Survey: Students and employees at the University of Stuttgart would like to see real climate protection

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The University of Stuttgart has committed itself to become carbon-neutral in the coming years. The university is being supported in this goal by the research project "CampUS hoch i - Campus Intelligently Made".

is focusing on buildings. In a first step, scientists are investigating which pathways to climate neutrality the employees and students would prefer. The non-representative survey shows that a clear majority of the 1,700 respondents give the highest priority to their own conduct and activities on site as well as to the consistent reduction of the university’s CO2 emissions. By contrast, compromises such as certificate solutions, where climate protection is achieved by means of financing compensation measures in other parts of the world, are rather unpopular with the respondents.

Within the framework of the project CampUS hoch i, several surveys among students and employees are planned. The first survey titled "Survey on Climate Neutrality at the University of Stuttgart: What is Our Goal? How Do We Get There?" was conducted in the winter semester 2021/22. The inquiry on climate action was made in the form of an online survey under the leadership of the and with the support of other academic project partners. A total of 1,767 persons participated in the survey. Although the survey is not representative in the strict sense, the respondents’ age, gender, and faculty affiliation are largely consistent with the general structure of the total group of all university members. Since the Real-World Laboratory aims to include, if possible, the entire university in its considerations, this point is of great importance. Prof. Cordula Kropp, Director of ZIRIUS, was therefore very pleased and said: "The huge feedback we received, and the colorful mix of participants positively surprised me. "It shows that there’s a great interest at our university in the topics of climate protection and sustainability. We can certainly build on this in the further course of the project."

In general, man-made climate change is caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and other gases with greenhouse potential. Their different impacts on climate change are taken into account by converting them into so-called CO2 equivalents. According to the Paris Climate Agreement, greenhouse gas neutrality means that no more CO2 equivalents are released than are sequestered in nature over the same period of time.

The respondents would like to achieve real climate neutrality

In the survey on climate action, three possible models for greenhouse gas or climate neutrality were presented, which the participants assessed. A large proportion of respondents would prefer a university that pursues climate action with the greatest on-site consistency and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. 83% of respondents assess this model as rather positive or very positive. The second model also receives much support (72%). In this model, certain fluctuations in greenhouse gas emissions are permitted. By contrast, only 30% of respondents like the third model: This model wants to compensate emissions on the campus by financing compensation measures, for example, in the form of emission reduction projects in other parts of the world. If one asks the participants which of the three approaches they think should be applied at the University of Stuttgart in order to achieve climate neutrality, the answer is clear: 59% are in favor of the hard-earned and sustained climate neutrality, 35% prefer the fluctuating emissions model and only 6% like the compensation measures variant.

This preference for consistent climate action on site is also reflected in the survey in self-reported action or willingness to act. The participants were asked which climate protection measures in terms of nutrition, buildings, and mobility they had already taken in their environment as a student or employee of the University of Stuttgart (for example, at home, in the class room, in the office). According to their own statements, the clear majority are already making increased use of public transport, ride a bike more often or walk more often, avoid using their own car at least once a week, adjust their ventilation behavior, pay attention to economical lighting, and rather put on an extra sweater than heat their rooms more. However, one has to keep in mind that the actual behavior may deviate from self-reported behavior to a certain extent due to, for example, false memories or social desirability.

A closer look at the topic of nutrition reveals divergent opinions. Here, not even one in two of the respondents states that they eat a purely vegetarian or vegan diet. After all, 14% of respondents could imagine this in general. 17% have no plans to eat a more climate-friendly diet in the future and significantly reduce their meat consumption, for example. Concerning the topic of buildings, only one in five of the respondents says that they have implemented structural measures such as thermal insulation or window insulation. However, 42% of respondents think that this area has great potential. One can conclude from the answers that many respondents do not have the necessary prerequisites (such as their own house or apartment, or opportunities at the workplace) to implement structural measures. The same applies to the use of automatic sunshades for windows, automated/machine ventilation of rooms, or central heating control. 17% have already taken such measures, 37% would like to do so, and this does not apply to 37% because installed, automated systems are, presumably, not available to them. For the CampUS hoch i Real-World Laboratory, this last finding is of particular relevance, as the focus of consideration here is the energy consumption of buildings, its possible reduction by means of automated control systems, and the human-technology interaction.

Overall, it can be concluded from the survey that students and employees at the University of Stuttgart take a relatively high interest in the topic of climate neutrality. The respondents clearly prefer genuine climate action. In addition, a high willingness to engage in climate protection is observed, as measured by the self-reported behavior of the respondents. "These findings are very encouraging. They are excellent prerequisites for our project to promote climate protection at the University of Stuttgart. We will now include these wishes of the respondents in our next research steps," says Cordula Kropp, Director of ZIRIUS.

A completely carbon-neutral, on-site energy supply of the campus is hardly feasible

In view of these results, however, the question also arises as to how realistic the desire for consistent and self-practiced climate action actually is. Dr. Kai Hufendiek from the Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use (IER), is rather skeptical: "From a physical-technical point of view, a completely carbon-neutral, on-site energy supply for the campus alone is hardly feasible. There is not enough land for this purpose and the potential of renewable energies is not sufficient." This is also clearly reflected in the energy footprint and the associated emissions balance of the University of Stuttgart. Some emission reduction can be achieved by means of on-site measures such as energy conservation through the renovation of buildings, waste heat recovery, behavioral changes, or even the use of on-site renewable energies.

However, a far greater proportion of the energy will have to be "imported" to the campus, even in the case of a carbon-neutral energy supply. The energy sources used and how they are provided will then be relevant here. One reason why desire and reality do not yet match could also be that most respondents don’t know how high the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the University of Stuttgart are, and where the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are. Therefore, Kai Hufendiek makes a clear plea: "We should use the Real-World Laboratory to highlight precisely these issues and find solutions especially for the buildings, because currently most of the university’s greenhouse gas emissions - that’s 70% - are caused by the heating, cooling, and electricity demand on the Vaihingen Campus. I do think that there are still a lot of good ideas to be found at a higher education institution like the University of Stuttgart, which is committed to innovation.

The project CampUS hoch i is implemented in the form of a real-world laboratory. Among other things, this means the active involvement of various groups in the research process. In the present case, these groups include scientists from the University of Stuttgart, employees from various other areas (university management, administration, facility management etc.), students of all subjects, and stakeholders from business and industry.

A special focus is on facility management. Due to their energy consumption, the buildings on the Vaihingen Campus are currently contributing to relatively high emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide. There are, definitely, solutions to this challenge. For example, automated control of the heating system could allow certain rooms to be heated only when the outside temperature falls below a predefined value. Or the rooms are heated only if someone is actually present. In the latter case, however, the people using the room would have less control and their presence would, in a certain way, be "monitored".

The crucial question is therefore: How can people and technology come together and meet this challenge? The Real-World Laboratory aims to answer this important question by means of jointly developed practical tests of the new technologies. The goal is to define recommended actions that can also be used in other contexts (for example, for other buildings). Overall, a blueprint for participatory planning processes in the field of carbon-neutral housing, living and building is to be created.

The Institute of Energy Economics and the Rational Use of Energy (IER) at the University of Stuttgart is coordinating the project. The university’s research team also includes the Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies (ZIRIUS), the Institute for Building Energetics, Thermotechnology and Energy Storage (IGTE) , the Institute of Construction Materials (IWB) , and the newly established Green Office. Associated cooperation partners include the university management, the university building authorities in Stuttgart and Hohenheim, the Student Council of the University of Stuttgart (stuvus) , the Chamber of Architects and the Chamber of Engineers in Baden-Württemberg, and various industrial partners (such as Bosch, EnBW, ENGIE Germany, MVV Energie AG, Viessmann).

Prof. Kai Hufendiek, Institut fur Energiewirtschaft und Rationelle Energieanwendung, Universität Stuttgart
711 685 87801

Prof. Cordula Kropp, Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, Universität Stuttgart
711 685 83941