On November 3rd, 2015 Junges Wissenschaftsforum Dahlem discussed how research can contribute to the promotion of sustainable development. The keynote speakers both emphasized the increasing importance of the topic. Vice president Prof. Dr. Brigitta Schütt said it should be part of every student’s curriculum. For her the university constitutes the perfect place for understanding and exploring sustainability from different angles. Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Centre, underlined the importance of bringing together academia and the outside world so that research and the application of gained knowledge can go hand in hand. Both agreed that, in order to achieve that goal, research needs to transcend traditional subject borders and should open up for more interdisciplinary working practices.
The subsequent discussions at different round tables took up these aspects and further illustrated them by using specific research issues. The round table “Environmental Policy and Resource Management”, led by the two professors Schütt and Schreurs, focused on the topics participation and transparency. Researchers should not develop a normative idea of sustainability, but engage in debates without preconceived opinion, according to the participants of the round table. This applies particularly to the collaboration with developing countries. At the round table “Biodiversity and Social Challenges”, the biologist Prof. Dr. Thomas Borsch and Prof. Dr. Marianne Braig from the Latin America Institute discussed how to deal with disciplinary restrictions within sustainability research. An important topic like biodiversity should not only be explored by the usual, science-oriented creation of hypotheses, but also take into account human behavior and activity. At the same time taking into consideration conditions of space and climate can be beneficial for the analysis of political discourses. At the third round table, social scientist Prof. Dr. Philipp Lepenies and anthropologist Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Dilger looked at how to strengthen transdisciplinary approaches within sustainability research. It was pointed out that collaborating with non-researchers requires a profound shift within academic methodology and theory building. At the same time, however, the question arose of how far research should yield to sociopolitical demands.
Considering the many challenges and unanswered questions, all experts agreed during the final discussion that the exchange of ideas on sustainability needs to be continued within the university, also in order to win over the future generation for this topic. Junges Wissenschaftsforum Dahlem managed to provide a fresh impetus for the future.