The WU Competence Center for Sustainability

Bridges vol. 40, July 2014 / Institutions and Orgs

By Fred Luks

WUVienna University of Economics and Business (WU) is the largest university in Europe focusing on business and economics. In terms of its student body, it is one of the largest universities in Austria. WU has also been ranked as one of the top business schools in Europe.

Balancing justice, environmental concerns, and prosperity is one of the greatest challenges of our time, especially for universities, which are expected to assume a pioneering role in society. WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) acknowledges this challenge and has developed its curriculum to meet it. The university is committed to the principles of sustainability, to teaching, research, university management, and knowledge exchange in order to fulfill its responsibility to society. As a university of economics and business, WU focuses mainly on economic issues, but it also keeps in mind the three dimensions of sustainability: society, environment, and the economy. As part of this focus, WU has established a Competence Center for Sustainability that emphasizes institutional embedding of sustainability in WU’s organizational structure. The Competence Center for Sustainability defines its role as a networking platform and as a service provider for WU faculty, staff, and students.

The Competence Center is involved in conceiving and implementing sustainability-related measures and plays an active part in WU’s strategic development. One example of its work is the WU sustainability map, which shows many sustainability-related activities that already exist at WU: the Volunteering@WU program, sustainability-related lectures and seminars, and the master's program in Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy, various events and conferences related to sustainability, and the sustainability process at WU. The WU sustainability map will be published in the summer of 2014. The Competence Center also informs employees and students regularly about sustainability-related issues that are relevant to their daily life at the university. 

One of the Competence Center’s key objectives is to strengthen the role of sustainability in teaching in the long term.  Besides research, teaching is one of the core competencies of a university and, among all its various actions, WU teaches students to be aware of the social and environmental context of business activities. University teaching is based on research and, therefore, offers contributions to public discourse. Scientists can affiliate themselves with the Competence Center to get support in sustainability-related teaching and research. Since the founding of the Competence Center, a total of 18 researchers have become affiliated with the Center; among them are ecological economist Sigrid Stagl, CSR expert André Martinuzzi, and Wilfried Altzinger, who focuses on distributional issues. The Center also organizes workshops at WU about research in the area of sustainability, to identify existing sustainability-related activities and promote further action while also providing opportunities for networking.

The Competence Center also coordinates the sustainability process at WU, which places great emphasis on openness and transparency. Following workshops in Spring 2013 and the founding of the Competence Center for Sustainability in Summer 2013, all WU faculty and staff were invited to participate in several workshops on different dimensions of sustainability, such as green operations, social issues, and research. Building on these events, an electronic consultation was held in May/June 2014 to afford as many staff and faculty members as possible an opportunity to take part in the process. A deliberative process in which many people can participate and have their say is bound to be much more effective than a process based only on ideas generated by a small group.  

The Competence Center aims to strengthen WU’s involvement in national and international initiatives for sustainability at universities. WU is an active member of the Alliance of Sustainable Universities in Austria, the Copernicus Alliance, the international initiative 50+20, and the initiative Principles for Responsible Management Education. Striving for sustainability is a searching and learning process that profits from a continuous exchange with other universities in the same situation. The Competence Center for Sustainability is very much aware of the important role played by students in furthering sustainability at a university. It therefore promotes an intensive exchange with students and student organizations. May 2014 saw the first WU Sustainability Day – a cooperation between the Competence Center, the Austrian Students’ Union (ÖH) at WU, and oikos Vienna. Students had the opportunity to participate in workshops on social entrepreneurship or responsible investment. The main objective of the event was to raise students’ awareness of sustainability by organizing a whole day of activities targeting WU students. The goal was to raise awareness, especially among students who had had very little previous interest in sustainability.

The move to the new WU campus in Fall 2013 marked a key step in the University’s development. The new Campus WU is the concrete realization of WU’s vision for a modern university. More than just a place for academic research and teaching and learning practical skills, the campus is designed to create a new space for social, cultural, and political life. The new Library & Learning Center (LC), designed by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, is a testament to the central importance of research and teaching at WU. The Library & Learning Center is surrounded by five building complexes designed by internationally renowned architects:

•                WU Executive Academy, NO.MAD Arquitectos, Madrid

•                Departments and Administration, CRABstudio, London

•                Departments, Estudio Carme Pinós, Barcelona

•                Library & Learning Center, Zaha Hadid Architects, Hamburg

•                Teaching Center, BUSarchitektur ZT GmbH, Vienna

•                Departments and Student Center, Atelier Hitoshi Abe, Sendai

All the buildings are based on the same overall technical concept: The building infrastructure is standardized in terms of construction, energy supply, ventilation, and sanitary facilities. The entire campus has been designed in accordance with “green building” principles, and  much of the required energy is derived from geothermal energy from groundwater. Another key feature of Campus WU is barrier-free accessibility. In addition, WU plans to introduce an environmental management system, which will also be officially certified. The Center works closely with the campus management team because topics related to green operations are very important for WU’s credibility in the field of sustainability.

WU actively approaches its stakeholders and cooperates with other important actors in society. WU and the Competence Center for Sustainability participate in the public discourse on sustainability and work to increase the relevance and visibility of this discourse for the business community. It organizes public events about sustainability-related topics, among others the event series “Sustainability Controversies.”

In summary: Research, university management, relations to society and, most of all, teaching are the main areas where WU seeks to strengthen sustainability. This endeavor is a continuous learning process that involves individuals from all over WU. WU is up and moving – sustainably.

Fred Luks is from the Competence Center for Sustainability at WU. For more information contact him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit the program’s homepage at http://www.wu.ac.at/sustainabilitycenter