New Sustainability Science Master Programmes launched

2024-04-29 How can sustainability science at Leuphana contribute to a sustainability transformation of society? With four research-oriented, inter- and transdisciplinary master programmes, Leuphana will be investigating the causes of a lack of sustainability, and exploring potential solutions for pursuing sustainable development. In terms of content, the study programmes encompass both natural and social science approaches to sustainable development. The innovative concept has been created by Professors from the School of Sustainability under leadership of Prof Dr Stefan Schaltegger, Professor of Sustainability Management.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Stefan Schaltegger ©Fotograf MIKE KOENIG
"But why do we exceed the boundaries? The key reasons lie in material flows and ecosystem interventions. We consume too many resources, too much material, toxic materials, and too much energy. But it is not just the sheer quantity that causes gigantic problems; it is also the nature of materials. We need to dematerialise, and material flows need to become less toxic.", explained Prof. Dr. Schaltegger.
Professor Schaltegger, together with your colleagues from the School of Sustainability and the operational support of the Student Dean’s Office team, you have created an innovative concept that links the four new master's programmes at the Graduate School. Why was this reorganisation necessary?
Most existing study programmes in sustainability do not ensure the development of sufficiently targeted knowledge that we need to effectively support sustainable development. Many sustainability issues, such as climate change or modern slavery, are currently escalating worldwide. Due to the complexity of most challenges, precise analyses of causes and the development of effective solutions can only be achieved through interdisciplinary and constructive collaboration with experts from various fields of practice. However, many sustainability programmes have been developed based on the existing resources and programmes of the university. Most programmes are therefore either disciplinary or a compilation of lectures of professors who, for various, often incidental reasons, are associated with sustainability at a university. We have therefore developed four programmes and curricula that are deducted from requirements of what is needed to achieve sustainable development.
What is the reorganisation of the master's degree programmes in sustainability science based on?
We have developed a master's programme concept that logically derives from the goal of sustainable development. It is about operating within planetary ecological boundaries while strengthening the social foundations of society and, to achieve this, implementing sustainability transformations on both large and small scales. Leuphana, as the only university in Europe with a School of Sustainability, possesses expertise in both natural and social sciences related to sustainability. Therefore, we can now offer a study concept that combines natural and social science approaches in an innovative and logical way and derives four programmes consistently from the requirements of sustainable development. Students build up inter- and transdisciplinary expertise in sustainable development to later apply it either in professional practice or in a subsequent doctorate.
What content is addressed in the programmes?
The natural sciences agree that there are planetary boundaries. As early as the 1970s, the Club of Rome spoke of the "Limits to Growth". Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" was even published as far back as 1962. The planetary boundaries have since been described in quite concrete terms by the Stockholm Resilience Institute and quantified in some cases. But why do we exceed the boundaries? The key reasons lie in material flows and ecosystem interventions. We consume too many resources, too much material, toxic materials, and too much energy. But it is not just the sheer quantity that causes gigantic problems; it is also the nature of materials. We need to dematerialise, and material flows need to become less toxic. In addition, we interfere with the living natural environment: We destroy ecosystems, eradicate species, and reduce genetic diversity by separating populations. We need to get a grip on material and energy flows and find a different approach to dealing with ecosystems. From these two fundamental natural science requirements for sustainable development, the two study programmes emerged: Sustainability Science: Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Society (M.Sc.) and Sustainability Science: Resources, Materials, and Chemistry (M.Sc.).
What was the content development process of the two social science programmes?
Social sciences addressing sustainability agree that we need a sustainability transformation at all levels of society, i.e. a fundamental social change. We address two levels with the master programmes: The master's programme "Sustainability Science: Governance and Law" covers the macro-level of nations, regions, and institutions. We need the transformation of states and institutions, such as the EU or WTO, but also of regional administrative structures and processes. At the micro- and meso levels, the focus is on the sustainability of corporate and individual behaviour. There is no sustainable development without sustainable production and consumption. In the "Sustainability Science: Entrepreneurship, Agency, and Leadership" programme, students explore questions such as: What prevents companies from offering more sustainable products and services? Why do individuals not consume more sustainably? Or: What motivates people to found an environmental movement or a pioneering sustainable company?
All four study programmes are interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in nature and interlinked. How is this implemented in the curriculum?
There are basic, introductory modules for all four degree programmes, such as “sustainability science” on the fundamentals of sustainability. The lecture addresses questions such as: What is meant by planetary boundaries? What is sustainability transformation? Students also learn basic inter- and transdisciplinary methods of transformation research. At the end of the programme, students complete a transdisciplinary project and a master's thesis. Practitioners are involved in these projects. We believe that problems of sustainability in the real world can only be solved effectively if practitioner knowledge from the field is integrated. In a transdisciplinary project, two degree programmes - a natural scientific and a social scientific one - jointly engage in practical applications. For example, how can a large city organise its water and wastewater management sustainably? How and where can politicians, residents, and administration act and be supported to better cope with drought and flooding periods, use greywater from roofs, make urban climates liveable, etc.? Students from the "Governance & Law" and "Resources, Materials & Chemistry" programmes can collaborate with politics, municipal stakeholders, and the water associations to shape legal frameworks and municipal development concepts. .
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The new Sustainability-Master

The idea behind the Sustainability Science: Entrepreneurship, Agency and Leadership (M.A.) programme is, on the one hand, to analyse and understand why individuals and organisations do not act more sustainably. On the other hand, it involves developing solutions for more sustainable businesses and consumption. What are the obstacles and barriers, what can be done to make individual and organisational behaviour more sustainable? "A key concept is that of so-called creative destruction. Sustainable entrepreneurship aims to convincingly offer sustainable products and services in such a way that the unsustainable becomes obsolete and is thus creatively destroyed. The computer, for example, replaced the typewriter without it having to be banned. The programme applies this idea to sustainability in the same way that Netflix made videotapes and video stores obsolete. We are looking at how sustainable companies can be so convincing that unsustainable companies and products are no longer attractive," explains Stefan Schaltegger, Professor of Sustainability Management.

"The Master's in Sustainability Science: Resources, Materials and Chemistry (M.Sc.) is unique compared to existing degree programmes in Germany and around the world in several ways. We employ systems thinking as a methodological approach, because chemistry has to be sustainable and contextual. The relationships between the concepts covered regarding materials, such as renewable and non-renewable (finite) resources, as well as their life cycles and flows, are critically discussed, with examples from real-life case studies. Another distinctive feature of the course is to enable students to project a more sustainable and healthier future by designing, applying, and circularly utilising molecules, materials, and products, including energy," explains Prof Dr Dr Vânia Zuin Zeidler, Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and Renewable Organic Resources.

"The Sustainability Science: Governance and Law (M.A.) programme deals with social and political structures: What are good and legitimate decision-making processes? What role does democracy play - especially from a global perspective? What forms of participation exist? Who has to decide what at what level? Certain decisions have to be made at national or even international level, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, which affects the entire globe. Which actors have to be involved? What are effective policy instruments? Our graduates can later join public administration, from local authorities to international organisations. However, NGOs or advisory boards are also an option. We have an academic degree programme that is geared towards practice. We want our graduates to be ambassadors of scientific thinking," explains Prof Dr Jens Newig, Professor of Governance and Sustainability.

The Sustainability Science: Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Society (M.Sc.) programme adopts an interdisciplinary approach that covers concepts from basic and applied ecology as well as concepts from humanities (e.g. governance or participation). Students on this master's programme are trained to understand socio-ecological interactions, to find their way within them, and to influence them constructively. The focus is on both basic ecological knowledge and positive socio-ecological interactions such as building resilience and restoring ecosystems.


Contact - Prof. Dr. Roman Trötschel (Dean of Studies)

  • Prof. Dr. Roman Trötschel