Leuphana University






The Model

What is the institute’s sustainability approach?

Leuphana has implemented an innovative educational structure where all students begin their studies with the ‘Leuphana Semester’, aimed at providing all students with core competencies in critical thinking, inter- and transdisciplinary research, and sustainability. Leuphana takes an innovative approach to the structure of undergraduate and graduate programs, with a central focus on Education for Sustainable Development partnerships with the global south. Undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate education programs include sustainability degrees (major and minor) and international programs with semester abroad options.

transition process

Activities and Development Process

What is the institute’s overall culture of sustainability and their long-term vision for the future?

The institute’s mission is divided into humanistic, sustainable and entrepreneurial pursuits. Leuphana approaches sustainability as a principle of action lived throughout the institute, across research, teaching, society, and the university campus. Their educational approach focuses on students’ capacity to be an informed societal agent of change.

How does the institute translate their sustainability vision into a sustainability agenda?

The university uses the guiding principle of the Bologna process to integrate Education for Sustainable Development principles across the curriculum and specific structures to foster inter- and transdisciplinary competencies.Leuphana follows institutional guiding principles on humanism, sustainability and action orientation.

What are the institute’s short-term practices and programmes which achieve their sustainability mission?

The university has implemented the Leuphana Semester into the overall educational curriculum, thus impacting the entire student population and structure/function/operation of the academic year. The Leuphana Semester starts with a common opening week to the academic year, serving as both a practical workshop and a forum for ideas. Students work together in groups on a societally-relevant project. The core of the Semester consists of five mandatory thematically linked modules, covering Responsibility, Criticism, Research Methods as well as an introduction to their major or subject area(s). A centerpiece of the first semester is a sustainability-focused research project that students plan, implement, and evaluate in small groups, applying the pedagogy of inquiry-based learning. The culmination of the research cycle in the first semester is a 3-day academic conference where all 1,200+ students present their research findings.


Sustainability and Setting

What is the culture of sustainability at the country-level?

In their Climate Action Programme 2030 and the Climate Act, Germany has made a binding undertaking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, achieve neutrality by 2045, diminish the use of coal to generate electric power, and restructure mobility. Hence, fostering sustainable innovation, new technologies and mitigation (especially in the mobility sector) are imperatives for the national agenda.

In which regional context is the institution situated, and what is their policy or activities of integration within the broader community?

Leuphana university is located in Lüneburg, Germany, in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, a predominantly rural and agricultural state, with a history of coal extraction. The state has an ambitious climate policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% relative to 1990 by 2035. The city, in collaboration with Leuphana, was awarded funding for its sustainability plan ‘City of the future 2030+’, an ambitious project to co-create urban sustainability and create a community of learning for SD.

What is the institutional context of engaging with sustainability and experimenting with reorganisation or alternative governance approaches?

Leuphana university was founded in 1946 as a teaching college in a post-WWII context, and only transformed into a university in 1989. It is a young university with a history of reorganization and organizational flexibility. The entire faculty structure was reorganized several times, which led to the first Faculty of Sustainability in Europe.

Process and Approach

Development Timespan

What was the time-line and process of development and implementation of the sustainability approach?

Sustainability was introduced as a guiding principle for all research, education and operations in 2007, when the Leuphana Bachelor was also initiated. The Bologna framework was used as a process for fundamentally changing the field of study within the university curriculum. Moreover, the university established the first-ever Faculty of Sustainability in Europe in 2010. Since 2005, the university holds the UNESCO Chair in "Higher Education for Sustainable Development".


Drivers and Challenges

What were the motivations for developing the approach?

A driving mentality for the changes enacted at Leuphana was the recognition that any one discipline cannot adequately address the challenge of sustainability. This also extends beyond education to inter- and transdisciplinary research groups and collaborations with other universities and entities for SD.

What are some challenges that arose?

Leuphana University aspires to provide a transdisciplinary research and learning environment for sustainability initiatives. This demands a robust procedural framework and guiding principles for students to structurally and conceptually integrate reflexivity. An emphasis on individual capabilities in sustainability science challenges students to prioritize tasks like boundary-work and integrate them within their main field of study.

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