Sustainability Lecture 2021

On the occasion of the awarding of the sustainability prizes for final theses, an annual public ceremony is held in the fall, the ceremonial highlight of which is the Sustainability Lecture. In inspiring speeches, well-known personalities encourage discussion of current sustainability topics. 

Information on the Sustainability Lecture 2021 will follow shortly on this page. You can read about the speeches of previous years below.


Previous Lectures

Digital Sustainability Lecture 2020

Sustainable development under pressure: How do we shape globalization in times of Corona?

The worldwide crisis caused by a global pandemic reveals the obvious breaking points of overheated globalization. They hit first and directly the weakest in the globally differentiated supply chains: The seamstress in Bangladesh, the coffee farmer in Guatemala, the day laborer in Chad. Corona is thus not only a threat to the health of many people, but also a crisis intensifier, especially where poverty, the consequences of climate change and distribution conflicts are already commonplace. At the same time, an erosion of the democratic model and a return of authoritarian nationalism have been observed in many parts of the world for some years now. Not much of the much-vaunted global community is visible any more. This was different five years ago, when the United Nations adopted the Paris Agreement, the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and, in Addis Ababa, a financing mechanism for global challenges. How do we now shape globalization in times of Corona to attenuate the negative consequences of the pandemic? How can a socio-ecological transformation make globalization more crisis-resistant? And what kind of sustainability do we need for this?

Prof. Dr. h. c. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, President of Brot für die Welt and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, will speak at the Sustainability Lecture about the effects of the Corona pandemic worldwide and about the status of global implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which were adopted five years ago with so much hope for development towards a sustainable, socially just world.

The event will take place digitally.


Every German citizen produces 617 kg of waste every year - that is much more than our planet can handle. There is another way, say Shia and Hanno Su. Both live since 2014 nearly garbage-free and firmly believe that this life-style has not only nothing to do with renouncement, but on the contrary even enriches one' s own life.

On November 27, 2019, the University of Tübingen awarded the Sustainability Prize for outstanding theses for the ninth time. Chancellor Dr. Andreas Rothfuß presented certificates for three bachelor's and three master's theses each, which deal with topics of sustainable development in an outstanding manner. The prize winners then gave short presentations of their award-winning works from the fields of geo-ecology, economics, geography, computer science and political science. Afterwards, bloggers and authors Shia and Hanno Su held this year's Sustainability Lecture "Zero Waste - A Life Without Waste"?

Shia and Hanno Su took us with them on their journey to Zero Waste, which they embarked on five years ago, and were able to convince the audience that their lifestyle has nothing to do with renunciation - on the contrary, they both feel it is a great enrichment and gain. The source of inspiration and starting point for Siva and Hanno's journey were conversations with their grandmother, who told them how in the past very little garbage was produced in the countryside. Once the Sus had emptied their own cupboards and stocks, they could gradually think about where they could buy new food unpackaged. Not only were there weekly markets or the Iranian store around the corner, but also first experiences with buying fruit and vegetables in laundry nets in the supermarket and the six-hour odyssey to Kiel, to the next store without packaging, were described to us.

The heart of the journey towards Zero Waste is the avoidance of new purchases. Here, everyone has to ask themselves the question whether the new things are really needed or can't be replaced otherwise. For example by borrowing from friends or neighbors. This also strengthens cohesion and you get to know the people you live with better. Making and producing things yourself can also be a good solution. Here Shia reported how she was able to sew a little bag for spaghetti from the sleeve of an old children's pyjamas so that she could also buy it in the store without packaging, which is now only two hours away. Only as a last option, the new purchase comes, when all previous possibilities could not reach.

This trip was done step by step with Shia and Hanno, which we also have to remember if we want to avoid garbage ourselves. There is no switch that can simply be flipped, it is about the long-term change of routines. Here, for example, a few "ingredients" that you can always carry in your backpack help: a cloth bag for shopping, cutlery so that you don't have to take plastic cutlery with you, a vegetable net, cloth handkerchiefs and also a jar for preserving food. By the way, according to Shia and Hanno, you can also buy salads and even French fries in a jar.

The two did not let themselves be put off on their way and they were not embarrassed to ask for garbage-free alternatives. They explained how meaningful it is to swim against the current when it comes to waste avoidance and not to be put off when something might be unpleasant. Shia and Hanno reported that people reacted much more positively to their efforts than they had imagined at the beginning, and that they received a lot of support - for example, from the owner of a health food store, who placed the sliced tofu from the fresh food counter on a plate and took it out of the hygiene zone so that the Sus could put it in the can they brought along. They also gave this to all the listeners as a tip for our own way: Know the hygiene regulations so that you know what is possible!

In the following Q&A session, Shia and Hanno told us how they are doing with cosmetics, medication and toilet paper and advised us to pay attention to short delivery routes and regional producers in order to keep the virtual plastic footprint as small as possible. The inspiring lecture of the Sus made all listeners aware in a sympathetic way how simple but also important it is to reduce our waste in order to fight together for a more sustainable world.

Video recording Sustainability Lecture 2019


The Sustainability Lecture of 2018 was hold by Alfred Theodor Ritter, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Alfred Ritter GmbH und Co. KG. His lecture’s title was "Sustainable Development as a Perspective for Companies: The example of (the company) Ritter". Mr. Ritter spoke in front of more than 130 interested participants and critically reflected on the current economic system, on what stands behind good quality, and on what chocolate manufacturers can do to shape the world a little more towards sustainable development.

Mr. Ritter emphasised that we economise to improve life - not only ours, but ideally all lives of people involved in the production chain. For this reason, an economic system designed only for growth is a dying system in which he himself does not want to live. Factors such as GDP take into account neither the acidification of soils nor the introduction of microplastics into the oceans, since those are difficult to calculate with pure figures and numbers.

With regard to the basic ingredient of chocolate - cocoa, a product traded on the stock market - Mr Ritter is quite sure: you can taste bad quality. This refers not only to cocoa of inferior quality itself, but also to the human suffering that is related to the production of cocoa and thus also in chocolate: Poverty, child labour and human trafficking. For this reason, Ritter Sport Company strengthens the relations to its cocoa farmers, many of whom are organised in cooperatives. Additionally, the company has invested money in its own plantation "El Cacao" in Nicaragua, where biodiversity and fair wages are the cornerstones of good cocoa. Since premium chocolate goes hand in hand with premium cocoa, anyone who pursues the vision of producing the best chocolate in the world must therefore invest in the people involved in the production chain. Mr Ritter mentioned the successes on the way to a more sustainable chocolate production as well as unresolved questions, for example in parts of the milk production. During the lively discussion with the audience following his speech, the speaker discussed both the challenges and the positive solutions for a sustainable economy.


Satish Kumar (Picture: Friedhelm Albrecht/Universität Tübingen)

On Thursday, November 30th 2017, the Indian environmental activist and author Satish Kumar held the Sustainability Lecture on the issue "Soil, Soul, Society - how to bring environment, spirituality and humanity together". In his passionate and motivating speech, Mr Kumar emphasized the interplay of nature and human life. Nature is not a resource that can be exploited for economic profit and higher wages, but a source of life. Only if the elements of nature - fire, water, earth, and air - are in equilibrium, human beings will be able to live well. This is because humans are made up of the same parts: Fire for passion and love, water, since the human body consists of 70 percent of it, earth, because everything human beings are eating derives directly from the earth, and air that we need to breathe. For example, if we pollute the air, we still have to breathe it, if we poison the water, we still need it for life. This ingenious balance has been disturbed and disrupted by us as human beings; therefore, only we are able to bring it back into balance again. No matter how difficult this may seem, there is no single problem that cannot be solved and tackled by looking at its substance – genius simplifies and acts! Since Universities have trained many of today's decision-makers who are responsible for the current situation on earth, they now have to take responsibility and must play an important role for the change of the current situation. Universities must teach a holistic perspective which not only includes economic factors, but also teaches students the importance of the natural balance. Satish Kumar is sure: if each and every person contributes to this change, we will be able to solve one of the biggest problems together, and make the world a place worth living in for us and future generations.


Ursula Sladek (Picture: Friedhelm Albrecht/Universität Tübingen)

Key note speaker of the evening was a businesswoman and energy expert: Ursula Sladek, co-founder of the Elektrizitätswerke Schönau and award winner of the German Environment Prize 2013. She gave the Sustainability Lecture on „Die Herausforderungen der Energiewende in Deutschland“.




Thomas Jorberg (Picture: Friedhelm Albrecht/Universität Tübingen)

Thomas Jorberg, executive spokesman of the GLS-Bank, gave the „Sustainability Lecture“ 2015 with the title "Das Ende von Banken, wie wir sie kannten. Nachhaltigkeit im Finanzsektor?". The Sustainability Lecture as well as the award ceremony took place on Friday 27 November 2015.



Prof. Dr. Angelika Zahrnt (Picture: Friedhelm Albrecht/Universität Tübingen)

The Sustainability Lecture 2014 was given by Prof. Dr. Angelika Zahrnt, economist and honorary president of the BUND. The title of the lecture was "Was kommt nach dem Wirtschaftswachstum?". The Sustainability Lecture as well as the award ceremony took place on Friday 28 November 2014.



Ministerin Theresia Bauer (MdL) (Picture: Friedhelm Albrecht/Universität Tübingen)

On 29 November 2013, the Sustainability Lecture was given by Mrs Ministerin Theresia Bauer MdL. The title of the lecture was "Wissen schafft Nachhaltigkeit - die Rolle der Wissenschaft auf dem Weg in die nachhaltige Gesellschaft".



Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker (Picture: Friedhelm Albrecht/Universität Tübingen)

In 2012, the internationally renowned environment expert Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker gave the Tübingen Sustainability Lecture. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, who is committed to scientific and socio-political issues all over the world, had been elected as Co-President of the in that year. Among numerous other functions, he worked as Director of the in Bonn, as President of the and as a member of the German Bundestag in the course of his career. He is a pioneer of the idea of sustainability and addressed the topic of intergenerational justice in his speech. The title of the Sustainability Lecture was: "Was schulden die Alten den Jungen?



From left to right: Prof. Thomas Potthast, Prof. Klaus Töpfer und Prof. Bernd Engler (Picture: Leweke/IZEW)

For the first Sustainability Lecture in 2011, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Klaus Töpfer (Founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam); former German Minister of the Environment as well as Executive Director of the UNEP could be engaged.