swissnex: Connecting the dots . . . with the Environment. Switzerland's Initiative in Science, Technology, and Higher Education

by Charlotte Joudain

To maintain a high position among the world's top technology-based economies, Switzerland currently has one of the most innovative international policies in science and technology. The Swiss "Houses" act as outposts to boost exchange of knowledge between Switzerland and their host countries, by expanding upon the means and activities of the Swiss Science Counselors in San Francisco (swissnex), Boston (Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education), and Singapore (Swiss House Singapore).

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About swissnex

 Located in the heart of San Francisco - the gateway to Silicon Valley and Asia - swissnex is at a vibrant crossroads of scientific, entrepreneurial, academic, and innovative activity. Since November 2003, swissnex has created a unique environment that stimulates strategic collaboration and active thinking. Working with key players of today and tomorrow, swissnex promotes an informed dialogue to anticipate trends and create fruitful partnerships. Its building (photo) is welcoming and cutting-edge for the visits, events and meetings organized on a regular basis by a team of four.


By bridging the knowledge, energy, and competences of Switzerland, the U.S., and Canada, swissnex connects the dots within and across science, higher education, technology, and innovation. Universities, innovative companies, policy makers, and creative thinkers join swissnex in shaping this unique environment. They discover opportunities and gain exposure through workshops, learning tours, exhibits, one-to-one meetings, roadshows, video-conferences, and symposia, among other initiatives. swissnex's partners connect to an organically-growing network of expertise across existing and emerging fields of knowledge.

A critical mass

Another unique characteristic of swissnex derives from the several other organizations hosted side-by-side with the swissnex core team. The resulting critical mass enables swissnex to continuously enrich its network of contacts and better service requests for information and projects. Recently, the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETHZ) reinforced the role of swissnex in representing Swiss higher educational institutions in the US by opening its own branding and marketing outpost. Organizations in the fields of telecommunication and microtechnology also have detached representatives to swissnex to study their particular industry in the Silicon Valley. The office of the Greater Zurich Area, an economic promotion agency, and two entrepreneurs in residence from the wireless technology company Mobile Mantra and text-to-speech software SVOX are present.

A public-private partnership

Initiated by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research as a public-private venture, and managed in cooperation with the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, swissnex is an annex of the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco. Vital financial support is provided by public and private sponsors sharing swissnex's commitment to connecting the dots.


The UN World Environment Day
For US and Swiss knowledge institutions, the benefits of collaboration with swissnex can be illustrated with the intense activity which took place June 1-5 of this year in San Francisco, host of the UN World Environment Day. San Francisco welcomed major players and policy makers from over 60 cities worldwide, to focus on the theme "Green Cities," recognizing that in 2005, for the first time, most of the world's population lives in cities.


Environmental technologies and policies are a Swiss forte, and the public of the San Francisco Bay Area proved to be extremely interested in the five conferences organized by swissnex and its partners. "Cars and fuels of the future, the path to sustainable mobility" was engineered by the swissnex outpost of ETHZ, the Paul Scherrer Institute, UC Davis, MIT, and Chevron Texaco. The PAC car II, a model developed by ETHZ, was examined for its capacity to run 9500 miles per gallon (in a competition setting) thanks to hydrogen fuel cells.

The Ecological Footprint

In particular, the presentation by the US non-profit Global Footprint Network attracted an audience well over capacity. The Ecological Footprint helps society determine its demand on nature, and compare this to the resources available. This tool finally makes sustainability measurable, by calculating the land area needed to provide the various resources that cities, countries, companies, and even individuals use. By measuring the Earth's capacity to support life, and then calculating human demand, the Ecological Footprint provides a tangible way to track progress, set targets, and clarify policy for achieving sustainability. Because the Footprint concept is easy to understand, it has been instrumental in allowing community and business leaders to cooperate in implementing ecologically conscious initiatives. This June, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso endorsed a report that analyzed the Footprint of all the EU countries (available at or through


Swiss-born and an ETHZ graduate, Dr. Mathis Wackernagel presented this tool at swissnex, and showed the attentive audience how the Ecological Footprint is being used to advance the understanding of sustainability in cities around the world. Dr. Wackernagel co-invented The Ecological Footprint 15 years ago, and now heads The Global Footprint Network, a unique web of Ecological Footprint practitioners who work together to standardize and encourage use of the tool.

Charlotte Jourdain acts as deputy director of the swissnex team in San Francisco.

- Consulate General of Switzerland, San Francisco
- Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETHZ)
- Footprint of all the EU countries
- Global Footprint Network
- Greater Zurich Area
- Mobile Mantra
- Paul Scherrer Institute
-Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs
- Swiss "Houses":
San Francisco
- Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research
- UN World Environment Day