the opportunity to battle it out in a game of "green pong," a version of the popular student pursuit known as beer pong. Hitting the table-tennis ball into one of your opponent’s pots meant that they had to answer the question written underneath it. These included "What lake has shrunk to a tenth of its original size over the last few decades?" and "What sector of the economy emits the most CO2?" Quite a few visitors came away from the table having learned things they never knew before-and the same could be said about the whole of the Sustainability Day 2024.