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Volunteers Help Combat Climate Change

For the past ten years, members of SUSTAIN IT! have been promoting climate protection and sustainability on campus.

Nov 12, 2020

Watering the plants with rainwater – just for fun. The SUSTAIN IT! Initiative team, clockwise from front left: Karola Braun-Wanke, Kathrin Henße, Carolin Bergman, and Léonie Cujé.

Watering the plants with rainwater – just for fun. The SUSTAIN IT! Initiative team, clockwise from front left: Karola Braun-Wanke, Kathrin Henße, Carolin Bergman, and Léonie Cujé.
Image Credit: Annika Middeldorf

Roughly 800 square meters is a manageable piece of ground, but it should soon attract a large number of new residents. On a beautiful fall day, Karola Braun-Wanke along with students Carolin Bergmann, Léonie Cujé, and Kathrin Henße point out the relocated nests of bumblebees and bats in two new homes. The natural garden right next to the Capitol movie theater adjacent to the campus of Freie Universität in Berlin-Dahlem is the latest project of SUSTAIN IT!, a sustainability initiative that was started at Freie Universität ten years ago. Project coordinator Karola Braun-Wanke and the three students are part of a network of 30 students and employees of the university.

Blossoming Campus

Last spring a group from SUSTAIN IT! along with the “Blossoming Campus” initiative at Freie Universität had already started planning an ecological and insect-friendly garden. Then everything had to be put on hold because of the contact restrictions due to the pandemic. During the summer it was possible to continue working outdoors and by keeping distance between those involved. The gardeners built raised beds, planted herbs and vegetables, and laid out a Benjes hedge – a wall consisting of loose deposits of wood cuttings that can become a habitat for insects, birds, and rodents.

The gardeners took branches and tree trunks from the Botanic Garden, and they made benches from old bee hives. Signs are being put up at the two ends of the garden to welcome visitors. Implementing messages visually is a specialty of Léonie Cujé, who joined SUSTAIN IT! when she was taking a general vocational preparation module that dealt with sustainability.

During the summer the members of SUSTAIN IT! were able to resume their work in the garden. At the same time, another project had to be abandoned due to the pandemic. In June the annual “University Days for Sustainability and Climate Protection” had been scheduled to take place with a “climate show” to mark the anniversary. “Instead, we decided to publish a book about our activities and projects by the end of the year,” says Karola Braun-Wanke. The publication is intended to include both a retrospective and an outlook, give current and former members an opportunity to have their say, and to provide instructions and solid tips on how to participate and follow suit.

Open to Everyone Who Wants to Get Involved

SUSTAIN IT! was founded in 2010 by 25 students, Andreas Wanke, who currently heads the Sustainability and Energy Unit at Freie Universität, and Karola Braun-Wanke from the Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU) at Freie Universität. Since then, SUSTAIN IT! has been an open action platform for everyone on campus who wants to get involved and to implement their own projects. The motto is a bit of a pun in German: “Mitmachen beim Nachhalten” and means “Get involved for sustainability.” In small groups, the participants develop practice-oriented projects and seminars on all aspects of sustainable development with the aim of initiating change processes inside and outside the university.

Since 2019, the “Blossoming Campus” project has been promoting insect diversity on campus at Freie Universität Berlin. Unmowed lawns help ensure biodiversity.

Since 2019, the “Blossoming Campus” project has been promoting insect diversity on campus at Freie Universität Berlin. Unmowed lawns help ensure biodiversity.
Image Credit: Sören Maahs

SUSTAIN IT! has built up a large regional network – with other universities, with companies, initiatives, nongovernmental organizations, and people engaged in the cultural sector. “Many people with very different professional backgrounds and private interests exchange ideas with us and form action groups. New connections are constantly being formed, and ideas for new projects are often brought up,” says Karola Braun-Wanke. The idea for the new garden, for example, also emerged from previous projects. Since 2014, students and employees at Freie Universität have been growing vegetables and herbs in a “UniGardening” project. Students cultivated wild growing areas, constructed nesting aids, and planted about 13,000 early blooming bulbs for wild bees on campus. Many of the SUSTAIN IT! projects have become a permanent part of Freie Universität: for example, a distribution station for rescued food – the FUdsharing room – or a clothing exchange. “I haven’t bought any clothes since I joined SUSTAIN IT!” says Kathrin Henße. Due to the pandemic, food sharing and the clothing swap had to be shut down temporarily, as did the FUrad bicycle workshop, where students help each other to maintain their two-wheelers. “Hopefully, FUrad can soon be used collectively again,” says Carolin Bergmann, who has been campaigning for a bicycle workshop since 2016.

The Plan? Carry on Together…. and then there’s Plan B

The plan for the near future – Karola Braun-Wanke and the three students in the garden project all agree – is: continue working together in whatever forms are possible during the pandemic. With this in mind, political science student Kathrin Henße is happy about the gorup’s “Plan B,” a book about the past ten years. She says, “It is amazing to look back on what we have achieved on campus. It’s nice to prepare information about our seminars, lectures, campaigns, and projects for a publication that you can refer to again and again.” And in ten years? “I think our university benefits from the innovative potential and bottom-up spirit of initiatives like SUSTAIN IT!” says Karola Braun-Wanke. “We are on the right track, but there is still a lot to do to make our university climate-neutral and genuinely sustainable.”

Schools @ University for Sustainability + Climate Protection offers free programs in the spring and the fall to teach young children about sustainability. This year it was only able to take place in September – with a strict hygiene concept and many outdoor teaching units. A pocket-sized climate protection primer was reissued for schoolchildren with illustrations by Julia Friese (available in German only More information: www.fu-berlin.de/klimaschutzfibel

This text originally appeared in German on October 4, 2020, in the Tagesspiegel newspaper supplement published by Freie Universität.